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May 2018

Center for Housing Studies releases reports on fair housing, remodeling, and access to high-opportunity communities

April proved to be a busy month for researchers at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University:

Fair Housing Act at 50

David Luberoff, deputy director at JCHS, reflected on the Fair Housing Act at 50, citing remarks by Dr. Raphael Bostic, CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Speaking at an event at Harvard, Bostic asserted "Fair housing can and should be a centerpiece of efforts to expand opportunity."

The guest lecturer cited decades of research showing strong positive impacts that neighborhoods can have on children's education and future earnings. He emphasized it is in everyone's interest to support efforts to expand opportunities for all families. "Fair housing is a key to economic mobility. It is an economic development issue as well as a community and personal development issue," he told his audience.

Bostic, a former assistant secretary at HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) advocates for two main strategies for achieving the law's goals. One approach has been enforcement of the fair housing act's prohibition on discriminatory treatment in the housing market, he explained. The other strategy stems from the act's mandate that federal grantees also have an obligation "to affirmatively further fair housing, taking steps to promote integration and not just combat discrimination."

Fair Housing advocates acknowledge enforcement efforts are likely to be the primary way in which goals are achieved, "given the current administration's efforts to slow and roll back some efforts. "However, Luberoff wrote, "in the long run, people and communities will come to adopt more proactive approaches if only because an increasing number of them understand that America's long-standing history of upward economic mobility is at risk and that fair housing can be part of a solution to making sure the next generation (and the ones that follow) continue to have access to the American Dream."


Remodeling outlook: "strong and steady"

Abbe Will, associate project director, Remodeling Futures, reported home remodeling is expected to remain "strong and steady" into 2019. Based on findings from the latest Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), expenditures are projected to remain about 7 percent for the next four quarters. Spending on residential improvements and repairs by homeowners will likely exceed $340 billion by early next year, according to the LIRA study. Will noted strengthening employment conditions and rising home values are prompting owners to make greater investments in their homes.


Expanding access to high-opportunity communities

Barbara Sard from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities authored a report based on papers from "A Shared Futures" symposium, which delved into using a full portfolio of tools (including vouchers) to expand access to high-opportunity communities. "Efforts to expand opportunities should also recognize that tenant-based vouchers are, and will likely remain, the primary policy tool for enabling poor and near-poor families to live in higher-opportunity communities," she wrote.

Sard, considered a leading expert on the housing voucher program, rental assistance, and issues concerning the intersection of housing and welfare policy, believes federal housing policy has neglected certain acquisition strategies. She noted some mission-driven organizations, like the King County Housing Authority and the National Housing Trust, have patched together state or local assistance with private market debt to make some acquisitions feasible.

"Facilitating loans and grants to purchase rental properties tied to long-term affordability restrictions - including obligations not to discriminate against voucher holders - should be a goal of federal housing policy, including housing finance reform," Sard wrote. Housing practitioners work to do the best job possible with available resources, she emphasized, adding "We must also build the political will to expand investments in housing subsidies so more families have the chance to overcome affordability barriers and live in communities of their choice."

In a long-term effort to achieve that goal, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has joined with the National Low Income Housing Coalition and others in launching the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign.