April 6, 2022
We virtually participated in the Housing California Conference 2022 to discuss the what, why, and how, with regard to housing preference policies.

Zach Berke, Exygy:

Great. Um, well, thanks, Rick. Could've just kept talking about martial arts all day.

Rick Jacobus, Street Level Advisors:

They were coming don't let me stop you.

Zach:

No one thought they were going to a panel on Brazilian Jujitsu, but, the panel on Brazilian Jujitsu is down the hall if anyone, was planning on coming to that.So thank you everyone for joining our panel on preferences today, Are Preferences Right for your Jurisdiction? My name is Zach Berke, I use he/him pronouns and I am the founder and managing partner at Exygy. We're a digital agency of B-Corp. We partner with nonprofits and governments to use design and technology to improve lives. We're the creators of something called Bloom Housing, which is a web-based affordable housing platform that scales equitable access to the affordable housing process in the Bay Area. And just this year, we've become expanding that work nationally in partnership with the city of Detroit, where we're launching a product called Detroit Home Connect in the coming months.

Zach:

So I'm a software engineer and a product designer. What am I doing here at Housing California, moderating a panel on preferences? Well, our platform Bloom is designed to make it easy for folks to find and apply to housing that they're eligible for, and because we're a mission driven technology firm, we seek to ensure that our work expands equitable access to housing. And so through this work, we've learned a lot about housing preferences and how critical they are to equitable housing policy. And we knew that as designers and technologists, we had to learn how the policy system worked in order to implement a digital system that supports it. So through our work, we've learned how important preferences are to communities that are seeking to allocate scarce housing investments, to those who are most marginalized and to focus on keeping housed those communities that are being most pushed out today, or that have been kept out in the past.

Zach:

We know that these housing preference policies are important tools. And we know because we've been talking to jurisdictions around the country, that many jurisdictions are eager to implement policies like these, and not sure how to do it. And that's why I'm so excited about our panel. We have some experts here today who can help us answer the critical questions. What, why, and how, with regard to housing preference policies. So today, we're joined by incredible champions within the affordable housing space. We're going to talk about the importance of evaluating a jurisdiction's, financial, political, legal, and technological bandwidth before implementing preference policies that advance housing equity. I'm sure it's going to be, a lively discussion today. I'll make sure that we have some time at the end for questions from the audience. A couple of quick logistics, please use the Q and A feature in Zoom to ask any questions you may have.

Zach:

I'm sure everyone's familiar with it by now, but there's a little Q and A button at the bottom of your black screen. You can press it. And the question will go to our group and we'll come to those at the end. In case we don't cover anything you're interested in, please feel free to reach out to us after— you can find myself, you can find all the other panelists on LinkedIn, connect with us and continue discussion. Please feel free to leave your email address with your question and we'll make sure we get back to you. Okay so with those logistics, aside, let's get started. Panelists, I'm gonna kick it over to you to introduce your yourself, please, start with your name, your pronouns, your organization, and share one thing you're excited to discuss today. Dyvisha can we start with you?

Dyvisha, Portland Housing Bureau:

Hi everybody. My name is Dyvisha. I work for the City of Portland Housing Bureau. My pronouns are she/her/hers. One thing I'm excited to discuss today is just about how preferences have benefited folks and also how preferences can be improved to lay really the ground work for building opportunities for folks to move back to their neighborhoods. Very excited to be here today.

Zach:

Thank you, Dyvisha. So great to have you, Jessica?

Jessica Gomez, City of Seattle:

Hi everybody. I'm Jessica Gomez and I use she/her pronouns and I'm with the Office of Housing at the City of Seattle. I'm really excited to build more community with like-minded folks who are looking to really push the gauge on equitable development and what that means and thinking about community preference and all the possibilities and creative juices flowing as we think about changing or removing this policy forward to much more equitable housing policies.

Zach:

Thank you, Jessica. Rick?

Rick:

Hi everyone. I'm Rick Jacobus, I'm a consultant. My firm is called Street Level Advisors. I use he/him pronouns. I do mostly housing policy with different cities, including San Francisco, relevant to today's topic where I helped set up and sort of implement their preference policies. I'm excited to talk today about how to be more explicit about race and use preference policies to consciously address racial equity rather than doing it sort of by proxy.

Zach:

Thanks, Rick. I imagine there's a lot of folks here that are really interested in that. So, thanks for that. Okay as I mentioned, we're gonna cover, some of the why, some of the how some of the what. Let's start with the why, Dyvisha, can I start with you? Why do we want to implement housing preferences?

Dyvisha :

I would say, well, historically we've seen a lot of, well racist housing practices and urban renewal development, in areas that, are typically populated by Black and Brown folks. We've been seeing that it removes folks from resources, safe spaces and other places where they can just commune and gather together and folks have missed out on generational wealth building opportunities. And the, the list really goes on. So preference is one of the vital tools to help people, one of the vital, equitable tools to help people to move back into their historical neighborhoods and keep them there for generations to come with respect to the current fair housing practices in place. It's beginning to move us in the direction of building, as my co panelists are saying, around building equitable policies and development in those areas and laying the foundation for it being truly reparative work.

Zach:

Thanks Dyvisha. Anything anyone wants to add, Jessica or Rick?

Rick:

We'll hear a lot more of why as we go along.

Zach:

Yeah. I really appreciate you framing, the reparative nature of housing preference policies Dyvisha took to repair the past harms. In addition to that, we are moving towards equity today. So we've seen housing preferences here in the Bay have a huge impact on who gets prioritized. Rick, I know you've done a lot of work, here in the Bay Area to understand that impact. I know we'd all like to ensure that housing preferences are used to prioritize vulnerable communities. But we've also seen that housing preferences aren't always used that way. How can we ensure that housing preferences aren't used to keep communities homogenous?

Rick:

Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I think it's really important as we talk in this workshop like San Francisco and Portland and Seattle have in common and interest in using preferences as a tool to promote inclusion. But we have to be really clear that in most of our history in this country, housing preferences of the very kind we're talking about have been used more often as a tool of racial exclusion. So the fair housing laws that we have in this country have been designed specifically to prevent communities from using, these kinds of community preferences to maintain segregation. So yousort of picture these white, suburban, you know, predominantly white suburban communities that say when we build affordable housing, we want to make sure that people from our community are the ones who move into that housing. But if the community's mostly white, that means that the housing is mostly gonna benefit white residents.

Rick:

And the Fair Housing law has targeted that and said, no, we're not going to allow that. That's even if the intent weren't explicitly to promote segregation when there's an indirect effect, it's still illegal. And the legal standard that we have is called disparate impact. And the idea that HUD and the courts have implemented is that you have to be able to show that your community is diverse in order to use a local preference. So you can't have a preference for a community that's predominantly one race, but if you have a diverse community, you can have a local preference because the preference won't have the indirect effect of providing a barrier to integration. Well, that's great. And it's a kind of a triumph of our fair housing system that we've been able to stop communities from using preferences in that way, so the practice still goes on and it's still a constant struggle that fair housing attorneys and advocates are pushing all the time against communities that are trying to use preferences to maintain segregation.

Rick:

But what Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and a lot of other cities now are trying to do is to use neighborhood preferences, to redress the past harm and to overcome that segregation and the same legal standards apply. So right now, you have to prove the same to pass that same disparate impact test, to use preferences in the opposite direction. So I ran a disparate impact analysis for San Francisco. And what we had to do is look at every neighborhood in San Francisco and what the racial composition of that neighborhood was. And say, if, if we give a preference to people from this neighborhood, will that have the effect of making it harder for one group or another to get into the housing? And, what we found was that, yeah, at the extreme, it might, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco said they wanted to do a 40, 40% of the units.

Rick:

They wanted to have neighborhood preference. But what we found was that at 40% in some neighborhoods, one racial group, or another ended up with a statistically significant advantage, thanks to the neighborhood preference and that wasn't gonna be allowed. And so HUD actually told San Francisco no on preferences. And so when they implement these preferences, they don't do them, the neighborhood preferences in the projects that are funded with lead money, but the state of California HCD said, you can do the preferences, but only at 25%. So because we found it 25% of the units, the impact wasn't statistically significant. There was a small enough shift in the racial composition of who moved into the housing, that it didn't change, you know, relative to sort of random chance. It wasn't too far of an outlier. And so that the test. And what I think is really important before we talk more about sort of how to further racial equities, just to see how that the basis of our fair housing law actually limits the effectiveness of preferences as a tool for redress. Right? A lot of the stakeholders in San Francisco want to see these preferences, not just as a way to fight against displacement, sort of regardless of race, which they work well as, but as a tool to fight the displacement of specific communities of color, right? The Black community in San Francisco in particular has been kind of decimated by displacement and the preferences offer a way to say, well, we're gonna stem that tide, maybe even reverse the tide, but because of the way fair housing laws is written, we actually can't implement the preferences. If they're effective in that way. Like it's illegal as soon as we can show that they're actually effectively favoring one racial group, even if that's the racial group that has been ultimately the, on the short end of all of the previous housing policies. So there's some real thinking that we have to do about how to be more proactive in our housing policy. And I think a lot of people in San Francisco are saying, well, we need to figure out a way to do explicitly racially targeted preferences in a way that's still fair and appropriate. And you know, the fair housing law doesn't let us use neighborhood residents as a proxy for race in that way. I hope that makes sense.

Zach:

Thanks Rick. So I think I hear you saying that particularly with neighborhood preferences, we have to be careful at both ends of the spectrum. There's ways in which neighborhood preferences and communities that are not very diverse can be used to essentially be exclusionary. But in some communities like more urban communities like San Francisco, where there is a diversity within each neighborhood, then the preferences can be used as a tool for equity. But then we potentially run a foul of fair housing law. Is that right? And if so, how have you seen San Francisco, deal with that? Are there other preferences that they're using on top of those neighborhood preferences, that are enabling them to work around those legal restrictions?

Rick:

Yeah. San Francisco has a list of separate preferences that it implements and they're not the same in every single project, but the first one they apply is a certificate of preferences. People who are displaced by city's redevelopment agency back during urban renewal get first opportunity for all new housing units because the program is targeting the specific families that were harmed by city action. There's no disparate impact test. It doesn't matter that those families were mostly African-American because they were directly impacted. And I think that relates to what we'll hear about in Portland a little bit later, so they implement that effectively. I mean, it's got a lot of challenges, but there's not a legal challenge there. They have a preference for people who are recently displaced because of an Ellis Act Eviction, which isn't interpreted in the same way as the neighborhood preference, but then they have a neighborhood preference and a preference for people who live and work in San Francisco.

Rick:

And a lot of cities want to have a preference for people who live or work in their city and can't. San Francisco can because it's a diverse city, right? If you have a diverse enough population that preference doesn't create a fair housing concern because the population of San Francisco is actually more racially diverse than the broader region. But in a lot of places you can't have that kind of a preference. Then there's this neighborhood preference. A lot of the attention in recent years it's been around the neighborhood preference because it's their attempt to try to stem, to stop displacement. And it's been effective in that regard, but it's limited by this sort of fair housing concerns. So I don't think it's not a good tool. It's like Dyvisha said it's one tool in a broader strategy, but I think we have to see that it's a limited tool because of fair housing. And if we, you know, we don't wanna overthrow fair housing to get these preferences in urban areas because they're really important, fair housing is really important in all the rest of the country. We need to not weaken this tool in those places.

Zach:

Thanks, Rick. Yeah, I think Rick has highlighted for us a number of the ways in which there are limitations, to the preferences we can put in place, either because they are going to have a disparate impact that is not the impact we're trying to achieve, or because we're gonna run a foul of well-meaning laws but ones which are going to be used to limit the effectiveness of our policies. Dyvisha, as Rick mentioned, some of the work, that you've been doing, how did you guys do it? How did you implement effective and equitable preferences, within the context of those limitations?

Dyvisha :

Sorry about that phone ring. When you asked that the realities came from home. So one way that we did that, what was unique about our policy is we were able to implement a point system. So this point system allowed for people who have historic ties to the neighborhood to be prioritized while not excluding anyone who currently lives in the geographic area that we were focusing on and moving people back, but also focusing on those who have been displaced from those areas, that point system allowed us to get folks who are not only currently lived there or who are displaced from a certain, from that particular area, but folks who had ties and ways of their ancestors lived there, we really wanted to capture the details. We did a lot of research and dating back decades ago, before I was even born, to encapsulate that loss of opportunity and generational wealth and that community building thing that I was talking about, a resource, I was talking about earlier.

Dyvisha :

So our point system paired with a number of, I would say that the partnerships we had with our community, partners who also had a similar focus in moving that work, is the way that we were able to do that. It was remarkable in that it didn't exclude folks who even currently live in the neighborhood, because as we, as time passed, we saw a more homogenous neighborhood. We saw a neighborhood that didn't reflect, the historic Black neighborhood that was once fair. So it allowed everyone to apply, but that prioritization and that point system was really the key.

Zach:

So I hear you saying that the point system made sure that nobody from the neighborhood was excluded, while at the same time, ensuring that you were able to prioritize those who have been most harmed by past policies or who are being pushed out most today. Is that right?

Dyvisha :

Exactly. Yes.

Zach:

That's fascinating. And so you were able to get around some of the limitations that Rick mentioned earlier by not limiting yourself to a single metric like neighborhood preference, but instead pulling together a number of different data points that allowed you to prioritize the communities you wanted to prioritize.

Dyvisha :

Exactly. And that was embedded of course, in our application for the easement of the person who was completing the application for those opportunities. Yes.

Zach:

Thanks. Jessica, is that similar to what you all did in Seattle?

Jessica:

So as much as we studied the Portland model really closely, because we thought that this was an excellent way to go about creating a preference for Seattle, it wasn't the way that we ended. But it was really helpful. And so it just for full disclosure, I'm from New York City, which is the longest oldest preference policy in the, country and most folks are, if they've started doing a couple of some research on preference policies, they know that their lawsuit within New York city has really put a huge question mark, around our preference policies equitable, or are they potentially discriminatory. And so we talked with a couple of those attorneys that were handling those cases, or had been involved in bringing on cases of fair housing violations with community preference. And we put our heads together to figure out what were our outcomes supposed to be?

Jessica:

And how do we, how does this work, where a city where we weren't working with just urban renewal neighborhoods, we were looking at a displacement risk analysis the city had done back in 2016. And so we took that map and we're talking with the Mayor's Office about using that map to create community preference within those census districts. The problem with that was that historically Black neighborhoods were then excluded because they already had been gentrified, so they're no longer had a majority population that were Black, but now were more mixed, mostly moving towards a white neighborhood. So how do we look back to think about creating an opportunity for folks to be able to come back and within the city of Seattle, it's just such a small city, that folks, when they move out, they normally leave the city boundaries, but stay within the county.

Jessica:

So they're close ties, they're 15, 20 minutes away from their original base of where they grew up or where their grandparents lived. And so there is a cultural relationship with organizations that have that catchment area of where they did their cultural work. So what we did was created three different preferences as a recommendation. And so the recommendation, for the preferences are: 1. You live in the catchment area of that census track or within a couple of the census tracks where that building is being built. 2. You have cultural ties or community ties to that neighborhood. So you go to the food pantry, you have faith-based organization, you go to for health resources. Then the other one is, 3. that you had formally been displaced from the neighborhood. So these three recommendations for community preferences are really important because they're recommendations and we are leaving it up to the developers to create their own policy as to make sure that we'll review it.

If there's a fair housing violation or we see a red flag, they also will have their own counsel reviewing it when they're ready to lease up. But essentially if there is a fair housing violation or complaint coming in, it won't dismantle the entire idea. This is where the developers come in. They said, wait these are your recommended preferences. We will move forward on these, or maybe I'll add one or two, we'll go through kind of like an analysis or a review. If they have potential red flags or violating fair housing, and then they will administer their community preference policy, but it won't create putting question, the concept of community preference in Seattle. I'm sorry, I jumped around for this because I think it might be also be brought up in a future question, but the way to bring back those neighborhoods that were historically Black into the maps of where community preference could be incorporated, we did it with looking at three different indicators. One is race, second income levels. And then the third is education levels. And to be in for that census track to be incorporated within the community preference map, you had to meet over two or three of the indicators. So it couldn't just be solely on race because we would then it would be a red flag for bringing down the preference idea already for the city of Seattle.

Rick:

But you could use race as one factor?

Jessica:

As one factor. Yeah.

Rick:

That's the race of the neighborhood, not the applicant?

Jessica:

Of the neighborhood, looking back at census track data.

Rick:

Yeah. Interesting.

Zach:

Interesting. So I feel like I hear, or Rick, you saying that one of the ways that San Francisco has gotten around limitations is by sort of stocking a series of preferences on top of each other. And you talked about displacement preferences and eviction preferences on top of these neighborhood preferences. Dyvisha talked about a point system, and Jessica sounds like one of the ways that you've gotten around limitations is through enacting some really progressive recommendations for preference policies, but not making those legally require and instead encouraging the developers to implement them. Is that right,Jessica? And are there other ways in getting around some of the limitations of housing preference policies?

Jessica:

I think those are the main two and for clarification, it's a permissive policy. So it's not mandated for all affordable housing developers. And then on top of that, it's a certain geography of the city and there's arguments pro and con of this. But it's also, it takes some time and relationship building to get developers up to speed. A lot of them are really weary of doing community preference. We've had three projects so far successfully do it. We've enacted the policy or allowed for this in late 2019, and then the pandemic hit. So it's been tricky. I do kind of like a road show about every year to tell developers about it and hopefully calm their nerves.

Zach:

Yeah.

Rick:

And do you have a lot of projects that are then choosing not to do it?

Jessica :

They, well, because it's permissive, so at this point, it's you're told about it. You know, you've got an award from the office of, you're excited about doing affordable housing, are you doing preference? And then it's like, 'Hmm, let me think about that', and now you have a whole year of pre-development before you're actually making the jump. It's not necessarily that they're saying no, just yet.

Zach:

And are you guys also involved Jessica in how those developers are doing outreach to inform the community about the housing and the preferences?

Jessica :

So I think that something really interesting about Seattle is that 95 or 98% of our developers are all not for profits. And so they're always are going to have a service piece to mostly always are going to have a service piece to their organization in which they administer or support their affirmative marketing. The affirmative marketing is taken really seriously, partnering up with organizations in the neighborhood, making sure that translation is done in person, computer support for submitting, if they're paper applications, making sure that they're accessible. So it's much more community run and the relationships are really good. I think where there might be a disconnect and where organizations struggle is when you're having a much larger affordable housing, not for profit, that has been a part of the makeup of city of Seattle, but doesn't have a cultural base that is when there might be a disconnect.

Jessica :

And so it's about me being able to work with them and saying, who are you getting to maybe support on getting folks with this community preference on board? Are you doing translations in these neighborhoods? Are you doing what needs to be done to get people aware of the preference? A really good example is Liberty Bank Building. And if folks know about it's a beautiful project, but it was done before we allowed for community preference. And so this is the old Key Bank building that was the first bank built West of the Mississippi to make an impact for Black families to purchase their homes and really fight back against redlining. And so this building, it was really important for the Black community in the Central District in Seattle. And with the redevelopment of making an affordable housing was just done with affirmative marketing to a degree in which community was all hands on deck.

So they went out the city limits and folks went to Black churches all in South King County. They really did vigorous outreach to make sure that people knew about it. And people who had been displaced are able to come back and that's what they did. So I think that that is to show that, what I hope when I meet with community is that they get through, is that exactly what Dyvisha said— It's not the silver bullet, it's one tool in the toolbox that we hope to really move the mark, but it's not the silver bullet where we specifically can be race forward and then and we can only target that community to be the applicants. The applicant pool must be, or there has to be an intent to intent to make it diverse as possible.

Zach:

And Jessica, I hear you sort of talking about a funnel in a way, that preferences can be sort of that pinch point at the funnel to make sure that the folks who are getting through are the ones that we're targeting, but that, the affirmative marketing is really critical to ensure that we have enough folks to bring through that funnel that such that when we get to that point of the preferences, helping us to select, we have built a rich community of folks, applying for housing who are in the communities that we're targeting. Is that right?

Jessica :

Correct. Yes.

Rick:

Yeah.

Zach:

Dyvisha, has that been your experience with affirmative marketing and pairing it with housing preferences in Portland as well?

Dyvisha :

Yeah, I would definitely say so. And just to sort of piggyback on what Jessica said, we operated on a very similar model. Most of the developers that we work with are in fact, oh, sorry. I froze. I caught myself freezing for a minute. Hopefully got that part. Both the developers that we do work with are nonprofits. So we really wanted to collaborate and work with them and getting the word out and different avenues for folks to engage directly with us. Not only just us, but the developers. So we did a lot of tag teaming in how we reached out to the community organizations, churches. I mean, even going as microscopic as going to beauty salons, whether it's me handing a flyer to them directly, or a community member doing the same. I'm so sorry.

Rick:

Nothing can be be done about it.

Dyvisha :

Yes. My dog has something to say about it too, but, yes, I would definitely agree that we use the combination of that affirmative marketing, in making sure that we utilize the tools we have within our government system to get the word out as well. Direct mailing was a great avenue as well, if I could add onto that.

Rick:

Hmm. And Zach, can I just underscore what I think they both just said, which is just that, whether or not you have, or can or are allowed to have a neighborhood preference, isn't the final answer to whether or not you can have an equitable program and we're just talking about marketing, but there's another side of it too, which is after selection. What happens between, you know, someone wins the lottery and then who actually moves into the building. And there's just a lot of ways in which the system, whether it's in the outreach or in the screening of tenants, creates barriers that are not race neutral. And, so even in San Francisco where the preference policy results in a real improvement in the the racial diversity of the winners of the lottery, the people who move into the housing are not moving in with the same frequency after they win the lottery.

Rick:

There's racial differences in the ultimate composition of the buildings, which we can only see because of the tool you helped build, Zach, the city built this application processing system, which they call DAHLIA, Exygy helped to build it. And so we have data about who applied for housing, and then who ended up in the housing and you can see there's a funnel like a bad funnel of attrition in certain groups that's different, the shape of that funnel is different for different groups. And so, getting through the credit score, following through all the steps necessary to get actual residents in the housing unit has proven to be a barrier to equity. And so knowing that the city now can take steps to try to fix each, each of the little points in the process where they're losing people.

If the goal is equity, they all have to get some attention. And it's not just one thing, but I think for advocates and elected officials, we tend to look for the easy fix. And so we say, well, we're just gonna adopt preferences, and then that's gonna take care of it, but we're not going to get equity. If we don't fix all the outreach issues and all the screening issues, and we can get pretty far toward equity, just fixing those things. Even if we can't do a preference, the preference just becomes one piece in the bigger system. The whole system has to be designed around equity or else just the preferences don't get it done.

Zach:

Yeah.

Jessica :

Thanks. I'll just say, from my experience, just to get a developer to, uh, really intentionally do affirmative marketing, I think is the key. I think some of them just look at it as a part of the checklist that they have to do, and you're at 70% construction completion and you're saying, well, I gotta get this out of the door. And so let's reach out to these five organizations quickly. This is what told the office of housing. Let's just do it. And I think creating much more of an avenue, um, just like Rick was talking about like creating a system in which there is more, um, there are more checks and balances to say, who are you reaching out to tell us the languages, like at 50% completion, what are the languages you're translating? Um, the, or the, the documents for, are you doing outreach at XYZ organizations, because those are your, your hubs for, um, potentially a group, a target population of low income folks that really could benefit from this housing. So I, I would say from the office of housing, that's what I'm definitely working on.

Rick:

Yeah.

Zach:

Yeah. I, I hear you all taking the analogy I used earlier of the funnel, where I said that the top of the funnel was the affirmative marketing and the bottom of the funnel was the preferences and saying, actually, no, there's more layers here. There's the layers of selection. There's the layers within that marketing plan. And then there's, how do we measure within each of those layers? How do we ensure that we're not just doing perfunctory, affirmative outreach, but in fact, measuring that we are doing it in multiple languages. We are talking to X, Y, Z, CBOs, and how do we test in the placement process, to ensure that the diversity that we're seeing at the level above it continues to be reflected as folks are continued to be selected for it. And Rick, I heard you used an example of credit score as one thing in that step of selection that can be negatively impactful on the outcomes of the folks that are placed. Are there other parts of that selection process that you've noticed are important to pay attention, to ensure that we're not doing all the things right up top and then at the last step, shooting ourselves in the foot.

Rick:

Yeah. I mean, there are other pieces, they're mostly really obscure little details, but what we see is that, you know, among people who win the lottery and have got this rare opportunity to get affordable housing, not everybody ends up taking the unit and sometimes it's credit score. And sometimes it's other credit factors, like whether they've been on a lease before, or how long they've had a lease, those kinds of credit standards that a property owner would implement. But some of it is just, people's— there's an uneven distribution of state stable employment and stable income. And so if you've got a community that has turnover in their work, more often, their disadvantage when it comes to accessing affordable housing, because they might win the lottery, but they might not have the income by the time the unit becomes available to them, or they might have to relocate to another community for a job and give up their affordable housing opportunity.

Whereas folks who have, you know, on average more income stability are better able to take advantage of the available affordable housing unit. And so, it's a set of things that, that add up to a pretty noticeable difference in the percentage of people who take the lottery unit, that's offered to them. And that's, I think we see that difference everywhere, but most places don't have the data to really dig into it and try to figure out what the, what the sources of the problem are. There's a similar thing with the city has this community of preference in San Francisco has this certificate of preference program where, families have these certificates. Some of them from the early sixties that entitle them to first opportunity for affordable units, but most of the families have not cashed those certificates in. And there's, you know, not great data about why, but it's largely that the affordable housing supply that we're building doesn't meet the needs of the population that we're trying to help.

And so we're offering this very thin piece of like a reparations framework, right? Like if people were displaced and we're trying to make it up to them, we'll make it up to them so long as they fit, they earn at least this much income, but not more than this much. And they want to live in this location, in a unit configured this way, and then they can get this benefit. But you know, most of those families now don't live in San Francisco anymore. They've moved somewhere else. They still have housing challenges, but we don't have a program that addresses their housing challenges. And if the intent was reparations, which I'm not saying it is, I don't think the city was clear about their intent, but if the intent was reparations first chance at the affordable housing lottery, isn't a very sufficient form of reparations. It's very limited. And I don't know, I'm curious in Portland, you know, whether Dyvisha, you think that, reparations is the right way to think about your policy, or is that really not the right terminology?

Dyvisha :

That's not the terminology that we can use. And I, anytime we have avenues where we're speaking directly with the community members and with developers, I say that this is just a tool. This is sort of a step to real conversations around reparations will have those considerations. Because we run into similar issues. Somebody will be selected for the housing opportunity and we will run up against credit as a factor. If it's a rental housing opportunity screening criteria can often be strict. So we have to go around and do policy changes around screening criteria and security deposits. And as you stated, we have a number of people who are contacted, but, may not be able to pursue the housing opportunity because their jobs are in an industry that has those high turnover rates or, if we ignore the realities of what's happening now, we're currently in the Pandemic, there are struggles for people to hold onto jobs because of a lot of mental health issues and other, other social factors. So we try not to very long way of saying that, but we try not to say that this is a tool for reparation, but to say that this is a step in that direction.

Rick:

Yeah. I think that's wise.

Zach:

Thanks June for, sorry, go ahead, Jessica.

Jessica:

I just wanted to add that some folks also talk about it, and I don't know how the other panelists feel about the right of return. And I think that that's a really tricky term to embrace with this because I don't think it's a right a return for the simple fact that you're in a lottery, you apply at your own risk. You may meet the mark. You may not, you may not reach the credit score that they want or the income band. And so I think that that is a really important distinction to make. Because I think as much as advocates really, I mean for the City of Seattle, the only reason why we have a preference policy is because advocates really work hard to create, talk about a community preference. But I think that over reaching and calling it a right or return is just really disingenuous. If we were to do that.

Rick:

I see that problem everywhere. I mean, I really think that's really well said, like if policymakers, elected officials want to do something that sort of moves us in the direction of reparations or repairing past harms, but it's very hard to come up with things that they can pass right away that meet that standard. But then they apply that language to it in a way that's that I think is ultimately going to make people feel disempowered more than empowered. And you know, one of the challenges with this whole framework about neighborhood preferences is that, I won't say where, but I'm working in another community where they're in the process of considering neighborhood preferences and the elected officials are very clear that they want it to be a form of reparations. They use the term reparations when they talk about it, right.

They haven't adopted anything. So they haven't said exactly what they want, but they, the city displaced people and they did it on the basis of race. They targeted a certain community and they want to make up for that. But the tool, of giving a neighborhood preference is now coming into a neighborhood where there's already been an enormous amount of displacement and the African American communities no longer the majority. So they're going to give this preference to all the gentrifiers as just as much as the long term families. And, you know, that's probably better than not doing it, but to do that and to call it, this is us making up for the past is a little problematic. And, I think it's, it's partly Fair Housing law that's forced us into this position, but, even if the preference is effective at serving the needs of the descendant of the people, the African American families who were harmed by city action, it's not effective emotionally.

If we can't call it what it is, you know, own up to it and say, we're helping Black families. If that's who we're trying to help. And because of Fair Housing, we can't say we're helping Black families a lot of times. And so then people just don't, it doesn't connect emotionally as like, this is we're trying to make something right, that we did wrong in the past. And that even when it's well intentioned and effective, it still doesn't get the job done if we can't connect the thing we're trying to do with the language of, you know, with repair. I think it's a huge problem across the whole housing field that we are using this double speak, that's going over people's heads and that elected officials are feeling good about it, but nobody else is really noticing it.

Zach:

Rick. That's really powerful statement. Thank you. You twice mentioned Fair Housing law as the constraint. I imagine there's other constraints, political, as well. But can we talk about ways to balance equity focused preferences and Fair Housing laws? How do we do it?

Rick:

I mean, I think Portland's story is about the best on the ground example, like they're being explicit about the city's past actions. And they're saying we're gonna try to make up for that by having an intentional policy that provides benefits to the descendants of the people who suffered at the hands of public policy, they just have to do it in a, still coy about the racial implications, but, it seems to be having the intended effect. What I would love to see is a piece of federal legislation that's specifically allowed a city to have a racially targeted preference, not just a preference for people who used to live in the neighborhood, but people who look like the people, people who used to live in the neighborhood who, if you moved to Portland in the nineties, you didn't experience urban renewal, but you experienced all of the negative consequences of urban renewal.

Rick:

You're not eligible for Dyvisha's preference, but you still are experiencing the negative effects of segregation and discrimination. So if the city was allowed as part of a proactive, effort to repair a specific harm in a documented community to have race as one factor in selection, I would think that would be a good idea. It's just hard to change federal law around this issue without inadvertently undermining the important parts of Fair Housing, and that are going to apply in all those places where, you know, it's holding the line against segregation. Like I wouldn't necessarily want to jeopardize Fair Housing in order to win this.

Zach:

So in the long run, it's about changing federal law, and doing so carefully in a way that doesn't undermine the important effects today. In the short run, everyone should copy Portland.

Rick:

I don't think that's, I didn't mean to say that. I think what each of these cities is doing is they're moving in the direction of something we're not able to get to that something all the way, but that's not a reason not to move in that direction. And so whether it's affirmative marketing, whether it's using the race of the neighborhood, it's one factor in deciding whether to do preferences, the kinds of preferences, San Francisco, they're all helping. They're just, it's, just not the silver bullet that people want it to be.

Dyvisha :

I, would even go as far as saying, as we run into the issues of the tool being very progressive and working, but again, where we have the opportunities not necessarily matching the needs of the folks, that would be something that would need to be addressed to, comment on to Rick. I would also say that, we would definitely need a push for change in our federal legislation and have it be more race by preference without of course under money for housing, but by rectifying the wrongs. I mean, in our particular jurisdiction, our research is predicated upon a lot of the red lining that has been going on a lot of just the intentional segregation, the intentional imminent domain, which is telling somebody we're gonna offer you in some cases they did not, but we're going offer you a percentage of what this property is worth, because we're wanting to use this for a public space that needs to be something that the Supreme court addresses, because that is something that is a right for the government to do.

We would need to see a huge shift in the system in a real conversation around reparations in order for what the intent of these policies are trying to do to work on a scale that's actually meeting the needs of the people we're trying to serve.

Rick:

Yeah.

Jessica :

Can I just add that? I think one of the other limitations that I think are really important to know is for the City of Seattle — we're only looking at areas with high risk of displacement, which end up being mostly communities of color.However, if we were to expand this and I think this is more about my experience also in New York is, if we're expanding community preference into being a citywide potential policy that you're looking at high opportunity areas where people of color and low income families have an opportunity to move into, it's not resolving other issues that come into play. So for example, families of color that are moving into predominantly white neighborhoods because of Fair Housing laws and because there's an affordable housing development, may be more targeted by police, by just walking around the neighborhood.

I mean, we have a perfect example with Ahmaud Arbery taking a jog in a white neighborhood. Those are the type of implications that this could have, or may have, and may already be happening. The other thing is that with families with limited English access or having really close cultural ties, they no longer have access to those institutions or foods. So it's another thing it's wonderful to think about community preference outside of maybe your targeted neighborhoods and thinking about other high opportunity neighborhoods with better schools or access to healthcare, but there are also major cons to that. The price of childcare for example, will jump up and you won't have as many in-home daycares in pricey, white neighborhoods, then you do in the community that you're coming from. So definitely it's a lot to think about as far as a preference when you're considering putting it into place.

Zach:

I think we can retitle this panel, "Preference is not a silver bullet". So that's clear. Thank you, Jessica.So thanks June for reminding everyone, that you can type your questions into the Q&A, I think we'll move into some of the audience questions we've gotten so far. So if you have any questions, please feel free to type them in. We'll start with Kate. Kate asks, 'Do any of the panelists have experience with preference housing projects running into Fair Housing law issues when seeking state California or federal funding? This has come up in some of my work with tribes who are seeking to build units for tribal members, but are unable to do so?' Rick, I know you've done the most work in California. That might be a good one for you.

Rick:

Yeah, I mean, I think that's what I was saying is this is exactly what happened in San Francisco, that the city developed a preference program, that they developed with a clear eye toward Fair Housing and, affirmatively furthering Fair Housing, and they submitted it to HUD, but it was rejected. The folks who manage us at HUD don't like these preferences very much. And, I don't blame them. Like they're mostly spending their time fighting off jurisdictions that want to maintain segregation, and San Francisco is not immune from that. It's not obvious just because it comes from San Francisco that it's going to be a fair preference policy. I think they're right to be vigilant about that. But it makes it difficult if you're trying to build tribal housing or, trying to prevent displacement in San Francisco and they don't have the tools at their disposal to really be super nuanced.

I don't think that people should be giving up. I think it's worth designing these policies and trying to make them meet the needs. HUD has approved preference policies in plenty of places. It's just a matter of the diversity of the geography relative to the surrounding market. The other thing I would say for everybody, that's thinking about preference is to use the preference conversation as an opportunity to open a broader dialogue about equity and how you can build a more equitable system. So you might have in your jurisdiction, a lot of interest in preferences, and you might not be able to get preferences approved by California HCD or by HUD, but you shouldn't just say, okay, therefore we can't do it. And stop. You should use the energy for preferences to push for better affirmative marketing, more investment in the resources to get people, to support people through the application process.

And really what I think Dyvisha was saying a minute ago is try to build the housing that actually meets the needs. There's no law that prevents you from going out and figuring out what kind of housing do tribal members need. What kind of housing do people who are historically in the Black community and have been displaced? What do they need, what are they looking for? And then building housing that matches those needs. So whether it's income targeting or unit size or, family configurations, if you build something that meets the specific needs of a particular group, that's not a violation of Fair Housing, if you then market it to everybody.

Jessica:

Yeah. I'll just add that we are working with an organization that supports and works, uh, is a membership organization for Native folks in Seattle. So, they submitteda community preference policy that they wanted to enact specifically for their members, but because their members are affiliated to the organization through a racial connection, we weren't able to, we noted that as a red flag. So when they submit an application to us or a template of what they're planning on doing, we're not approving or denying, but we are flagging it as a potential violation. And that's what we did. So they expanded, not only to membership, but to all people who were receiving mail who, in that particular census tract, so that way they were able to target, the homeless population and who were just had a PO box in the neighborhood.

Zach:

Dyvisha? Anything to add about the work you did to ensure that your point policy was able to be approved by HUD or, was your point policy approved by HUD?

Dyvisha :

So the interesting thing about that is I actually encourage, and I spoke with someone who was studying policy and just policies in general about this. I would encourage more cooperation with HUD. We didn't necessarily get approved by HUD. We, implemented this, ran this across our local state government, as well as by our Fair Housing partner who partners with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon. I think the lack of partnering with them. I mean, they knew what it was. They knew what was going on. They were informed, they passed the information onto their networks. I think we run against the preferences that they have within our local housing authority has within their buildings and our preferences, that lack of collaboration and that sort of approval process. You're kind of talking about, that that didn't happen. And that's something I would encourage anyone who's implementing preferences to make sure that that's one of your first steps, because we've missed the opportunity of having a lot of buildings, subject to our policy. They have been exempt, if they have any type of Section Eight or, Project Based Section Eight units within their buildings. So no, we did not in short, and please work with your local housing authority.

Rick:

Another thing that occurs to me Zach, is that, I mean, we've been talking a lot about taking for granted the assumption that the goal of the public agency is, redressing racial harm or racial equity more generally, but that's not always the case. And, even where it is a goal, it's not always the only goal. And sometimes there are other goals that are nefarious and sometimes there are other goals that are appropriate. And in some places, displacement is not something that only affects one racial group or another, there's loss of neighborhood character everywhere. And people rightly concern themselves about displacement, even, you know, of white communities. There's work that a jurisdiction has to do about why it's doing a preference and what it's trying to accomplish. And sometimes doing that work is valuable.

Even if you can't implement the preference that you want, because it violate Fair Housing, it might lead you to better understand what the problem is. You're trying to solve and then solve it in some other way. And, I don't think it's a terrible thing that communities even, you know, historic white communities want to maintain some sort of historic, this is how we've always been, but they have to do extra work to think about that in a way that's not just sort of this quick proxy for race. And, that can be done. There's communities that do that. But just to go quickly to preferences in that case is probably a big mistake, you know? I think it's about can the community be explicit about what it's trying to do and what it hopes to accomplish, and then maybe preference is not always the right tool.

Zach:

Thanks, Rick. I'm going to keep coming back to this analogy of the funnel. I feel like if we were summarizing this panel, I'd want us to have a visual. Rick, I've heard you layer something else on top before we talked about affirmative marketing as being the top of the funnel, but I'm hearing you talk about two things that come before that they're really both about engaging the community and figuring out what folks need and ensuring that the housing that we're building is gonna match the needs for the communities we're targeting. And also then ensuring that whatever we're putting in the lower levels of that funnel, whether their preferences or other selection tools, are the right things for those communities or going to have the outcomes we want. I hear you talking about community engagement up here before we do the marketing, before we do the preferences. And before we do the selection, each of which is a layer of policy that can help ensure that we are implementing more equitable housing practices in our communities. Okay I think we have probably time for one more question. So Karen asked, can you address educator staff, housing preferences? Karen? I'm not entirely sure I understand the question. Is there anything else you can, other panelists? Do you get it?

Rick:

Yeah, I think what she's asking about is where we give a preference to people who are teachers or got to work for the school district or people who are staff of some other public agency, or sometimes it's first responders. And, those preferences can also run into Fair Housing issues if the populations are not diverse themselves. But the other thing which we haven't talked much about in this session so far is just the logistics of implementing the preferences. Sometimes we end up with too many preferences and it becomes really difficult to implement the lottery and to select residents, because you've got these tiers of preferences. But the educator preferences or the first responder preferences can be really popular, they sort of help elected officials feel like, oh, this is who the affordable housing is for. I think partly because people have misconceptions about who the general population of affordable housing residents are and what their occupations are. So, when people say they want to do a educator preference, I often think that's an opportunity to do more education about who lives in affordable housing. But, I don't know if you guys have educator preferences, San Francisco does have the program. Do you have them in Portland or Seattle teacher housing preferences?

Jessica :

No we don't.

Rick:

Yeah. I mean, you see them a lot in home ownership in particular, for some reason, home ownership programs will often target teachers.

Zach:

Thanks, Rick. So in closing, is there any last piece, some advice, anyone wants to give for folks working at the intersection of affordable housing and developing equitable policies?

Jessica :

I'll add that I have been working on like social justice issues since I was about 15 and I then am a trained educated for urban planner, but I'm a total bureaucrat, but if I didn't have that relationship with community and understanding that development is not rocket science, development is a balance sheet, but it ultimately it's about relationship building and being an organizer and understanding what communities advocating for and why those conversations need to be at the table with bureaucrats and figuring out who, who creates these forums, who creates these policies, who is evaluating these competitive awards that end up happening for RFPs and RFQs. Is that the voices of advocates and organizers are really important and should be a pillar of our work. And I'm not only speaking about community preference, but if we don't really add them to the analysis or add them to see if the project pencils out, we're not being equitable in any way, community and the most impacted are going to be able to shed light or give language to what we need to do and how to push these policies forward.

And it's taken me a couple years to be able to get folks okay with some parts of community preference and other pieces at work. But we must be helpful to community advocates and pushing what they are looking for. At the same time, they deserve transparency and complete honesty from us. So we can't beat around the bush and we can't be afraid of the backlash or the letters to the Mayor. We have to be transparent and open with community because they deserve that. But that's how we build trust. If we aren't going to be straight shooters with them, they're not just going to have our back. And, um, I think it's really important for us to consider them in the whole strategy.

Rick:

What Jessica said, just reminded me of something else that I think we didn't talk enough about. And, really, as in some sense, part of the answer to Kate's question about, what do we do if HUD won't approve our preferences? And it's just about data that there's this culture in housing that we need to have fair access to the units, but somehow we don't ever need to share the information about who got the housing and everyone and attentive to this question of the racial composition of the residents of affordable housing in particularly in these sort of high diverse urban communities. But we don't often share that information. And sometimes that's because it's just really hard to get that information, but it's also just really loaded, right? People are worried they're gonna get sued or there's gonna be a lot of conflict.

It's hard enough to build affordable housing without having an extra source of conflict, but in some sense, we owe it to people to have more transparency about who's getting the affordable housing and that that transparency will create a pressure to do a better job on actually, affirmatively furthering Fair Housing because the unfortunate reality is just not allowing racial preferences, hasn't gotten the job done of the housing going equally to everybody. It's still, there are still real barriers to who gets affordable housing. And if we had a complete accounting, we would not be happy with the results. We shouldn't be happy, we shouldn't hide that from ourselves, it would help us all if we had to do it. And I don't, I don't expect jurisdictions on their own to sort of report that data, but it'd be nice if the State and the Federal government were doing more to collect that data, anonymize it and share it broadly. So the policy community as a whole could see how well or how poorly we're doing it fairly, allocating the affordable housing that we have across racial groups. Cause my guess is we still have a long way to go to even get to fair, much less to repairing past harms.

Zach:

Yeah, Rick, I agree completely and not only can the data show us how we're doing right now, but it can also, we might have well-meaning policies that we're not sure how effective they are and the data can allow us to measure whether those policies are changing from where we're at now. And if not, give us the ability to nimbly change and put new policies in place and test those and see how they work. So thank you for that. Dyvisha, anything you want to add before we wrap here?

Dyvisha :

Yes. I think my co panelists have wrapped it up wonderfully. I would say that my last tidbit advice is making sure that you're engaging community in all aspects of the project, the beginning phase, the middle of the phase, and after the phase, I think that one of the things that, I failed to mention earlier on this policy is that this was something that community pushed for, that relied a piece of property. It was neighborhood, a community member, seeing a number of developers coming into neighborhood buying property for very cheap and building things like stores or apartments that people could not get into, but people were having these conversations long before this was happening. People were seeing this long before it actually happened and were trying to have people at the table. They were denied and things were cut at every angle because of that indirect racism that exists within our governmental systems.

And as somebody who, yes, I am a city employee. I am also as a bureaucrat, but I think that it is very important to remember that we are community members first. And as long as we're implementing policies like this, we need to make sure that we're giving way not being the voice for, but giving voices to giving opportunities for people in the community to share their voices and their opinions on the policies and programs that we are implementing. So, that would be my only tidbit. Make sure everyone is involved on board, mainly your community members, of course, your community based organizations and your partners and your co-developers and your project sponsors, but more importantly, the community that you're building the properties for.

Zach:

Thank you, Dyvisha. Engage the communities, make sure we're honest with them, make sure we're bringing them in all the time. Let's think about the parts of the funnel from who we're engaging, what we're deciding to build, where we're deciding to build it, who we're reaching out to when we're, when we're letting folks know about the opportunities, preferences or a piece of that. And so is selection, deciding how we're going to ensure that we're not forcing people out at the last stage after they've already won the lottery, and, preferences aren't a silver bullet. All of these pieces are necessary for our communities to move to, to repair past harms and have more equitable outcomes for our communities. So thank you to the panel. Thank you, Jessica. Thank you, Dyvisha. Thank you, Rick. Thank you for the great questions, the audience, thanks, Tori, for keeping us on time and organized here. Thanks Brookes for the captioning. I believe we'll have this panel available to share afterwards. Please feel free to reach out to any of us. Again, we're all on LinkedIn. You can find us easily, and if you have any other questions, we'd be happy to talk. So, thank you everyone. Thank you, Housing California.

Rick:

Thanks.

Dyvisha :

Thanks everybody.

Jessica:

Thanks everybody.

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