GATEWAY PERSPECTIVES: Ensuring the American Dream

Richard Haggerty | August 2020

HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty

In recent columns for Real Estate In-Depth I’ve raised the issue of access to safe and affordable housing as one of the keys to addressing the racial inequalities that exist in this country. During this extended period of low housing inventory, we need to prioritize our support for the creation of new affordable housing units, and all levels of government must commit sufficient resources to the creation of affordable housing.

With this in mind it was disheartening to learn that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was terminating the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation. In announcing the termination, HUD Secretary Ben Carson stated “After reviewing thousands of comments on the proposed changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, we found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most.” He later added, “Washington has no business dictating what is best to meet your local community’s unique needs.”

The AFFH regulation required cities and towns that receive federal funding to examine local housing patterns for racial bias and design a plan to address any measurable bias. Westchester County became embroiled in an extended legal battle with HUD as to whether the county met its obligations under AFFH. I can certainly understand local communities wanting to have a strong voice in the creation of affordable housing, but I have also seen many communities say “not in my back yard” when it comes to affordable housing.

Unfortunately, with the termination of the AFFH 2015 regulation, the “NIMBY’s” will have no accountability, as communities can self-certify that they are affirmatively furthering fair housing when receiving HUD grants. My point is simple—all communities, collectively, should embrace the idea that diverse communities create stronger communities. In 2019, NAR offered the following observations on the disparate impact rule contained in the AFFH regulation, “NAR expressed its support for measures that ensure that America’s diverse population has access to a range of neighborhoods, and explained how this benefits our members. Neighborhoods benefit from a wide range of diversity, translating to educational and commercial benefits for the greater community. Community-based issues, such as lack of access to quality education, healthy communities, and economic opportunities, are barriers to equal housing opportunity.”

Unfortunately, after the announcement of the termination of the AFFH regulation, the President tweeted “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood…”

I believe we need to always remember that the American Dream of home ownership belongs to everyone.

I applaud NAR’s position concerning the AFFH regulation. They have offered constructive comments and suggested improvements to the regulation, and after the regulation was terminated, NAR President Vince Malta voiced his dismay on behalf of NAR. “The National Association of Realtors is disappointed that HUD has taken this step, which significantly weakens the federal government’s commitment to the goals of the Fair Housing Act,” said Malta, broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco. “The viability of our 1.4 million members depends on the free, transparent and efficient transfer of property in this country, and NAR maintains that a strong, affirmative fair housing rule is vital to advancing our nation’s progress toward thriving and inclusive communities. With the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color reminding us of the costs of the failure to address barriers to housing opportunity, NAR remains committed to ensuring no American is unfairly denied this fundamental right in the future.”

John Jordan, Real Estate In-Depth’s long-time editor, has written extensively on the Newsday story which was published last November and exposed systematic steering by real estate agents in certain parts of Long Island. As I’ve stated in previous articles in Real Estate In-Depth, no one should believe that the scourge of steering is limited to Long Island. As real estate professionals we need to take a hard look in the mirror every day to make sure we are not part of the problem, but we can’t stop there. We need to be part of the solution, helping our communities embrace affordable housing, helping to break down barriers to home ownership, and helping all consumers experience the American Dream.

Richard Haggerty
HGAR CEO