From the Field: Minnesota Housing Partnership Releases Report on Community Engagement and Fair Housing

Housing advocates in Minnesota released a new report on best practices for community engagement in fair housing planning. The report, A New Approach to Fair Housing Community Engagement, outlines the recent work of a fair housing advisory committee in the Twin Cities that pursued more effective ways to involve community members, particularly people of color, in the planning process for expanding mixed-income neighborhoods. Produced by Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), an NLIHC state partner, the report provides lessons that can be used in other jurisdictions. MHP’s model for community engagement can prove helpful to communities who must change their approach to fair housing planning in order to comply with new fair housing regulations.

Clarifying the role of local jurisdictions in achieving the goals of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, HUD’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule provides new instructions and assessment tools for community planning. Some grantees of HUD funding have started to use the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) reporting tool, and all states, urban counties, cities, and PHAs will be using the AFH soon. The AFH replaces the Analysis of Impediments (AI) that has been used by recipients of community development funds for decades. The new rule emphasizes the importance of planning that facilitates neighborhood diversity and housing choices in high-opportunity areas through the use of federal funds like Community Development Block Grants.

The planning process in the Twin Cities began as a requirement to settle a legal complaint alleging that both Minneapolis and St. Paul had violated federal law by using federal affordable housing funding in ways that worsened segregation. HUD contracted with MHP to convene and guide a new advisory committee representing both government and community stakeholders in a process involving a consultant and impacted communities to create an addendum to the 2014 Analysis of Impediments (AI).

Part of the AI addendum process included the establishment of a community engagement micro-grant program. Funding was provided to community organizations with close ties to people of color or residents in neighborhoods with large low income populations. The micro-grant program was crucial in gaining the expertise of communities with concerns about displacement, housing choice, and discrimination. The micro-grant program was found to greatly exceed in both depth and breadth previous efforts that relied solely on public hearings and surveys without micro-grants.

The report underscores two key aspects of the community engagement process: a sustained and staff-resourced group of diverse stakeholders, and a funded, community-led outreach effort to gain resident input. The report shows that the best community engagement is driven by community expertise rather than just outside consultants and that ongoing relationships and accountability are vital. The report shares essential tasks for consultants assisting in community engagement and includes considerations on how to best support people of color and low income people in the public participation process.

“We are delighted to have seen such a strong and inclusive process unfold to inform the future of fair housing in the Twin Cities,” said Chip Halbach, executive director of MHP. “We hope that other communities can benefit from this example and see the value of devoting time and funding to effective community engagement.”

For more information about A New Approach to Fair Housing Community Engagement, contact Carolyn Szczepanski, Minnesota Housing Partnership’s director of communications and research, at: [email protected]

Read A New Approach to Fair Housing Community Engagement at: