Fort Worth fair housing assessment shines light on community opposition to low-income housing

If there is a cancer in the city, do not cut it out and replant it in another part of the city.”

 

“I do not want to see [n]or do we need to have any sort of section 8 or subsidized housing bought into our neighborhoods.”

 

“I have no issue with affordable housing. However, do NOT relocate criminals into the 76052 zip code!”

 — Comments from Fort Worth resident about low-income residents accessing housing opportunity in other parts of Fort Worth in a community questionnaire.

It is no wonder that many people of color and people with low incomes in Fort Worth lack access to housing in high-opportunity areas. When reading the City of Fort Worth’s federally-required fair housing assessment, it is clear that the city is not only up against a history of segregation and rising housing costs to ensure fair housing for all, but it is also up against significant and perpetual community opposition and racist sentiment.

The City of Fort Worth is nearing the end of its year-long effort to create a fair housing plan. All jurisdictions and public housing agencies that receive grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are legally required to draft such a plan, which serves as a tool to help these localities and agencies take meaningful actions to ensure fair housing for all residents, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, family status or disability.

But fair housing doesn’t just mean stopping individual discriminatory interactions – a landlord denying a tenant based on disability or a family denied a mortgage because of their race. It is more than that. It means systemically addressing segregation and the lack of affordable housing choice. It means ensuring that black and Latino families with low incomes or people with disabilities aren’t resigned to substandard apartments or neighborhoods near environmental hazards. Fair housing means that families have equal access to opportunity, regardless of income or ethnic background.

Fort Worth’s Assessment of Fair Housing, which cities and agencies must complete every five years, is a time for communities and public officials to reflect on progress made in addressing fair housing issues, as well as the policies and practices that stand in the way of meaningful housing opportunity for all families and individuals.

This is a difficult proposition when community members whole-heartedly fear affordable housing in their neighborhood or detest broadening access to neighborhoods they feel they have worked hard to buy into. A testament to this is the nearly 39 pages of community comments attached Fort Worth’s draft report, including a barrage of racist and subtle discriminatory comments (though there are comments that also voice support for equitable investment in affordable housing).

The Fort Worth fair housing assessment lists many barriers to fair housing in its draft report, including high housing costs and concentrated areas of low-income people and people of color. But even if these obstacles are overcome, there still remains a major problem: community opposition to development of affordable housing development in certain neighborhoods.

The City of Fort Worth, as required by law, states goals and planned actions to address some of the barriers to fair housing in its draft plan. Among them is a plan for community outreach and education to encourage landlord participation in accepting housing choice vouchers from tenants and building awareness and understanding of affordable housing issues to decrease community opposition. This is a good first step. Those opposing affordable housing must understand the near herculean efforts many lower-income families face to attain fair and affordable housing in a rapidly growing city.

Communities of color and people with low incomes must do a lot of work to access housing opportunity. People with few assets and no inherited wealth must save for years to afford a home of their own – but housing costs rise and the struggle can continue for too long. For most living on the economic margins, homeownership is out of reach. People with housing vouchers wear out their shoes searching for a landlord who will accept this subsidy that is elusive – and when they do find a place that accepts it, it’s often in a neighborhood far from good schools, good jobs, and adequate city resources.

These are huge barriers placed before low-income people who have simply not been given equal opportunities or inherited assets and wealth as more affluent people have.

The “not in my backyard” sentiment or fear mongering some residents are engaged in adds yet another barrier in front of low income people. Perhaps more privileged residents can begin to remove barriers by trying to understand entrenched historical residential segregation and how a community’s policies and actions can perpetuate it. It’s time that the entire city, not just a small group of city officials and researchers working on the City’s fair housing plan, grapple with how to address fair housing issues. This starts with addressing racist and NIMBY attitudes first.

One commenter in the 39 pages of survey responses shows us the way forward:

“The city of Fort Worth should be doing all it can to make sure that people of color and limited means have access to reasonably-priced housing. NIMBY protests should be ignored. This is of utmost importance to the future of Fort Worth.”

The City of Fort Worth proclaims it has made strides in addressing fair housing issues. This is true — we have come a fair way since the height of Jim Crow segregation. But Fort Worth – and its residents – have much more to do to ensure fellow citizens are not left behind. We should all begin by carefully reading and considering this landmark assessment of where we have been as a city, where we are today and what we still must do to get where we need to go.

The public comment period on Fort Worth’s draft report ends Dec. 8. The City Council is scheduled to approve the AFH on Dec. 12. The final HUD deadline is Jan. 1, 2018.

(Northwest Texas co-director Adam Pirtle contributed to this blog post.)

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