Creating equitable and inclusive communities requires strategic thinking and creativity. Luckily, there are many strategies civic leaders can pursue to advance equity and overcome obstacles.
Local histories of inequitable housing systems – including urban renewal, redlining, and segregation – are still visible in communities through the built environment and economic realities like the racial wealth gap. Recognizing and addressing historical injustices and modern threats, such as gentrification, are essential to stabilizing neighborhoods and ensuring future community prosperity.
Lasting Legacies of Racial Housing Practices
Housing and development practices rooted in historical racism continue to manifest in many geographies. Until 1968, Federal Home Administration (FHA) refused to insure mortgages for Black homeowners, which created a “state-sponsored system of segregation” perpetuated through redlining that led to patterns of geographic segregation, as described in Richard Rothstein’s Color of Law.
While redlining practices were more common in cities, suburbs perpetuated racial segregation through race-based covenants. Racial covenants were deed restrictions forbidding property sale or rental to Black households. Some covenants also prohibit property transfer to Asian or Jewish households. While racial covenants were ruled unenforceable in 1948 and illegal through the Fair Housing Act of 1968, they still exist in some deeds.
The legacy of racist housing practices is still visible in the geographies of communities today. Denver’s inverted L, for example, marks the line between communities that are majority-white (inside the L) and predominantly non-white (outside the L).
Quality of life outcomes correlated with living outside the L include being more likely to experience displacement and being less educated. Additionally, the exterior of the L is downwind from major industries, negatively impacting the quality of life conditions such as noise and smell. Denver’s inverted L separates neighborhoods with more trees from those with fewer. The environmental impact of these historic practices must not be overlooked.
Addressing systemic challenges such as housing disparities requires understanding historical injustices such as urban renewal and housing discrimination.
To advance equitable development, communities are deploying various local and regional initiatives across public and private sectors in the form of targeted programs, mandates, and incentives, process improvements, financial investments, physical infrastructure, or partnerships.
Seattle’s Housing Seattle Now project consists of a two-pronged housing assistance investment. The project will see at least $50 million invested in housing for people experiencing homelessness alongside a renewed and improved Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program. Support was raised without increasing taxes through a new law (Washington HB 1406) that allows cities, towns, and counties to credit against the sales tax for 20 years starting in 2019. The Multi-Family Tax Exemption program is an incentive program to create affordable housing through a tax exemption for developers. This tax exemption is given for 12 years if 20 - 25% of their units are affordable. As of 2019, 4,500 low- and middle-income households have been provided with affordable housing. An additional 1,300 units were built between 2019-2022. To monitor progress, Seattle created an affordable housing stock dashboard. These efforts cumulatively show a commitment to equity in housing.
Indianapolis, Indiana, is marrying housing with transit, recently launching its $15 million Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD) Loan Fund to enable equitable access to jobs, education, healthcare, and more. Months after the Loan Fund’s creation, two large buildings were acquired to be converted into affordable housing. eTODs can be public-private partnerships to assure long-term residents share the benefits of new business development. Many other cities have eTODs, including Atlanta, Georgia, Seattle, Washington, and Chicago, Illinois.
Transit-served housing can extend the benefits of equitable housing while helping cities meet their climate goals.
The lasting legacy of racial housing practices remains visible across communities. Gentrification and displacement pose additional threats to equity and long-term housing affordability. Policy solutions like inclusionary zoning, community land trusts, and pay-to-stay regulations can be enacted locally to address specific community needs. Examples of comprehensive investments exemplify how to connect affordable housing investments to other needs, like transit in Indianapolis or without higher tax burdens as in Seattle.
Deploying inclusive housing planning requires engagement with various stakeholders, with special attention towards women, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, people with disabilities, communities of color, Black, Hispanic, and Latinx communities, and low-income individuals and families. Developing program assessment processes and tracking indicators can capture equitable engagement. Our Equitable Community Planning Toolkit offers a framework, tools, and a step-by-step approach for advancing equitable planning and community building through the use of indicators and community engagement.