Uncovering JAPA

Can We Measure Land Use Policies’ Role In Fair Housing?

The 1968 Fair Housing Act mandated local governments receiving federal funds actively promote fair housing but didn't specify how. Over 50 years later, the question remains: How do we measure local steps toward fair housing?

Fair housing analysis requirements exist, but they omit a critical metric — how land use planning and policy could impact integration. Land use reforms can facilitate integration that is currently prohibited.

In "Do Land Use Plans Affirmatively Further Fair Housing?" (Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 90, No. 2) Paavo Monkkonen, Michael Lens, Moria O'Neill, Christopher Elmendorf, Gregory Preston, and Raine Robichaud propose a fair housing land use score to measure whether local governments' land use policies promote inclusion across neighborhoods.

Takeaways for Practice

  • State and federal regulators should add a fair housing land use measurement along with expectations about what constitutes an acceptable score.
  • Government agencies need progress metrics for other fair housing goals.

Federal Evaluation

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a rule interpreting affirmatively furthering fair housing. HUD instructed local governments to assess themselves based on four objectives: addressing disparities in housing and opportunity, reversing housing segregation, transforming areas with concentrated racial and ethnic poverty, and adhering to civil rights and fair housing legislation.

However, these guidelines lacked specific expectations regarding timeliness and methodologies for promoting fair housing. They did not thoroughly scrutinize the impact of land use planning and policy on integration.

The 2015 rule has weak enforcement mechanisms, depending on local governments making changes through self-analysis and local processes. HUD's open-ended definition of fair housing outcomes has stalled the goals of the Fair Housing Act in many municipalities.

In 2019, California incorporated a requirement to affirmatively further fair housing into its statewide planning process. Unlike the federal rules, California's requirement emphasized land use planning.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development now requires local governments to assess the spatial distribution of land zoned for low-income housing development. However, few local governments followed these suggestions.

A New Measuring Stick

The authors argue that California's analysis guidelines lack precision, failing to fully capture opportunity distribution across neighborhoods. State opportunity maps are ineffective for guiding housing plan analysis because they are created at a regional scale.

A fundamental question in affirmatively furthering fair housing is whether zoning for multifamily housing in wealthy municipalities is sufficient, or if federal and state rules should require all municipalities to allow multifamily housing in all neighborhoods, especially the most affluent and exclusionary.

The authors suggest distinct impact measures for housing subsidy and land use reform. The proposed Fair Housing Land Use Score (FHLUS) aims to capture municipal economic diversity and identify lower-rent multifamily housing in opportunity neighborhoods.

Figure 3. Santa Monica multifamily zoning and tract median household incomes. Sources: Authors; City of Santa Monica, n.d.; U.S.Census Bureau, 2019.

Figure 3. Santa Monica multifamily zoning and tract median household incomes. Sources: Authors; City of Santa Monica, n.d.; U.S. Census Bureau, 2019.

The Fair Housing Land Use Score in Practice

Three California municipalities — Yorba Linda, Santa Monica, and Inglewood — showcase the benefits of FHLUS, highlighting interactions between socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and housing. The FHLUS score uncovers neighborhood nuances overlooked by federal and state analyses.

Overall, neighborhoods with more multifamily housing tend to be more racially and ethnically diverse but have lower median household incomes. Conversely, single-family home areas generally have higher incomes, restricting diversity. Correlations varied among cities, with notable differences in Inglewood and Yorba Linda.

A metric is more rigorous than a map for assessing plans. State and federal agencies can track progress toward greater local environmental equity by measuring the spatial distribution of non-housing investments across neighborhoods, complementing the assessment of land use policies' role in segregation.

Top image: Photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus

Grant Holub-Moorman is a master's in city and regional planning student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

May 30, 2024

By Grant Holub-Moorman