The challenge of creating housing that’s affordable is nothing new, as Wonkblog urban policy reporter Emily Badger wrote last week. But it’s at the front of public discourse for the first time in recent memory. Five key recent events, Badger says, are the reason why.
Badger’s thoughts kicked off a forum on housing affordability and social mobility at the National Building Museum, where she moderated a panel of three leading experts on the subject. The forum was organized by the American Planning Association as part of its Policy and Advocacy Conference, which has drawn together city planners from all over the country who are eager to discuss solutions to today’s housing problems.
Here’s Badger’s list of what has recently brought the conversation to the forefront:
1. Ferguson. The unrest following the August 2014 police killing of Michael Brown has people thinking not only about police/community relations, but also about how we design communities. More people are willing to consider, for example, the consequences of poor children not having access to education and opportunity.
2. Baltimore. The events in Ferguson alone could have come and gone, but as Badger put it, protests following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore showed us that “Ferguson was not unique to Ferguson.” The public conversation about a divided, unequal America hasn’t so consistently been front page news since the Civil Rights era.
3. Proof that where we live affects our lives. At the beginning of 2014, a team of Harvard researchers launched the Equality of Opportunity Project, which found that the environments children grow up in influence the success they have over the rest of their lives. Having used tax records to look at each county in the country, the project provided “data to wrap your arms around for talking about the idea that place matters,” says Badger.
4. A shot in the arm for the Fair Housing Act, Part 1…. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the disparate impact provision of the Fair Housing Act, which says a policy can be found to be discriminatory regardless of whether that was the intent. Disparate impact allows prosecutors to go after forms of discrimination that are harder to detect, like barring people from living somewhere based on socioeconomic class.
5. …and Part 2: Affirmatively Furthering. In July, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that any community receiving federal housing funding must spend it in a way that actively works to dismantle segregation. The agency also unveiled a stronger commitment to enforcement.
After the forum wrapped, Badger said another item could probably join her list: the airing of HBO’s Show Me a Hero, a show about a fierce battle over public housing in Yonkers, New York that took place in the late 80s and, in many ways, really hasn’t ended. We ran a post outlining how DC has had (and is still having) fights similar to those depicted in the show and another on the lessons in urban design that the show highlights, and readers had plenty to say about both.