What Does Inclusionary Housing Have To Do With Ferguson?

Now I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things to do on a plane is to get to know the person in the seat next to mine. For most people, this is the stuff of nightmares and an unimaginable violation of social taboo, but for me, I figure, “Hey, I’m sitting next to this person for at least an hour. Might as well introduce myself.”

This time, while on my way to the 2015 National Community Land Trust Network Conference, I found myself in deep conversation with a fellow Bay Area resident about affordable housing (“Affordable homeownership? Please, tell me more!”), and eventually, our conversation led to the more general topic of unintended consequences that can result from public policy choices. We went back and forth, swapping stories – some funny, some sad and some downright painful.

But if I were speaking more thoughtfully, and not simply trying to massage the social interaction with humor and interesting stories, I would’ve acknowledge that writing, planning, and implementing public policy is hard, hard work, and the consequences of public policy are serious, which only makes the job more difficult. After the plane ride, I thought about the conversation, and eventually my thoughts landed on one town: Ferguson, Missouri.

I had just watched a speech given by Richard Rothstein, Research Associate of the Economic Policy Institute, at the 2015 National Fair Housing Training and Policy Conference at HUD, and his presentation was fresh on my mind. In his speech, Rothstein claimed that “de facto segregation” was a myth, and that state and federal housing policies have, historically, explicitly discriminated against blacks, preventing black families from getting housing loans and pressuring or forcing them into ghettoized residential areas. Following his speech, Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, drove the point further when she cited NAACP’s research on the negative effect of racial residential segregation on the interaction between members of mostly black and white communities.

It was no mistake that these speeches were delivered at the 2015 National Fair Housing Conference at HUD. This past July, HUD issued historic regulations to better apply and enforce the Fair Housing Act. Cities and towns will be required to publicly report evaluations of their housing patterns for racial bias and set goals to reduce segregation over time. In this spirit, the speakers boldly challenged federal, state, and municipal governments to meet their obligation to implement policies of residential integration in Ferguson and similar communities in order to reverse the segregation that contributed to the death of one of our country’s young citizens (and many more).

Today, understandably, much of the discussion around Ferguson and other racially charged conflict centers around police reform. But perhaps the conversation would benefit from expanding to other types of policies that can either perpetuate or ameliorate racism, poverty and community violence, such as housing policies.

Some media outlets are taking note of this. Back in September, an article in the Washington Post commented on “Forward Through Ferguson,” the findings of a report commissioned by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to identify the uncomfortable truths of the socioeconomic conditions in Ferguson that surrounded the Michael Brown’s death and the troubled unrest that followed. The article notes, “The report…is most compelling…for all the subjects in its crosshairs that seemingly have little to do with criminal justice.”

One of those subjects, among many, is “housing inequity,” and one solution the report recommends is for “all units of government in the region with land use powers” to enact inclusionary housing ordinances to promote access to affordable housing for low-income individuals. Unfortunately, due to the length of the 198 page report, there’s little else said about inclusionary housing – what it is, how it’s implemented, and so forth.

So, to promote the practice of careful public policy planning, I’d like to invite everyone to read Inclusionary Housing: Creating and Maintaining Inclusive Communities, the go-to report for communities to think strategically through political, technical, legal, and practical considerations for their inclusionary housing policies and programs to be successful. Published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, with support from the Cornerstone Partnership and National Community Land Trust Network, this report helps residents, advocates, community organizers, and other community stakeholders understand and properly implement Inclusionary Housing as a potentially powerful public policy tool.

It’s said that history repeats itself, and unfortunately, it’s often mistakes and the pain of those mistakes that repeat. We must do our due diligence to avoid the mistakes of the past, as we move toward solutions for the future. The stakes are high, and this work is difficult, but we hope that this report on Inclusionary Housing can serve as one step in the right direction to create more inclusive communities, where all can live and thrive.

For more information on inclusionary housing, visit our inclusionary housing page!

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