Posts in Category: Fair Housing

Gentrification and Fair Housing

Wicker Park, Chicago; Park Slope, Brooklyn; and Pilsen, Chicago all have something in common — gentrification. Gentrification is commonly understood as a point when a public or private investor or developer rehabilitates real estate, increasing the original low cost of rent and ownership. Affordable housing becomes scarce, traditionally resulting in displacement as the original residents struggle to afford the increasing rent and face potential eviction. Landlords begin renting to more affluent residents and the entire community begins to change. Amenities such as groceries rise in price, and the lifestyle becomes less and less affordable for original residents.

Gentrification took place in Wicker Park in the early 1980s when young white professionals moved in and bumped out low-income Latinos. Park Slope has recently gentrified as white professionals moved into a traditionally black neighborhood. More recently, Pilsen‘s white non-Latino population has grown to 28% as of 2010, up from 3% in 1990.

Traditionally, places that gentrify develop a majority white racial makeup. Some wonder if this pattern can be combated, and if a gentrifying neighborhood can result in sustainable racial integration. After all, it is the complete opposite of historic racial patterns when white folks always moved away from minorities.  For this reason, gentrification presents a unique opportunity to fair housing advocates. White folks’ willingness to live next to minorities in these neighborhoods represents the opportunity to develop a diverse and integrated community, if local leaders facilitate equitable development and fair housing practices.

One part of upholding racial integration in a gentrifying neighborhood is to ensure that residents moving in experience fair housing practices rather than discrimination. The other part is developing the community in a manner that is beneficial to traditional residents, which means maintaining affordability and allowing them to benefit from various reinvestments. Even though the racial integration mandate of the Fair Housing Act does not require mixed-income housing, occasionally extraordinarily high housing prices can result in de facto segregation. Consequently, economic reform in the housing sector becomes necessary in order to achieve racial integration.

Alderman Danny Solis, who presides over Pilsen, has taken some steps toward equitable development by offering a property tax freeze to anyone investing 25% of their house value in home improvements, as well as securing a significant percentage of affordable housing from developers.

Places experiencing trends similar to Pilsen can take steps toward integration and should prioritize it, because research shows that regardless of income, a segregated community still experiences poor health care, decreased access to resources, and poorer education, just to name a few. Neighborhoods can effectively diversify via the myriad tools of an Equitable Development strategy. Alderman Solis’ actions are just a few of the numerous possibilities outlined in Race, Poverty, and the Environment, a journal for social and environmental justice. Among others, these are their four most recommended Equitable Development tools:

  1. Stabilize Existing Renters: To stabilize existing renters, it can be beneficial to put a plan in place involving rental assistance, increasing voucher amounts, eviction controls, rent control, and rent increase schedules. Community Land Trusts also effectively stabilize existing renters by providing long-term affordability for not only renters and low-income homeowners, but also for community-invested businesses and local non-profits.
  2. Control the Land for Development: Community groups should evaluate zoning, make sure ordinances are inclusive, and implement a Below Market Rate ordinance. A BMR ordinance ensures that a percentage of housing developments will be sold or rented for a price below the market rate.
  3. Income and Asset Creation: Ownership opportunities specifically for local residents allow them to benefit from the community investments. Limited-Equity Housing Cooperatives are a popular form of affordable asset creation, especially in New York City. Often referred to as “Co-ops,” this type of agreement gives ownership of a building to its residents. They each own a share, and together they democratically manage the building, rent, etc.
  4. Develop Financing Strategies: Discovering specific ways to fund the previous plans, perhaps through non-profit organizations, bank reinvestment, or Housing Trust Fund, is at the crux of Equitable Development. One Housing Trust Fund in San Francisco targets revenue from a commercial development toward local households below the median income.

See their entire toolkit here.

Rachel Godsil, professor at Seton Hall University Law School and mayor-appointed Chair of the Rent Guidelines Board in New York City, echoes the first tool, emphasizing the importance of stabilizing current renters. Her approach involves vouchers as well, but employs a different strategy. Godsil suggests offering rental vouchers or low-cost guaranteed loans to local residents that could be used in or outside of the community. This strategy guarantees the residents autonomy in regards to staying in or leaving the changing neighborhood. This freedom of choice, Godsil argues, inclines residents to stay and convince their neighbors to do the same, which can ultimately stem the tide of gentrification.

Unfortunately, when revitalization happens, decisions are often made in favor of revenue rather than community need. Affirmative integration and affordable housing need to be a priority as places gentrify, so that revenue and need are not pinned against each other. There is much to be said for a plan that appropriately integrates all races across all incomes, because even though people are segregated by income, they are still more segregated by race.

Residents, community groups, housing advocates, and local leaders cannot afford to be anything less than proactive with creative equitable development tools at the onset and during community change if they hope to achieve integration.

by Jessica Hartshorn

Diversity and Prosperity – Integration is the Key

Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the good fortune to speak to various audiences around the country about Oak Park and the Housing Center’s work to promote and sustain integration. In addition to being able to share our model with others, I’ve learned a lot about how much latent demand is out there for a Housing Center model in many other communities.

In these recent presentations, I’ve been including a graph that shows something that consistently grabs the audience. It is a graph for the census years of 1980-2010. On the graph I display two sets of data. The first is the percentage of Oak Park’s population that is white. The second is the value of real estate in Oak Park. The lines move in opposite directions. As the white percentage decreases, the value of real estate increases. You’ll notice that the line showing white population is levelling while the line displaying real estate values is increasing fairly sharply. Also, during the period from 2000-2010 (the two years I could get the data) Oak Park’s values increased at more than 150% of the regional average.

value graph

It’s a powerful graph because it demonstrates a reality that challenges the conventional wisdom about diversity and housing values. The typical belief is that property values decline as more people of color move to a community. But, in Oak Park, this is clearly not the case. Inevitably, I am asked how this is accomplished. How does Oak Park create an advantage out of diversity?

The answer is in intentionality. While other communities either ignore or fight against integration (and this happens in multiple directions), Oak Park has established diversity as a core value. Moreover, our programs and policies don’t stop there. They intentionally promote integration within Oak Park to ensure that people of different backgrounds live among one another rather than within specific parts of the community. After all, diversity without integration is segregation. Segregation, not diversity, is what truly harms communities. Segregation is a system of inequality that, through disadvantage and disinvestment, eventually pulls down more than the initially affected neighborhoods.

Integration allows a community to turn diversity into an asset. People living together can learn from each other, improve empathy, build integrated social networks, and find common purpose. Everyone wants a good education for their children, a nice home, and a community with enjoyable choices. Systems that encourage integration ensure greater equity across the community so that race and place are unifying rather than divisive (as they are elsewhere).

So long as we continue our intentional integration strategies, we should see Oak Park continue to prosper from its diversity.

Cross-posted at

Follow Rob’s discussion of race, integration, and more on twitter @rbreymaier

Openly Gay Athletes May Pave the Way for Equality

Gay pride 2011 à Toulouse

Despite the growing tolerance and acceptance for the LGBTQ community, many LGBTQ athletes still find the sports culture unaccepting of their orientation and lifestyles. Athletes are often forced to live by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy because, otherwise, they end up marginalized or may even kicked off of the team.

This month is the anniversary of Jason Collins coming out as the first active male openly gay athlete in major sports in America. He came out as a gay professional athlete publicly in April 29, 2013 with reluctant acquiescence from the NBA and the sports community. After a couple of 10-day contracts he signed with the Brooklyn Nets for the rest of the 2013-2014 season. Is this emblematic of how much progress we have made in treating everyone equal, regardless of sexual orientation? Well, it is not a complete reversal of LGBTQ discrimination by objectors but it is a step in the right direction.

Could this progress in the professional sports community be cataclysmic for the rest of the United States? Perhaps, because more states are legalizing gay marriage. However, there are United States housing policies that are discriminatory towards the LGBTQ community.  They are discriminatory, not as direct policy, but in the absence of written policy that offers protection for this community. The federal Fair Housing Act contains no law that makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

There are some ways to circumvent the effects of discrimination. For example, a gay man who is evicted because his landlord believes he will infect other tenants with HIV can have recourse by using the Fair Housing Act. The situation may constitute illegal disability discrimination under the Fair Housing Act because the man is perceived to have a disabling disease, HIV. Similarly, if a property manager refuses to rent an apartment to a prospective tenant who is transgendered because of the person’s non-conformity with gender stereotypes, it may constitute illegal discrimination on the basis of sex under the Fair Housing Act.

There may be some ways to mitigate discrimination in housing but progress still needs to be made in housing and society-at-large. The lack of specific direct housing regulations against discrimination towards the LGBTQ community leaves many residents subject toward inequity in housing. That there is only one Jason Collins (although Micheal Sam, a virtual lock for an NFL contract this upcoming season, will be joining him in that respect) in all four of the major sports with a non-traditional sexual orientation shows that there are still elements in the culture of male-dominated sports that negate an LGBTQ orientation. How, then, shall we help the cause? By making policies reserved for straight athletes or straight tenants available to the LGTBQ community. We are making inroads towards this goal but much is needed to continue towards the goal of equal rights and equal treatment for the LGBTQ community.

By Jose O’Campo, Research Assistant at Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance

Photo by Guillaume Paumier

The Fair Housing Act in 2014


April is Fair Housing Month – a time to reflect on the passing of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Even though the policy was signed forty-six years ago, it is still very relevant today. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a landmark policy that demonstrated the importance of furthering open and inclusive communities. Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Act was enacted in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King tirelessly advocated for an end to housing discrimination and a law that would support fair and open housing. Everyday housing advocates honor his life’s work by furthering his dream of equal rights and social justice. Though we have progressed as a nation, there is work to be done to truly achieve Dr. King’s dream.

Through the work of community leaders, the housing sector is becoming more inclusive. The original act prohibited housing discrimination against residents on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. In a 1989 amendment, the protected classes of persons with disabilities and families with children were added. Over the years, state and local jurisdictions have adopted other protected classes to further the mission of fair housing and enable a more equal housing market.

Unfortunately, housing discrimination still occurs today. While discrimination is not as blatant and ubiquitous as it was prior to the Fair Housing Act – think redlining and blockbusting – it continues to persist. Some realtors show houses in specific neighborhoods based on their clients’ race. Some banks charge higher interest rates on loans for minorities. Advertisements for rental units sometimes encourage certain groups of people to apply or exclude other groups. The Fair Housing Act is still needed to combat housing discrimination.

Segregation has permeated the nation’s cities for many years, and ending a deep and complex problem takes time. The Fair Housing Act includes a clause that affirmatively furthers fair housing, which aims to tackle historic segregation patterns. Affirmatively furthering fair housing provides better access to opportunities by promoting diverse and inclusive communities. It intends to reduce discrimination through open housing options for people of color as well as persons with disabilities.

To adhere to the clause to affirmatively further fair housing, communities that receive government funding must create a fair housing action plan to promote equal and diverse housing opportunities for residents. This section of the Fair Housing Act is an essential part of the mission of fair housing, but has lacked clear guidelines and little enforcement. In 2013, an updated rule aims to help municipalities affirmatively further fair housing through the use of assessment tools and public data. The new and improved clause provides a proactive approach to developing inclusive communities. This updated rule demonstrates that the nation still needs accountability and assistance in order to provide fair and open housing.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a landmark policy that demonstrated the importance of furthering open and inclusive communities. This April, there is much to celebrate from the past forty-six years, but there is also more work to be done. Fair Housing Month reminds us of both of these things as we continue in the fair housing movement.

By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator

Twenty Five Year Reflection of Fair Housing Act Amendment of 1989

wheelchair accessible housing_by Kim Brookes

Fair and open housing for all people is essential for America to continue being the land of opportunity. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 gave the federal government the authority to hold communities accountable to end discriminatory practices and, along with the 14th amendment, to end state-action discrimination.  Although this legislation made great inroads in fair housing, the 1968 act did not include all groups in the community, including those that are disabled and/or those with differences of familial status.

So, in 1989 the federal government wrote up legislation on behalf of these individuals and amended the Fair Housing Act to include those community members. Granting these newly protected classes equal access to housing benefits the entire community. People with disabilities contribute to our communities and deserve the same dignity and respect that other residents have. They have the innate right to be integrated into all neighborhoods. These ideals also apply to families with children and single-parent households. Children can greatly enhance the vibrancy and character of a community and, due to their vulnerability, especially need decent housing in quality neighborhoods.

The act could not have been amended any time sooner.  Twenty five years ago, we were living in a society that was progressively taking a more inclusionary stance with community members who fall under the amended category.  One wonders about the big picture question as to what caused the movement towards inclusion. Was it the legislation that moved us in that direction? Or was it the collective impact of fair housing organizations on our civic leaders? Both efforts were necessary to allow these two groups to become integrated within the community.

When we take a moment to focus on our individual lives, we realize that we have all been impacted by these two groups in one way or another. Indeed, we must continue to promote the open and equal opportunity for these groups to join our community. It is 2014 and we have reached a very important point in fair housing history and community involvement to continue to foster the inclusion of households with children and people with disabilities.

We all come from various backgrounds and are going to be hard-pressed to find a neighborhood composed of only one demography. So in a step to accept the wonderful diversity that our society offers, we should be inclusive of people with disabilities and differing familial status in our community. We have the legislation as members of our society, take a personal stance to be more neighborly to all members of our community.

By Jose O’Campo, Research Assistant at Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance

Photo by Kim Brookes