Panel Paper: Survival of the Fairest? an Analysis of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule Submissions

Friday, November 9, 2018
Tyler - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Justin Steil, Nicholas Kelly, Reed Jordan and Maia Woluchem, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule requires municipalities to formulate new plans to address obstacles to fair housing and disparities in access to opportunity. Although the rule provides a more rigorous structure for plan compliance than previous regimes, as a form of meta-regulation, it still gives substantial flexibility to localities. Are municipalities creating more robust fair housing plans under the new rule, and what types of municipalities are creating more rigorous goals?

The AFFH Rule’s AFH process may best be described as a form of meta-regulation—a regulation that seeks to induce those subject to it (here, municipalities) to develop their own internal, self-regulatory responses (Coglianese & Mendelson, 2010). These regulations are intended to create the flexibility to implement the rules in ways that are most effective in diverse local contexts (Gilad, 2010). Meta-regulations are most relevant in contexts in which the regulator knows the result it is trying to achieve but does not know the means for achieving it (Rubin 2005, p. 2131). The AFFH Rule seeks a reduction in disparities to access to opportunity but leaves open to municipalities a variety of strategies for achieving a “balanced approach” to fair housing. Similar to equality directives in other areas, the AFFH Rule seeks to encourage local innovation in addressing the complex mechanisms that sustain contemporary racial inequality (Johnson, 2012).

Research in other contexts has suggested that two factors are particularly important for compliance with meta-regulations: regulatees’ normative commitment to the objectives of the regulation and their capacity to implement it (Gilad, 2010). Regulatees are more likely to comply after a combination of both internal discussion and external pressure from stakeholders, shaping their normative commitment, as well as if they have the capacity to acquire information relevant to the regulation and re-evaluate it.

Analyzing the plans filed thus far, we find that municipalities propose significantly more robust goals under the new rule than they did previously. Measures of local capacity, such as the amount of local Community Development Block Grant funding, are associated with a larger number of goals with measurable objectives or new policies to advance fair housing. Analyzing municipal characteristics associated with a greater focus in the AFH on equalizing access to opportunity by either supporting mobility or investing in concerted neighborhood revitalization efforts, it finds that measures of local motivation, specifically more liberal local public opinion, a higher share of black residents, and higher levels of black-white segregation, are significant, along with measures of local capacity, specifically larger Community Development Block Grant amounts.