ERC Submits Comments on Draft of DC’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice

The purpose of an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (AI) is to identify local barriers that are preventing individuals and families from living in integrated communities free of housing discrimination. In addition, an AI should identify ways that a jurisdiction can affirmatively further fair housing.

On October 28th, 2019, the ERC submitted the following comments to the DC Department of Housing and Community Development:

The Equal Rights Center (ERC) is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington, D.C. and nationwide. For many years, the ERC has conducted intakes with individuals in the District who believe they may have experienced housing discrimination, investigated individual claims and systemic forms of housing discrimination, pursued enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and the DC Human Rights Act as needed, and conducted education and outreach about fair housing protections and requirements. We have reviewed the draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (“AI”) for the District of Columbia and would like to offer the following comments for DHCD’s consideration in crafting a final AI.

The ERC commends the District of Columbia and especially the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for creating a report that comprehensively explores the complex and interconnected factors that are contributing to segregation and housing discrimination in the city. The draft AI lays out a series of concerning observations about the state of fair housing locally and makes a series of recommended actions to overcoming fair housing impediments and affirmatively further fair housing.

Addressing DC’s Affordable Housing Crisis Requires Immediate and Massive Efforts by DC Government Agencies

Among the most troubling impediments to fair housing revealed in the draft AI is the dire need for affordable housing. As discussed in the report, a 2015 study by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute found that DC had lost half of its low-cost units since 2002. The study also found that “there is very little low-cost housing in the private market and that subsidized housing is now virtually the only source of inexpensive apartments.”[1] The DC government is making an effort to develop affordable housing, but there is still expected to be even fewer units for extremely low income households and very low income households by next year.

While affordable housing in the private market is rapidly shrinking, public housing is not meeting the needs of DC residents and is exacerbating segregation. Over 90% of the residents in the District’s public housing are Black despite Black residents accounting for only about half of DC’s population. Public housing properties are concentrated in lower income, majority Black neighborhoods, which limits fair housing choice for low-income Black residents.

Troublingly, the draft AI notes that many of the properties owned by the DC Housing Authority are in abysmal condition due to years of neglect from lack of funding.[2] About a third of units owned by DCHA require urgent intervention to remediate substandard housing conditions and all buildings require major repairs.[3] As such, residents of public housing are highly restricted as to where they can live in the city and struggle with the unsanitary living conditions of their units.

The AI identifies several goals and strategies for addressing DC’s affordable housing crisis. The report recommends that the District reduce the disproportionate cost burden on residents of color in the private housing sector by expanding the inclusionary zoning program to require 20% of new multifamily housing to be affordable, increasing funding to non-profit affordable housing developers, and broadening rent control protections. Implementing the Mayor’s Housing Plan to develop affordable housing across wards is also critical to addressing the current concentration of affordable housing in Racially/Ethnically Concentrated Areas of Poverty (R/ECAPs).

DC must also fully fund critical repairs for DCHA properties. Furthermore, in the context of ongoing gentrification sweeping the District, such repairs should be conducted in a manner that avoids privatizing public housing, with a priority placed on preserving the long term affordability of such units to extremely low income residents. For multiple years now, the District has experienced budget surpluses. To truly address entrenched segregation and affirmatively further fair housing, it should use surplus funds to address the dire shortage of affordable housing in innovative ways.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the critical lack of affordable housing in the city is not a new phenomenon. The District of Columbia Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 2006–2011 identified that most housing in DC was unaffordable to most DC residents. Black residents were hardest hit by the skyrocketing housing prices. In order to prevent gentrification and the displacement of Black residents, the report repeatedly reiterated that “the District needs to preserve existing housing affordable to households with modest incomes and create new units affordable to modest–income households by aggressively implementing the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980, the Affordable Dwelling Unit Program, and the Inclusionary Zoning Implementation Amendment Act of 2006.”

The ERC is concerned by the gap between the District’s ongoing stated commitment to increase affordable housing and its track record in working towards goals related to affordable housing in the previous AI. The ERC found it difficult to analyze the “Assessment of Past Goals, Actions and Strategies” section because the accomplishments are grouped by fiscal year and not by goal. In addition, the information is presented differently by fiscal year, making it challenging to draw comparisons year-to-year or identify multi-year efforts on any specific goal.

Nevertheless, there have been troubling reports of the DC government not fully utilizing funding to promote affordable housing. Between 2014 and 2016, DHCD had to return $15.8 million in unused funds to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).[4] Those funds could have been put towards constructing or renovating affordable housing units, serving as down-payment assistance to low-income homebuyers, or funding vouchers for low-income renters. Additionally, a 2018 audit report of the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTP) found that only 19% of funds disbursed from FY2001-FY2016 supported households under 30% AMI, while 69% of funds supported households from 51-80% AMI. DC law requires that 40% of HPTP funds support extremely low-income households (up to 30% AMI), while only 20% of funds should be used to support low-income households (51-80% AMI). The lack of funding being used to support the households most in need of housing assistance likely contributes to ongoing segregation and results in the displacement of extremely low-income households, which are disproportionately Black, from the District.

Addressing the scope of the affordable housing crisis in DC requires a massive, thoughtful, and immediate investment by DC government agencies. The ERC encourages the District to review the Analysis of Impediments once it is finalized and create a concerted and detailed plan to dramatically increase the quantity and quality of affordable housing in the city.

DC Must Address the Dual Housing Market that is Disadvantaging Black Residents

Some of the most significant data on the ongoing severity of segregation in the District can be found in the AI section on the Free Market Analysis in the Appendix of the report. The Free Market Analysis is a tool that takes into account household incomes and the cost of housing in order to identify the approximate racial demographics of a census tract if it were free of discrimination.

The AI finds that within the metropolitan area, the District, Prince George’s County, Fairfax County, Arlington County, and Loudoun County have dual housing markets for Black residents versus residents of all other races. Of these jurisdictions, the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County have the most severe dual housing markets. The dual housing market in DC is so extreme that hypersegregation in many of the neighborhoods East of the Anacostia River is “as severe as South African apartheid.”[5]

The Free Market Analysis includes racial demographic data from each neighborhood in 2000 as well as the 2013-2017 ACS estimates, which provides an opportunity to observe the changes in racial demographics at a neighborhood level over a time period of about 15 years. The Free Market Analysis indicates that residential segregation in DC is worsening and that the dual housing market for Black households appears to exist throughout the city.

Neighborhoods deep in the Northwest quadrant, such as Foggy Bottom, Cathedral Heights, Van Ness, and Tenleytown, appear to continue to be segregated, majority white neighborhoods with little racial demographic change. Other neighborhoods in the Northwest quadrant, such as Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Cleveland Park, appear to be segregated, majority white neighborhoods where the dual housing market is actually worsening for Black residents.

Several other neighborhoods in the Northwest quadrant, such as Columbia Heights, Shaw, and Bloomingdale, as well as neighborhoods in other quadrants of the city, such as Southwest, NoMa, and Navy Yard, appear to be integrating. While this initially seems to be positive, the transition is likely a result of rapid gentrification. Gentrification can price residents out of a community, exacerbate homelessness and housing instability, and suppress the cultural identity of an area—all major problems that DC finds itself grappling with in 2019. The AI notes that the integrated nature of these neighborhoods “may only be transitory and that the clusters remain in a dual housing market where African Americans cannot participate.”[6] If current demographic changes continue in these neighborhoods, they are likely to resegregate as majority white neighborhoods and result in the displacement of Black residents.

Other neighborhoods in the Northeast quadrant, such as Brookland, Ft. Totten, Trinidad, and Woodridge, appear to be in earlier stages of gentrification. These neighborhoods continue to have a disproportionate number of Black residents, but there has been a recent influx of white residents. It is critical that the DC government monitor these neighborhood changes closely and work to address possible gentrification now before it forces Black residents to move to other neighborhoods in the city or be displaced from the city altogether.

Finally, other areas in the Northeast quadrant as well as the Southeast quadrant continue to consist of hypersegregated, majority Black neighborhoods. These neighborhoods include Historic Anacostia, Deanwood, Kenilworth, and Congress Heights. Some of these neighborhoods are so segregated that the “actual proportions of white households are nearly immeasurable… even though you would expect the proportion of Caucasian households to be at least 43 percent in every one of these neighborhood clusters.”[7]

Notably, in addition to the extreme racial segregation that characterizes these neighborhoods, their residents are also more likely to experience poverty than in any other neighborhoods in the city, a trend that has held since at least 1990. The mostly Black residents in these neighborhoods are denied access to many of the economic opportunities and public resources that exist elsewhere in the city.

The AI identifies several goals and strategies for addressing entrenched neighborhood segregation. These include promoting housing choice and redressing segregation and exclusion as well as expanding outreach and education about fair housing rights and resources. The strategies under the goal of promoting housing choice and redressing segregation and exclusion mostly focus on initiatives to increase affordable housing, especially in higher opportunity neighborhoods. As discussed above, these are critical steps that must be taken. However, these steps alone will not resolve the dual housing market that exists for Black residents because the Free Market Analysis already takes affordability into account.

Under the goal of expanding outreach and education around fair housing rights and resources, the report outlines several strategies. These strategies include expanding fair housing education and outreach, conducting education with real estate industry trade associations, and increasing fair housing enforcement. The draft AI notes that the DC Office of Human Rights, the agency tasked with enforcing fair housing laws in the District, lacks the staff and resources to adequately investigate incidents of housing discrimination.

It is clear that DCOHR needs additional funding and staff in order to more efficiently and thoroughly conduct investigations into housing discrimination. If DC is committed to addressing local housing discrimination, it must adequately fund the agency. Increased funding would hopefully increase the number of complaints that DCOHR is able to investigate. The number of housing discrimination complaints docketed by DCOHR has generally been increasing on an annual basis. Even so, DCOHR only docketed 42 cases of housing discrimination in 2017.[8] This is a vast underrepresentation of the actual cases of housing discrimination in the city.

However, the ERC and other housing advocates like the Washington Lawyers’ Committee have previously raised concerns about the agency’s performance that remain relevant in the context of this discussion. OHR and the DC Council should conduct a review of each step of the administrative complaint process to determine if any policies or paperwork requirements could be changed to reduce unnecessary burdens on complainants. Many complainants have shared that the process is time-consuming, resource intensive, and confusing. The ERC’s experiences as an organizational complainant often align with this observation. Fair housing inquiries take months for DCOHR to process, which is only the first step. The entire process from filing an inquiry to DCOHR reaching a decision on the complaint takes more than a year. The process also requires a significant time commitment on the part of the complainant. DCOHR Director Monica Palacio alluded to these difficulties last year during a media interview, stating, “It’s a lot to take on when you file a complaint. It’s probably one of the worst things that has happened in someone’s life and now they have to come spend 12 months talking about it. Not everyone will choose to do that.”[9]

In order to promote integration and equity in housing, DCOHR should also use all the tools at its disposal, including investigating complaints based on a disparate impact analysis. Disparate impact refers to policies and/or practices by housing providers that are neutral on their faces, but that disproportionately and negatively impact a group of people protected by federal and local fair housing laws. A policy that may seem neutral on its face but that has a discriminatory impact on a protected group, such as race or national origin, can constitute illegal discrimination. This concept provides fair housing advocates with a powerful tool to address systemic racism because the disparate impact standard makes it possible to identify and challenge more pernicious, difficult to see cases of discrimination. However, the ERC has received concerning reports from two separate sources that DCOHR has refused to docket fair housing complaints based on disparate impact claims.

In addition, DCOHR could more proactively address housing discrimination and reduce the burden on victims of discrimination by conducting Director’s Inquiries then initiating complaints when evidence of discrimination is uncovered. Extremely obvious incidents of housing discrimination occur in the District with frequency. For example, housing providers regularly publish flagrantly discriminatory ads based on source of income. In 2018, the ERC identified about 150 advertisements –approximately 3-4 per week– with likely discriminatory language, such as “No vouchers accepted” and “no section 8.” Despite this, DCOHR has investigated very few claims of source of income discrimination. In 2017, it only docketed 12 complaints based on source of income in housing.[10] As the ERC argued in a 2016 complaint filed in federal court, source of income discrimination in housing in the District is tantamount to race discrimination[11]. If the District takes its commitment to ending racial segregation seriously, multiple agencies including OHR must take decisive, proactive action to do so.

The District as a Whole Has a Duty to AFFH

The ERC appreciates that DHCD is responsible for creating the District’s AI. However it is important to note that the District, not just DHCD, has an obligation to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH). There appear to be critical disconnects between District stakeholders in relation to this point which likely account in part for the lack of progress DC has made on addressing entrenched residential segregation.

For example, advocates for the preservation of affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods have reported a critical disconnect between the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission in terms of following AFFH commitments made by the City. The city’s Office of Planning and Zoning Commission has also failed to take actions consistent with its previous AIs and its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing by approving the redevelopment of Brookland Manor, a 535-unit affordable housing development in a gentrifying area which the city approved to be replaced by over 1700 units, mostly market rate and some for homeownership. On August 25, 2016, a lawsuit was filed against the developer for planning to eliminate 134 four- and five-bedroom apartments, and significantly reduce the number of three-bedroom units, adversely impacting up to 149 families. The evidence from the Zoning Commission record further showed that the developer had deemed housing large families inconsistent with the creation of the new community it sought to develop. The failure of the city’s Office of Planning and its Zoning Commission to assure protection of affordable units and units that can house families, including intergenerational families, is inconsistent with the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. It is also further evidence that the city is taking actions that are inconsistent with its AI obligations to preserve affordable housing. Because the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing applies to private as well as federally funded actions, the Office of Planning should take actions on private housing development proposals to ensure that strong diverse neighborhoods are created and preserved through investments and affordable housing replacement.

There are also instances in which the overall disconnect between District agencies itself leads to negative outcomes for residents that need affordable housing. Over the last two years, the ERC has monitored online housing advertisements in the District for ads that contain discriminatory language in regards to source of income. Typically, when we discover such an ad, we contact the housing provider who posted it directly in an attempt to mitigate the harm that the discriminatory ad caused. Through this process, we have learned that there are numerous rental units that have failed voucher program inspection, but which DCRA has not taken action in relation to for not meeting housing code standards. This leaves tenants without vouchers vulnerable to unsafe housing conditions and allows landlords who want to avoid renting to voucher holding tenants a loophole for doing so.

Finally, there are times when various entities within the District appear to work in direct contradiction to each other or the previous recommendations identified in the 2012 AI. While DCHD was finally able to publish regulations in regards to the District Opportunity to Purchase Act—a vital strategy when it comes to preserving affordable housing—the DC Council dealt a major blow to the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act in 2018 by exempting single family homes from its provisions. These contradictory efforts and outcomes must be addressed throughout the City’s infrastructure.

The ERC commends city leadership for taking the time to conduct such an in-depth analysis that highlights problems that are difficult to solve. The ERC has a long, positive working relationship with the District and hopes to use the finalized AI as an opportunity to continue building that relationship by assisting with the implementation of the report’s recommendations in the interest of affirmatively furthering fair housing.

References:

[1] Rivers, Wes. Going, Going, Gone: DC’s Vanishing Affordable Housing. DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2015, www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Going-Going-Gone-Rent-Burden-Final-3-6-15format-v2-3-10-15.pdf.

[2] DC Department of Housing and Community Development, et al. Draft For Public Comment – Analysis of Impediments To Fair Housing Choice Washington, D.C., 27 Sept. 2019, p. 228, https://dhcd.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dhcd/publication/attachments/D.C. Draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 9.27.2019 (1).pdf.

[3] DC Department of Housing and Community Development, et al. Draft For Public Comment – Analysis of Impediments To Fair Housing Choice Washington, D.C., 27 Sept. 2019, p. 182, https://dhcd.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dhcd/publication/attachments/D.C. Draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 9.27.2019 (1).pdf.

[4] Cenziper , Debbie, et al. “The D.C. Housing Department Forfeited Millions as Families Waited for Help.” The Washington Post, 6 May 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/dc-housing-department-forfeited-millions-as-families-struggled-to-find-homes/2017/05/06/ea325f42-161f-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html.

[5] DC Department of Housing and Community Development, et al. Draft For Public Comment – Analysis of Impediments To Fair Housing Choice Washington, D.C., 27 Sept. 2019, p. 315, https://dhcd.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dhcd/publication/attachments/D.C. Draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 9.27.2019 (1).pdf.

[6] DC Department of Housing and Community Development, et al. Draft For Public Comment – Analysis of Impediments To Fair Housing Choice Washington, D.C., 27 Sept. 2019, p. 316, https://dhcd.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dhcd/publication/attachments/D.C. Draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 9.27.2019 (1).pdf.

[7] DC Department of Housing and Community Development, et al. Draft For Public Comment – Analysis of Impediments To Fair Housing Choice Washington, D.C., 27 Sept. 2019, p. 315, https://dhcd.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dhcd/publication/attachments/D.C. Draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 9.27.2019 (1).pdf.

[8] DC Department of Housing and Community Development, et al. Draft For Public Comment – Analysis of Impediments To Fair Housing Choice Washington, D.C., 27 Sept. 2019, p. 221, https://dhcd.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dhcd/publication/attachments/D.C. Draft Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 9.27.2019 (1).pdf.

[9] Wild, Whitney, et al. “Advocates to DC Landlords: Stop Telling Section 8 Voucher Holders ‘No’.” WUSA, 18 Sept. 2018, www.wusa9.com/article/news/investigations/advocates-to-dc-landlords-stop-telling-section-8-voucher-holders-no/65-595848115.

[10] DC Office of Human Rights. Still Standing Strong: Highlights of Fiscal Year 2017, 2018, https://ohr.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ohr/publication/attachments/OHR%20AR%2017_090618_FINAL_0.pdf.

[11] The Equal Rights Center. “Property Management Company’s Refusal to Rent to District Voucher Holders is Unlawful Discrimination,” 12 April 2017, https://equalrightscenter.org/press-releases/property-management-company-refuses-voucher-holders/.

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The Equal Rights Center (ERC) — a national non-profit organization — is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org. 

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