Dismantling the walls of segregation: AB 686

One week after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, in an attempt to address rampant segregation and national outrage, the Fair Housing Act (or Civil Rights Act) of 1968 became law.

The Fair Housing Act created a powerful mandate: more than just prohibiting discrimination, federal agencies must actively work to dismantle segregation and create equal housing opportunities. This is also known as the obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing” or AFFH.

Now under threat at the national level, that fair housing obligation could become law in California if our state legislators pass Assembly Bill 686.

The federal tides have turned (again)

For decades, the AFFH requirement languished. Public housing, for instance, has been consistently built in low-income neighborhoods. Schools, too, made segregation worse. Communities of color were continually starved of infrastructure investment and disproportionately burdened by pollution.

Recently, we saw action: in 2015, the Obama Administration issued regulations that strengthened AFFH. Entities receiving funds by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—including states, local governments, and public housing authorities—must take “meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.”

But now, this powerful mandate is at risk. Dr. Ben Carson, the current Secretary of HUD, has called affirmatively furthering fair housing a “social-engineering scheme” and a “government-engineered attempt to legislate racial equality [which] create consequences that often make matters worse.” In July, Dr. Carson said he will “reinterpret” the law because, though he says he believes in fair housing, he doesn’t believe in “extra manipulation and cost."

Meanwhile, in California

In California, historic patterns of segregation persist: segregation was caused by what some would call “extra manipulation” by government, also known as redlining. Many people of color continue to live in neighborhoods with severe environmental health burdens. People who live in low-income communities across the state are threatened by displacement and disinvestment. African-American households are about twice as likely to spend more than half of their income on housing compared to white households, and Latino households are also overpaying at dramatic rates.

Now that AFFH is threatened at the federal level, California must act to make sure it can address these inequities. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act goes beyond the Fair Housing Act in many ways, but it currently lacks an explicit obligation to affirmatively further fair housing—to actually dismantle segregation.

Assembly Bill (AB) 686 would address this. AB 686 is legislation proposed by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (Los Angeles), co-sponsored by the National Housing Law Project, Public Advocates, and the Western Center for Law and Poverty. If passed, AB 686 would create an AFFH obligation in state law. Public agencies in California would be required to administer their programs related to housing and community development in a way that affirmatively furthers fair housing.

AB 686 could help overcome patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, address environmental justice, foster inclusive communities, and protect residents from displacement.

Bringing it to the regional level

This intersects directly with ClimatePlan’s work on Regional Transportation Plans / Sustainable Communities Strategies. If AB 686 passes, these regional plans must include analyses of the barriers that restrict opportunity for people of color, immigrants, and other groups that face historic and current discrimination and commit to meaningful actions that affirmatively further fair housing.

In our comments to the Air Resources Board, ClimatePlan said that stronger SB 375 targets should maximize benefits to low-income and disadvantaged communities and mitigate harm. Maximizing benefits means providing all Californians with affordable opportunities to drive less and live in safer, healthier communities. Mitigating harm means protecting the rights of communities of color and low-income communities, who stand to be impacted most by harms like displacement.

AB 686 builds upon our request for the targets to maximize benefits and mitigate harms by ensuring the plans advance meaningful actions to overcome patterns of segregation and address disparities in housing needs.

A hopeful step

In stark contrast to the threats to fair housing and civil rights at the national level, AB 686 reaffirms California’s commitment to inclusive communities and access to opportunity for all of its residents.

AB 686 is currently in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. If your senator is on the committee, please reach out and let your senator know you would like him or her to support AB 686. You can also find more resources to support AB 686 at Public Advocates’ website. For more information on this bill, please contact Public Advocates’ Sam Tepperman-Gelfant or Michelle Pariset.

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