MHP-Kirwan Institute Report: Fair housing and equity in rural regions

What do fair housing and equity mean outside the urban core such as in rural areas without visible concentrations of race and poverty?  In the rural regions where MHP worked as a capacity-builder under the Sustainable Communities Initiative, HUD grantees struggled with this question as they faced a requirement to conduct a “fair housing and equity assessment.”

The lessons learned by MHP partners from addressing this question are especially relevant as the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implements a set of new requirements for Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing for all HUD funding program recipients.  

A report released this summer by MHP and the Kirwan Institute, The Fair Housing and Equity Assessment in Rural and Smaller Metropolitan Regions captures lessons learned from rural implementation of the Fair Housing and Equity Assessment (FHEA), a forerunner of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Requirement that was included in the federal sustainable planning program.

“Our poorer population lives in very rural areas and those are the areas where it’s hardest to collect data. It’s very scattered and it’s hard to find a cluster like HUD is looking for, like an RCAP.” 

The MHP-Kirwan report focuses on several questions essential to the FHEA: How did rural and tribal grantees interpret equity? What approach did they take in engaging disadvantaged people in the development of a FHEA? How did they respond to HUD’s expectation to practice evidence-based planning when so few data sources were available or useful in sparsely-populated areas? Finally, what were the impacts and lessons learned from the FHEA experience?

The FHEA assessed a broad range of factors. Rural community discussions not only resulted in the creation of projects (e.g. solar panel installations on the homes of low-income people) but also the formation of multi-jurisdictional consortia to share resources and complete these projects. Furthermore, new concepts were introduced to rural areas such as assessing and planning around the social determinants of health.

According to the report, grantees cited the FHEA forced community leaders to consider poverty and find ways to address it as a regional concern. Basic needs such as housing affordability and availability are not well understood by those outside the delivery of social services. The FHEA process fostered this understanding and inspired action to improve the lives of disadvantaged people.

“The challenges [for rural grantees] are surmountable and the outcomes from the FHEA process can be profound.” 

The FHEA experience is now embedded in the requirement that HUD grantees Affirmatively Further Fair Housing. Governmental bodies receiving HUD funds will need to develop plans and initiate community engagement processes that look much like what was done with the FHEA. The understanding of particular challenges facing rural grantees undertaking the FHEA will enable HUD and others to more effectively guide and support the public housing authorities and state agencies serving rural areas as they plan to meet their new fair housing obligations.

More Background:

MHP works nationwide to help organizations and public agencies build capacity to develop and preserve housing and community assets.  From 2010-2014, MHP staff worked with recipients of federal sustainable community planning grantees to build regional capacity to plan for a sustainable future. The authors of the featured report, MHP and the Kirwan Institute, were both part of a team of agencies led by Institute for Sustainable Communities that were under contract with HUD to support recipients of sustainable community planning grants. MHP focused on aiding rural and tribal grantees, while Kirwan, working with the national equity group PolicyLink, provided support to all grantees on issues of racial and ethnic equity.