April marked the 55th anniversary of the last major piece of Civil Rights era legislation, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a law outlawing racial discrimination in housing and fostering racial integration and access to opportunity. Today’s crisis of housing affordability, evictions, displacement and the growing racial wealth gap clearly shows the FHA’s promise has not been fulfilled and access to housing and property ownership is still deeply racialized.
Samia Byrd, Arlington County Chief Race and Equity Officer, and a racial equity practitioner in the GARE network reflects, “It is past time housing and planning practitioners in government assume the role and responsibility of racial equity practitioners. For generations we racialized housing investments and land use regulations to segregate, disinvest, and displace communities of color.”
Race Forward, the GARE network’s anchor organization, honored the passage of the FHA with the launch of a new Housing and Land Justice Initiative, bringing our systemic approach to racial justice to the housing and land development sector. This initiative combines public opinion research, community partnerships, and cultivates and deepens relationships and peer-to-peer learning and collaboration amongst racial equity practitioners who work in GARE member jurisdictions.
Byrd continues, “Now we come together to do the exact opposite [of what governments have historically done] to develop racial equity policies, plans, and practices centering the lived experiences of people who have been systematically marginalized by our unjust housing and land use system. This network is bringing practitioners together to operationalize racial equity through housing, land, and development.“
Byrd previously served as Arlington county’s Principal Planner, prior to becoming the county’s Chief Race and Equity Officer and is now a key member of a leadership team of Chief Equity Officers and racial equity leaders from local and regional housing and planning agencies that is leading the build out of this Networking Group within GARE. Byrd’s colleagues in this work include, Nefertitti Jackmon, City of Austin’s Community Displacement Prevention Officer, Neisha Saxena, Multnomah County’s Deputy Director for the Office of Equity and Diversity, and Giulia Pascutti, City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative’s strategic advisor.
Racial equity practitioners in GARE member jurisdictions can join this peer-to-peer learning community on the GARE Network portal and register here to meet the 150 racial equity practitioners from 45+ housing and planning agencies. The group meets monthly.
Additionally, to support the growing field of racial equity planning and housing policy, GARE released Advancing Racial Equity in Housing, Land, and Development, a toolbox to help housing and planning agencies transform their organizational structures and develop race-conscious housing and land use policies. The toolbox is full of racial equity strategies that aim to shift how policy is made.
Practitioners have been using these racial equity strategies and more to achieve recent wins for housing justice that are raising the bar for equitable public service:
- Arlington County (VA) recently passed a series of “missing middle housing” ordinances allowing up to six units on a residential lot. Prior to this legislation only single-detached homes were permitted in 79% of the County’s residential land area. Single detached homes are often the most expensive form of housing, disproportionally serving higher income households. The history and current day impacts of exclusionary zoning were highlighted in the County’s “Expanded Housing Options Racial and Socioeconomic Equity Analysis”, providing a model for racial equity analytical methods applied in a land use context. This analysis was critical to these historic land use changes.
- Austin (TX) voters approved a $300 million anti-displacement fund along with $1 billion for expansion of their transit system. Racial Equity Catalysts—community members with a depth of racial equity expertise borne of lived experience—were compensated to work with City staff to develop a Racial Equity Anti-Displacement Tool. The Tool used community priorities, data, and a root-cause historical analysis of racial inequities (a first for a City government project) to direct the first $20 million of anti-displacement funding through a Community Identified Solution Fund. Fourteen nonprofits received funding for renter stabilization programs, expanding and preserving homeownership opportunities, and a variety of other strategies to create community stability and self-determination in the face of displacement pressures..
- The City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative, the first local government anti-displacement program founded in 2015 with a mandate for racial equity, made $13.5 million in awards this May for land acquisition, development, and organizational capacity for community of color-led equitable development projects. The EDI has deployed over $100 million to date. As the EDI’s organizational capacity to implement the City’s equitable growth policies has grown so has its accountability to communities with high displacement risk. An advisory group of community members from those communities with lived experience of displacement and racial discrimination help to develop funding criteria and recommendations for the allocation of funds.
While this deepening of our institutional work to transform local government is important, it is only part of a multi-sector approach to changing the housing system and investing in community-driven solutions to address housing injustice. Other sectoral strategies Race Forward will roll out over the next year include supporting community-led initiatives in collaboration with government, advocating for policy change, and advancing housing justice narratives.
As we look forward to opportunities to expand this work, we are committed to doing this in partnership with the people most impacted by housing injustices; Black, Indigenous, People of Color, the houseless, and all people experiencing poverty and housing insecurity. We will be sharing periodic updates and opportunities, and encourage our allies to reach out with any concerns, as well as your successes and hopes.
*For more information about this work, please contact Ryan Curren, Housing, Land, and Development Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.