What can HUD do to better promote the fair housing outcomes of Section 8 vouchers?
There are several things. One is housing counseling and making sure people understand what they can do as they move into areas of opportunity, schools, transportation, and more healthy living environments. Then there are more complex issues related to matters such as fair market rent values and providing greater support to the residents in order to be able to use vouchers and use them effectively.
In our interview with Deputy Secretary Ron Sims he discussed how sustainability can work into HUD policy and specifically how you can determine one’s quality of life by one’s zip code. How can programs like Sustainable Communities Initiative relate to fair housing? And then, in the spirit of that initiative, does your office actively look at interagency initiatives?
First, the furthering fair housing obligation extends to housing activities across the government, so it’s not just HUD, and it’s not just HUD recipients. For example, the key to meeting the “Equal Opportunity” of “FHEO,” lies with the Department of Labor and with the local workforce investment boards that create job and training opportunities in public housing. We are working with local communities to provide assistance to set up registries of businesses that will hire low-income individuals, recognizing that those low-income individuals often need training. This gives us other opportunities to break down employment barriers, particularly for women in the construction trades, which is a focus of Section 3.
In terms of sustainability, I think that is very much at the heart of our work on affirmatively furthering fair housing. Regarding one’s zip code and where people live, school segregation levels are very, very high, and the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2006 ruled [in Parents Involved in Community Schools Inc. v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County (Ky.) Board of Education] that school officials are limited in their ability to use race as a factor in admissions and setting admission zones. We now see a greater responsibility on the housing providers and the housing community to break down segregation within a community.
We are doing two things here: We’re creating opportunity and promoting mobility in all places, but we’re also making the place where you live less of a determinant of your overall success. We are able to do that through decisions that involve the Department of Transportation in terms of siting public transportation, and also where their investments go.
I would say that the sustainability effort and the deputy [secretary]‘s call for making the zip codes irrelevant to people’s success fits hand-in-glove with our work in fair housing.
[A shorter version of this interview appeared in the print edition of Shelterforce, Spring 2011.]