Fair Housing Task Force

Analysis of Impediments: A Workshop

March 19, 1999
Canton, New York

Draft Report
May 1999

Prepared by:
St. Lawrence County Planning Office

Introduction: Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice

         Fair housing is the law: it involves legal protection when housing choice is restricted on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, handicap or other protected class. Both intentional discrimination and actions and conditions that have the effect of limiting choice are prohibited.

        In order to obtain local compliance with Federal law, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has had a long-standing mandate requiring state and local jurisdictions and housing providers receiving HUD funds to meet certain standards or take specific actions to affirmatively further fair housing. These have included passage of local fair housing laws, fair housing marketing requirements, tenant selection and assignment criteria, program accessibility, reasonable accommodations, and other activities.

        HUD requires local communities to certify that they affirmatively further fair housing as a condition of receiving Federal funds; HUD defines this obligation as requiring the grantee to conduct an analysis to identify impediments to fair housing choice within the community; take appropriate actions to overcome the effects of identified impediments; and to maintain records concerning the local analysis and activities.

        Since 1995 HUD has consolidated the submission and reporting requirements for several community development formula grant programs (Community Development Block Grants, for instance) into a single plan -- the Consolidated Plan. The Consolidated Plan continues the requirement that local communities affirmatively further fair housing through the analysis of impediments process.

         While the Consolidated Plan requirement still obliges local jurisdictions to conduct an analysis of impediments to fair housing choice, it encourages considerable flexibility in the specific methodology. According to the Fair Housing Planning Guide (HUD, 1996): "[HUD] believes that the principles embodied in the concept of ‘fair housing’ are fundamental to healthy communities, and that communities must be encouraged and supported to include real, effective fair housing strategies in their overall planning and development process, not only because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do.

        "Local communities will meet this obligation by performing an analysis of the impediments to fair housing choice within their communities and developing (and implementing) strategies and actions to overcome these barriers based on their history, circumstances, and experiences. In other words, the local communities will define the problems, develop the solutions, and be held accountable for meeting the standards they set for themselves."

        Generic data recommended by HUD for inclusion in an Analysis of Impediments include: public policies and practices involving housing and related activities; zoning and land use policies; evidence of any fair housing complaints; demographic patterns; Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data; results of any testing; patterns of occupancy in public and private rental housing. HUD further recommends that an AI process involve local governments, fair housing organizations, advocacy groups, housing providers, banks and other financial institutions, educational institutions, and other organizations that can provide information or ideas about fair housing problems and strategies for addressing the issues.

Analysis of Impediments in St. Lawrence County -- Background

        St. Lawrence County established a Fair Housing Task Force in 1991; its purpose is to develop strategies and produce programs to affirmatively further fair housing choice in the county. Since its inception, the Task Force has sponsored and participated in numerous workshops throughout the county on various fair housing topics. However, until now the Task Force had not conducted a formal, complete analysis of impediments (AI) to fair housing choice.

        Recent events, including greater HUD scrutiny of local Consolidated Plans, a need to complete an analysis of impediments to fair housing in conjunction with Jefferson and Lewis Counties for the North Country HOME Consortium, and an understanding that the county is becoming increasingly diverse, have prompted the St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force to begin an analysis of local impediments to fair housing choice. The AI process represents an opportunity for the Fair Housing Task force to be more proactive than reactive. At this juncture the County can identify issues and develop strategies to further fair housing choice without the pressure of a polarized situation demanding solutions amidst confrontation.

        The County Fair Housing Task Force began its AI process in late 1998 by reviewing HUD recommendations contained in the Fair Housing Planning Guide. Additionally, the Task Force reviewed an AI model that had been developed by the North Country HOME Consortium. The Task Force decided to adopt the Consortium’s model, for two reasons. First, adherence to a consistent model by all three counties will enable the eventual HOME Consortium Analysis of Impediments to maintain an internal coherence.

        Second, and most important, the Consortium AI model emphasized maximum participation by stakeholders in the development of fair housing issues and impediments. These stakeholders include representatives from local governments, housing providers (public and private, rental and for sale), social service agencies, lenders, religious social action agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and other groups which might be predicted to have knowledge of, or deal with the effects from, impediments to fair housing choice.

        By working with these stakeholders to identify impediments, the Task Force was not only able to benefit from the institutional experience of each organization about fair housing issues, but also to rely on each groups’ organizational stability: there will continue to be somebody from each organization to review, critique and comment on each step of the Task Force’s AI process.

Workshop Development

        The St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force decided to convene a stakeholder workshop to discuss current problems with fair housing choice, and to begin to identify strategies for actions to ensure equal choice. At meetings on December 14 and 21, 1998 Task Force members used the Consortium model to identify local agencies, organizations and individuals as probable stakeholders in the fair housing process; they also reviewed the Consortium agenda for such a stakeholder meeting.

        At their February meeting, Task Force members reviewed a list of invitees compiled by Planning Office staff. They determined that, because of its central location in the County, the AI Workshop would be held in Canton on March 19th. Task Force members also reviewed the Consortium model agenda for use at the AI Workshop.

        This agenda provided for two separate breakout sessions designed to promote small group discussion about fair housing issues: the first session would focus on what impediments exist to fair housing choice, while the second session would discuss activities to be taken to overcome/neutralize impediments identified in the first session. At the conclusion of each breakout session, the small groups would report their discussions back to the whole meeting. A period was allotted after each reporting process for workshop participants to vote to prioritize those impediments and those activities that they felt to be most important. (See Agenda.)

        The Planning Office sent invitations in February to 60 persons representing stakeholder organizations. (See Invitation List.) Several days before the workshop, Planning staff sent additional information about fair housing to all who had registered for the workshop.

Workshop Participation

        The "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice" workshop, held March 19th, involved 39 representatives from stakeholder groups. (See Participants at "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice: A Workshop".) After an introduction to the workshop, participants broke into six small groups; each group was assigned a facilitator to encourage discussion, emphasize participation by everybody, and write down all responses.

Identification of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice

        After the first breakout session, each small group reported to the whole meeting about their discussion on impediments to fair housing choice. (See Breakout Session 1: Discussion and Voting Results.)

        After voting to prioritize among issues, the major impediments were determined to include issues of education, outreach, and discrimination; housing condition and access; specialized housing programs; and transportation issues. (See Breakout Session 1: Most Common Impediments Reported.)

        A lack of education about fair housing issues was demonstrated by the number of persons commenting on: the need to make physical improvements for people with special needs; the need to provide outreach for and evaluation of existing fair housing programs; the need to overcome social discrimination, including the stigma of "low-income"; and, the need to provide funding mechanisms to increase housing choice for affected populations.

        Participants commented on the poor condition of many available housing units and the limited access to housing choice by noting the need to make physical improvements for persons with special needs, to provide improved accessibility to existing housing units, and to improve living conditions in low-income housing.

        People described the need for more specialized housing types and programs, including the provision of supportive housing, and the development of programs designed to overcome institutional barriers to housing choice. These barriers include zoning and building code issues, and lending and insurance restrictions, etc.

        Finally, stakeholders noted that access to fair housing choice is not possible without adequate transportation. In a rural area like St. Lawrence County (which had an estimated 42.5 persons per square mile in 1997), available, decent and affordable housing might be inaccessible to persons in need, because of a lack of personal and public transportation.

Identification of Activities to Neutralize/Overcome Impediments

        A second breakout session for small-group discussion addressed what activities might overcome or neutralize those impediments to fair housing choice that had been identified and prioritized during the first breakout session. (See Breakout Session 2: Discussion and Voting Results.)

        After the small groups reported their discussions back to the main body, these activities were later prioritized by voting. (See Breakout Session 2: Summary of Voting Results -- Prioritization of Fair Housing Activities.)

        Regarding education/outreach/discrimination, stakeholders advocated additional outreach efforts in the community to overcome educational impediments to fair housing choice. They felt that outreach should target churches and clients of service providers. An informational clearinghouse was emphasized; this could even involve a Web site.

        Outreach should also be focused on service providers to expand their awareness of fair housing issues. Development of a legislative agenda to improve access to housing choice will stimulate government at several levels to include fair housing concepts in other legislation.

        Numerous comments also advocated additional self-searching to increase one’s own awareness of how fair housing issues can be embedded in other, seemingly separate matters.

        To improve housing conditions and access to housing units, participants advocated additional funding assistance for improvements to housing units. This additional funding might be used to create incentives for landlords to make their own improvements. Gaps in the spectrum of available housing types should be identified and targeted for development. Building code enforcement can be used to improve living conditions in housing units available to low-income or protected-class individuals. Checklists can be developed for public information, so that tenants will know what constitutes a decent minimum standard of habitability.

        Since special populations have specific housing needs, stakeholders decided that these needs should be prioritized; one such special need is 24-hour access to housing for mentally ill persons. While additional funding is required to address special needs, participants wanted to take care to integrate special needs housing into the community -- sometimes, the establishment of a not-for-profit housing site in a small community can have negative effects on the local tax base, and contribute to negative perceptions about tenants on the part of community residents.

        Regarding transportation issues, participants decided that additional studies are needed to determine patterns of need and potential for service. Acknowledging that past studies have demonstrated need but have not found ways to fund service, people decided that additional transportation funding should be part of a legislative agenda. Additionally, the group saw the need to change DSS regulations to enable low- and moderate-income persons receiving social services assistance to own more reliable cars; current restrictions on value of recipients’ vehicles ($1,500 maximum) just ensures that they are unreliable.

Workshop Wrap-up

        After stakeholders had reviewed those prioritized activities to overcome or neutralize impediments to fair housing choice, some general discussion took place about relative impacts of particular impediments to choice. As an example, if an impediment only impacted on a small group of people, it might not be seen as a priority. However, if this impediment had the result that each member of the group was denied access to housing, then the impediment must be seen as having profound impact for members of that group. While no conclusions were drawn by workshop participants concerning relative impacts of impediments to choice, participants agreed about the need to be sensitive to this type of issue.

Afterthoughts

        At the conclusion of the AI workshop, participants were given a sheet that encouraged them, later on, to reflect on the workshop process and discussion. This feedback was not merely an evaluation of the workshop, but was designed to be an integral part of the discussion process. (See Afterthoughts form.)

        Several comments were subsequently returned; they include (names withheld):

"The biggest impediments seem to be the need to educate the public about existing programs and agencies, people who financially ‘fall between the cracks," and affordable, dependable transportation.

"I would be interested in giving input on the transportation issue and have researched this issue and what is done in some other rural areas."

"I thought it was beneficial that a multitude of agencies came together to network. It was helpful to know that the other groups were working with people that had difficulties obtaining adequate housing and what their transportation problems were. 

"Transportation - use of TEA-21 funds to link smaller villages and hamlets to larger villages. (Norwood-Norfolk to Potsdam) (Heuvelton to Ogdensburg)

"Bicycle transportation is a viable alternative for the population lacking it. People will take bicycle paths where they might not use a high traffic roadway."

"Becoming aware of the special needs of the diverse populations was an important factor.

"The biggest impediment is poverty and substandard housing. Second is ignorance of how to move out of that and onto something better. (Education)

"Perhaps a combined effort with Cornell Cooperative Extension - they are good at educating; then get the word to the ‘service providers,’ i.e., O.F.A., Neighborhoods Centers, MINC, etc., about the existing programs - who can, how to access them.

"All in all it was one of the most productive workshops I’ve ever attended - a morning spent like that is well worth the time - you came away with good info and ideas."

"Best solution = more $ for housing subsidies, more strict and uniform enforcement, with fines and financial incentives to landlords; money from fines of landlords (can be) channeled to fund legal representation of tenants.

"Biggest impediment = transportation, poor quality housing - lack of diversity in sizes and types of subsidized housing.

"Other activities = education through mass mailings to landlords in utility or tax bills or subsidy checks, to tenants in utility bills or with subsidy checks."

Post-Workshop

        The "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice" workshop held in St. Lawrence County on March 19th was a first step toward the development of a locally-based strategy to address fair housing issues in the County. This report summarizes the AI process leading up to the workshop, and the workshop experience itself.

        A revised version of this report will be incorporated by the Fair Housing Task Force with other information to develop an "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice in St. Lawrence County." The County "Analysis" will be a guiding document in the development and operation of strategies to affirmatively further fair housing choice in the county. The County "Analysis" will be reviewed periodically to ensure that it remains appropriate as a guide to the many stakeholder groups.

        The County "Analysis" will also be incorporated with those produced through similar processes by Jefferson and Lewis counties, to prepare an "Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice" to be used by the tri-county North Country HOME Consortium.

        Comments on this draft report are welcome; please contact the St. Lawrence County Planning Office:

slcplan@northnet.org
by e-mail at
by phone at 315-379-2292
by fax at 315-379-2252
by mail at 48 Court Street
     Canton, NY 13617-1194





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