The District is Squandering Opportunities to Further Fair Housing

The District of Columbia is legally required to take steps to further fair housing within the city, but it has been “squandering opportunities” to do so, according to an alarming letter from HUD obtained by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.

Since the early 2000’s, the District’s housing market has been undergoing a transformation. District of Columbia government policies – beginning with the initiative under Mayor Williams to bring 100,000 high-income residents to the City – have been a driver of displacement from racially and economically mixed neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the District has also failed to adequately address the resulting affordable housing crisis.

The changes in the City’s demographic make-up have increased existing patterns of racial and ethnic segregation, as well as increased concentrations of poverty within the City. Despite the fact that the District has become increasingly diverse, over the last 20 years it has become one of the most segregated cities in the nation.

The District receives federal money to support affordable housing and community development. The receipt of these funds imposes an obligation on the District to demonstrate that it is “affirmatively furthering fair housing.” To affirmatively further fair housing, federal law requires that the District take meaningful actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination. Each year the Mayor submits plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), which certify its compliance with this obligation and serve as the 5-year blueprint for the District’s fair housing initiatives.

The Committee has challenged the District’s certification to HUD. The Committee, and our partners, the Equal Rights Center and the Holy Redeemer Parish Social Justice Ministry, provided HUD with evidence that the District is not addressing previously identified impediments to fair housing. In particular, the District is failing to: (1) identify actions and strategies that address long-standing patterns of racial segregation, (2) take actions to preserve affordable housing in the wake of ongoing gentrification, and (3) preserve and restore affordable three-, four-, and five-bedroom units needed to accommodate working and low-income households, primarily families of color with minor children.  

In response, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity has written to Mayor Muriel Bowser raising concerns about the District’s compliance and seeking additional information with respect to such compliance. The HUD letter cites a series of examples that demonstrate the City has “squander[ed] opportunities to stem the tide of gentrification in neighborhoods where the majority Black population is decreasing.” In addition to placing the District on notice of the deficiencies in its submitted plans, HUD recommends that the District take specific steps to “address areas of minority concentration and low opportunity and prevent re-segregation of high opportunity areas,” which will require “conscious action toward that goal.” Given such clear directives, the onus is now on the District to revise its plan to address the concerns raised by the Committee, our partners, and HUD.

The Committee will continue to monitor the District’s progress and is eager to offer its fair housing expertise to assist the District in meeting its obligations.

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