Macon-Bibb County government agencies are preparing for new federal requirements on addressing racial and economic disparities in neighborhoods.
Last month, the Obama administration announced changes in fair housing requirements that place more responsibility on how local governments use money provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule will require local governments to publish more data and to set goals to racially and economically integrate neighborhoods.
The Macon-Bibb County Economic and Community Development Department and the Macon Housing Authority are undergoing additional training to prepare for the new standards that will be phased in, HUD spokeswoman Heather Fluit said.
“Locally set goals to remove fair housing barriers will vary from community to community, based on local conditions, and thus there isn’t a one-size-fits-all criteria,” Fluit said in an email.
The Macon-Bibb ECD has about $2 million in Community Development Block Grant money from HUD, although a portion of the money is used for projects that aren’t housing related, said Alex Morrison, assistant manager for the ECD.
HUD is providing communities with a data tool to assist in the fair housing changes. The software will map demographic factors such as race/ethnicity, subsidized housing and transportation options, according to HUD.
“We were told at training the first step is going to be acquiring a lot of data to understand what the reality is now as far as concentration of poverty in neighborhoods and concentration of certain racial groups,” Morrison said. “We feel like based on our early understanding of the new requirements that Macon is somewhat ahead of the curve with our private partners and nonprofit agencies.”
A July report from the Macon-Bibb ECD describes some of the local fair housing challenges, including data showing that whites and blacks are living further from each other. Data from the last three U.S. censuses shows a migration of white residents to the outer fringes of the county, while blacks have moved toward inner city Macon, according to the 2015 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing report.
Between 2011-2013, an average of 27 percent of Macon-Bibb residents fell below the poverty line, including 42 percent of children under the age of 18. A Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy shows that under HUD’s definition, 42 percent of Macon-Bibb renters are cost burdened, which means they pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
Another 28 percent are severely cost burdened, which means those people pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing, the report said.
Among the report’s recommendations is continued work with public and private agencies on low-cost developments to help alleviate housing and resource shortages.
Local efforts to improve diversity involving those agencies working together is evident in Macon-Bibb’s Mill Hill and Beall’s Hill neighborhoods, Morrison said.
The housing authority and Historic Macon Foundation are among the organizations involved in Beall’s Hill.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re not pricing out low-to-moderate-income individuals and actually encouraging them to move in the neighborhood and provide assistance,” Morrison said.
The Mill Hill arts village and artist residency program is using grant money to help turn two blocks of the historic Fort Hawkins/Main Street neighborhood in east Macon into a vibrant arts village.
For the Macon housing authority, following fair housing rules involves providing options to everyone who qualifies for vouchers, said June Parker, the housing authority’s executive director.
“We offer our residents choices when they come in so they can see all the areas and get to choose where they want to go,” she said.
Local governments could have grant funding withheld or reallocated to other places for failing to meet the new fair housing standards. Any penalties, however, would only be enforced as a last resort, Fluit said.
Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Mallory Jones said the new requirements could have an unintended outcome. It could be another example of federal government overreaching its power like a few years ago when it pressured lenders into giving home loans to people who couldn’t really afford them, said Jones, a real estate agent.
“I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “I think it’ll have bad consequences.”
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.