Federal housing policies have existed since the 1930s. Citizen support for federal housing policies evokes a range of emotions from ambivalence to violent opposition. A recent decision by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is no exception. The ruling, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), is designed to deconstruct current housing policy and reassemble it in a fashion that prevents segregation, the concentration of poverty, and unequal access to community assets (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2015b). The policy seeks to address historical patterns of inequality by changing planning at the local level and has garnered a slew of negative press. For example, The Hill published a 2014 piece entitled, “Obama Making Bid to Diversify Wealthy Neighborhoods.”In addition, the spectacularly slanted article on breitbart.com decries, “War on Suburbs: Obama, Julian Castro Rev Up Affirmative Action Housing.”What images do these headlines conjure? Perhaps the attack on middle-class values? Fear? Loss of control? There are many unwritten words that the media outlets want the reader to fill in. It is a complex fabric of race, big government, and capitalism. The trite narratives in the media headlines are meant to induce drama and emotional reactions helping to sell more papers.
Like most redistributive policies, federal housing policy seeks to redistribute wealth in pursuit of the greater good. In this instance, by equalizing living conditions for those who cannot afford adequate shelter. Lawrence L. Thompson (2006, 2) points to the inception of housing policy at its modest beginnings as a step to bolster the economy and put the dream of homeownership in the hands of many. From these humble beginnings, federal housing policy has morphed over the years to address issues surrounding low and moderate-income families through mechanisms such as public housing, programs targeting urban decay, entitlements, and block grants. The controversy in housing policy does not lie so much with government provision of shelter, but with the definition of adequate shelter. According to Housing Quality Standards (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), minimums for shelter include a secure structure, plumbing, electric, cooking source, and heat. To taxpayers that could seem adequate. To those living in such housing, often described as “slums,” “hoods” or “projects,” that may seem far from adequate.
Does federal housing policy also have a duty for safety and access to jobs, education, and other community assets? In addition, to discuss housing without discussing race does a disservice to the underlying wicked problems presented in federal housing policy. The question becomes, how will this ruling be different from all those that have come before it? To answer that question means to delve into federal housing policy at the practitioner level by addressing the social constructs and narratives driving policy, historical housing policy, and the overarching goals of the AFFH regulation.