During the week of October 3, HUD released its draft environmental justice (EJ) strategy for comment. For HUD, EJ means “equal access to safe and healthy housing by all Americans; mitigating risks to communities in disaster-prone areas; providing access to affordable, accessible quality housing free of hazards to residents’ health; and, working to achieve inclusive, sustainable communities free from discrimination.”
Various federal agencies are required to have EJ strategies, in compliance with the 1994 Executive Order 12898, which obligates an agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low income populations.”
Executive Order 12898 ties in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by calling on federal agencies to conduct their programs, policies, and activities that substantially affect human health or the environment in a manner that ensures that they do not have the effect of excluding people, denying people benefits, or otherwise subjecting people to discrimination because of race, color, or national origin.
Seventeen federal agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on August 2, 2011, committing each of them to finalizing an EJ strategy by February 11, 2012 and providing annual implementation reports. HUD claims this MOU is unique because it recognizes keeping households healthy is not just about the quality of homes, but also includes consideration of where homes are located.
Affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH) is a key component of HUD’s EJ strategy. The draft points to the 2010-2015 HUD Strategic Plan (see Memo, 5/14/10) which contains a goal of expanding the choice of affordable rental homes located in a broad range of communities by removing local barriers to the expansion of multifamily homes. The draft EJ strategy states that this is central to HUD’s obligation to affirmatively furthering fair housing and is key to the equal access and equal treatment requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. HUD is in the process of refining its fair housing planning requirements in order to help grantees create inclusive communities and foster true housing choices. To guide localities, the updated fair housing planning requirements will sharply focus fair housing principles. HUD will also provide data to help grantees more effectively conduct an analysis of impediments to fair housing choice (AI).
Another element of the draft EJ strategy is HUD’s intent to identify ways to further integrate environmental justice into discretionary funding opportunities, perhaps by introducing standard EJ provisions in the General Section of future Notices of Fund Availability (NOFAs).
A recently implemented practice requires recipients of the new Sustainable Communities Planning Grant program to complete a Regional Fair Housing and Equity Assessment (FHEA). The rationale for the Regional FHEA is HUD’s recognition that overcoming racially segregated communities and concentrated poverty requires a regional approach to addressing unequal access to affordable housing, employment and education opportunities, transportation options, and other critical goods and services.
A traditional area of HUD activity that will continue to address EJ is the work done by the Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. Another is found in Site and Neighborhood Standards, which “prohibit construction and some types of rehabilitation in neighborhoods that are seriously detrimental to family life or in which substandard dwellings or other undesirable elements predominate,” and that require all housing sites to “be accessible to social, recreational, educational, commercial, and heath facilities and services.”
Comments are due November 14 at EJStrategy@hud.gov. The draft EJ strategy is at