Just Economy Conference – May 11, 2021
There are many key issues that connect fair housing and tenant advocates to environmental and health justice such as lead exposure, Superfund sites, asthma risks, substandard conditions, and natural disaster preparedness. Panelists set the context by describing the relationship of racial segregation and discriminatory land use practices to environmental exposures, in particular focusing on the risks faced by people in subsidized housing. We will address these specific issues of concern, with an eye toward both building capacity for community-based advocacy and identifying needed federal reforms.
We also highlighted key findings from a recent Shriver Center and Earthjustice report on the proximity of Superfund sites and other toxic sites to federally assisted housing, which included recommendations on how to maximize tenant involvement in the future of their housing, and surrounding community.
We also draw upon our advocacy work to improve housing conditions within subsidized housing programs and point to the need for improved agency oversight and enforcement. Agencies, in particular federal agencies, have an obligation to ensure subsidized properties meet physical condition standards. However, agency oversight and enforcement practices are often uneven and slow to bring troubled properties back into compliance.
The panel focused on lifting up local case studies and model solutions to these problems, including community engagement, litigation strategies and public policy change. Because we are on the cusp of a new administration, we also paid particular attention to needed reforms at the federal level that are of interest to both housing and environmental justice advocates.
- Megan Haberle, Senior Policy counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- Emily Coffey, Housing Attorney at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law
- Debbie Shezewer, Managing Attorney of Earth justices Midwest Office in Chicago.
- Bridgett Simmons, Staff Attorney with the National Housing Law Project
NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity.
So welcome everyone to our panel and conducting environmental justice and housing justice, this panel will focus specifically on the needs of subsidized households, which is to say, people who are living within a range of different federally subsidized housing programs, and who as we’ll discuss are subject to range of environmental pressures, environmental burdens within their neighborhoods and communities and also within the developments and units that they live in. So we’ll be touching on that whole range of different issues. And approaching these advocacy needs, both from the perspective of environmental advocacy and housing advocacy. And so with that said, I’ll turn it over to folks to briefly introduce themselves. And we’ll be quick about this and say no full BIOS are in the conference materials, which I’d encourage everyone to take a look at. Since we have really an extraordinary group of panelists here today. Emily, do you wanna start?
Sure, thanks, Megan. My name is Emily Coffey, and I’m a housing attorney at the Shriver center on poverty law. And I’ll turn it over to Debbie.
Hi, everyone. I’m Debbie Chizewer, where I’m the managing attorney of Earth justices Midwest office in Chicago.
Hi, everyone. I’m Brigitte Simmons, a staff attorney with the National Housing Law Project.
And I should have said, I’m Meghan Haberle. I’m a Senior Policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And so that that said, we’ll get started in the substantive component of presentation. So go ahead and share my screen here. So as I said, this, this panel focus on the needs of subsidized households and the need for a joint advocacy strategy that’s addressing both housing justice and environmental justice. And this is a community based advocacy strategy, but one that also highlights a number of federal policy responses and policy needs at EPA, and also at HUD, as well as other federal agencies that touch upon these issues. And so my first set of pictures here are from an area in California, where I was working a couple of years ago, and it was my work on the ground there. And that really drove home to me the way that these issues are so connected. And so this is out in the Bay Area. This is the East Bay. And it’s an area where a large economic driver traditionally has been in the oil refinery industry. And so as as I was driving around and touring this community, speaking of community members speaking with public housing residents, it was strikingly clear to me just how much environmental exposure many of these communities were facing. And I felt that even many of the people that were running public housing programs out in this area, and we’re really very hard pressed to be able to provide these residents with avenues to a healthier life. And both because of issues within the housing policy realm. And then also long standing issues of land use discrimination, and environmental enforcement. And so this was just an incredibly visually striking experience to see these smokestacks, these oil refineries and then the public housing and areas where people were living Very close to these environmental burdens. And so I’d like to start off this presentation with that visual, which I personally found so compelling and striking. So as I said, there are a confluence of systemic issues that are creating these kinds of land use patterns and this kind of environmental exposure. And so we’ll see discrimination really across the gamut of these different policy areas, leading to contamination of a variety of exposures, various toxins, we say it’s an exposure to bad air quality from highway siting and other sources, and of course, increasingly a matter of attention as climate and weather effects, which heightened news other kinds of health problems such as asthma, and just reactions to these toxins that we see in the air and other aspects of our environment. And also, transportation policies and investments have been a huge driver of health burdens for many underserved communities. And this is a big legacy of Landis’ policy and infrastructure spending in our country, and has often resulted in displacement housing insecurity, and also exposure to all the harms that can come with traffic truck routes, freight routes, many of which pass right by underserved communities. And so we see the cumulative impacts of all of these health burdens, there really tend to concentrate geographically in areas that have been politically disempowered, where we’ve seen these various streams of discrimination come together within the same geography. And then at the same time, on the housing side, we also see these long standing legacy issues of discrimination stemming from discrimination within our public policy is, and it’s extended over the years and continues today to form the architecture of segregation in our country. So this is to say that we’ve created an housing structure within our country, where certain racial groups and people in certain socio economic classes are trapped in those same areas where we’re seeing all of that other kind of land use discrimination, and enable tax exercise, Housing Choice. And then we’re also seeing continuing discrimination, disinvestment and harms placed on those communities where people are living. And so on the housing side of things. And you know, there are a number of different policy areas that are contributing to these effects, and long standing regulatory and legislative issues that have shaped where that housing is located. And the fact that it’s often so close to the to environmental burdens. And we’ve also seen different generations, and attempts to sort of address where that housing is located and the sufficiency of that housing, such as hope, six demolition, demolition and replacement. But we’ve seen the fact that those patterns of segregation have really continued over the years and have never effectively been disrupted. And so we have site selection policies that continue to contribute to those. There are also issues of Public Housing Administration voucher administration, and the way that
the low income housing tax credit subsidy program is designed so that people have continued to be channeled into areas that lacks sufficient environmental protections. And so this is coming back to the same area in California where I showed the picture of the smokestacks. And this is a demographic map, this is one of the famous head if if VHD, to tool maps. And you can see here, the little red that represent white people and the the dots that are purple, and that sort of bluish green color, are predominantly black and Latino communities. And so you can really see that they’re still even in the area where you have also a lot of displacement and gentrification, very persisting, and segregation, which also sort of layers on into income concentration, and then layers on to where environmental burdens are located, as well as access to green space, which is something that’s very, you know, predominant, I think, in this particular map. And there are set of legal frameworks that advocate have attempted to use to address these problems. And all of us have been sort of, you know, imperfect and less than optimal for various reasons and continue to be the locus of various policy pushes. And so we have environmental lives that offer sort of general environmental protections, and there really aren’t tailored to address those cumulative harms the vulnerable communities tend to face. We have title six of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs, unfortunately, disparate impact discrimination, and although it’s included in agency regulations is not privately enforceable. And so title six has sort of been at the mercy of, you know, lack of federal oversight and prioritization when it comes to its enforcement. And there’s also an executive order on environmental justice. The data as well as not privately enforceable, and hasn’t really been taken as seriously by many agencies as it could have been in the past. And then we have the Fair Housing Act, which is privately enforceable, but doesn’t squarely address many of these environmental justice issues. And so, some advocates have attempted to use the Fair Housing Act to get a discriminatory municipal services with varying degrees of success, because again, there hasn’t been all that much agency leadership and that kind of interpretation of the Fair Housing Act. And they’re also planning processes and front end reviews that are required by a number of agency is an embedded number of planning processes. And so that provides a good mechanism for protection. But again, it tends to be very subject to discretion on the part of the agency, and how seriously that’s actually being executed. And, and so we’ve also seen a number of lawsuits that have been brought over the years using the Fair Housing Act and other legal tools to try to get at the segregation element of A Public Housing Administration. And actually, many of those cases, and that resulted in the creation of mobility programs and sort of desegregation remedy is also included as part of their claims descriptions of these, you know, extremely Stark neighborhood environmental disparities and maintenance issues within the public housing itself, that black and brown residents were disproportionately facing was the part of the discriminant discriminatory administration of those programs. And so there are a number of results and remedies that came out of those lawsuits over the years. And we’re trying to get at this problem of discrimination within the administration of our public housing system and other areas of public housing. And they resulted in a number of really promising fixes to those programs, many of which were geared towards less discriminatory administration, as well as broader Housing Choice. And but another thing that we saw following those lawsuits is that segregation is very persistent and very adaptive. And so even as you’re able to sort of go after one piece of the problem, you know, you’ll consider, you’ll still see other issues within the housing market, and elsewhere, that continue to drive segregation and discrimination, pointing to the new to a more holistic fix across the board. And EPA, as well. And it has been a site of difficulty, I would say, for advocates to really push for robust environmental oversight and enforcement, for residents of subsidized housing, as well as other residents of low income community ism neighborhoods. And so there’s a continuing push towards EPA and to take its its civil rights responsibilities more seriously, and really be a better actor when it comes to this more mobile populations.And I’ll highlight on a very high level, a few emerging issues before turning it over to the other panelists. And so one is public housing, capital funding and redevelopment. And there’s a big policy push now, to bring in increased capital funding to public housing, which is very underfunded, I mean, we’re seeing very dire habitability problems, maintenance problems, as well as an overall shortage of units. And for people who who qualify and who are very rent burdened and need additional housing assistance. And so there may be, you know, an influx of capital funding, we hope to see, which will also lead to redevelopment of a lot of our public housing system, and in order to go forth in and carry out those capital repairs. And and so this, of course, leads to number of questions that touch on both segregation and environmental justice, and what happens in a situation where you have legacy existing public housing, and next to it environmentally toxic site. How do you sort of embark on that redevelopment in a responsible way. And so some of our panelists will be touching on that type of scenario and the policy fixes that we need to put in place, especially as we embark in an expansion of those kinds of programs. And we’re also seeing other kinds of subsidy expansions expand possible expansions of the Housing Trust Fund and the voucher program, which advocates are very excited about. And though it also emphasizes the need not to reinforce those patterns of segregation as we go about doing that, and additional infrastructure spending, like spending on transportation. And again, really driving home the need not to sort of dig deeper into the problems of the past with the way that infrastructure has been spent and the way that it has burden and not always benefited low income communities, including in its health impacts, and of course, increased Attention to climate change response, the need to provide for weatherization resources and the need for better locational planning and flood protections for many communities. And then also, I think that there’s a policy push for cross cutting civil rights priorities and regulations, such as increasing resources for enforcement across agency is an include including civil rights and planning processes that federal recipients are required to undertake. And as with the Affirmatively Furthering fair housing rule, so all of these present opportunity is where, you know, policy advocacy, addressing these issues can potentially be pushed. And with that said, I’ll turn it over to my, my fellow panelists to discuss some of these issues in more detail. So Debbie, Debbie, and Emily, if we were starting with you, and let me set up your slides here.
Great. Thanks so much, Megan. So, you know, Debbie, and my portion of this presentation is really going to focus on a report that we recently co authored called poisoner combs the fight for environmental justice and federally assisted housing. And this report was initiated as a as a result of our work together, bring the residents of Chicago, Indiana, which is where really our report story began. So I want to give a little bit of background and what happened in Chicago, and how that plays out in public and other federal forms of federally assisted housing across the country. So in a Chicago, which is it located in Northwest Indiana, a century of development in the steel, petroleum and railroad industries left a legacy of pollution in the community, the community is being cleaned up now, under the Superfund law, which is designed to be to address some of the most contaminated waste sites for the nation. You can move on to the third slide. Thank you. Just some background on West Calumet, the housing complex was was built on the footprint of a lead smelter in the early 1970s. And for decades, residents lived at the complex with no idea that their homes had been built on toxic land. They learned for the first time in the summer of 2016, that the soil was contaminated with lead and arsenic levels that were so high that for example, the lead contamination was over to 225 times but the EPA considered necessary for cleanup. So really serious and dangerous levels of contamination. On city officials, the Housing Authority, HUD, EPA, and other federal and local agencies had known for years and decades even that 1000s of families had lived at the complex and been chronically exposed to lead and arsenic, and that the lead poisoning rates were really astronomical. But instead of protecting residents from the health hazards, officials continuously invested Federal Housing dollars into building and maintaining the low income housing and continue to invite residents to live there without knowledge of the levels of contamination that they were moving to. In fact, there was a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry all the way back in 1998. That found that 30% of the children at West Calumet were led poisoned under those 1998 standards. But still, no one told the residents they didn’t alert the families to this to this problem. And between 2005 and 2015 child who is living at West Calumet was three times more likely to have elevated blood lead levels than another child living elsewhere and within the city of Chicago. But it took until 2009 for the Calumet neighborhood to be listed under the Superfund program. And it took until 2016 for the residents to even find out that this was happening. And when residents did find out it was through a letter from the mayor in the summer of 2016. essentially saying that the the homes were severely contaminated and that residents were going to have between 60 and 90 days to relocate. The next slide, please. So when we became engaged in this in this fight, the community was demanding answers. And they were wondering, you know, why are we just now becoming aware of this? Is it safe to continue to live there even if only for a couple more months? Why hasn’t the Housing Authority prepared a comprehensive relocation strategy to actually allow for residents to move on in a timely way. And what tenants wanted was options they wanted support, and at the request of a collective of current and former residents and community or organizations as Shriver center filed a housing discrimination complaint with HUDs Office of Fair Housing and equal opportunity, alleging that the housing Authority’s decision to build public housing on the footprint of a lead smelter, violated residents civil rights, and that the ways in which they were going about relocation, failed to affirmatively further fair housing and otherwise comply with civil rights laws. So I’m not going to go into too much detail about what what resulted through the complaint we did ultimately settle. And through the settlement there should have there were comprehensive relocation benefits provided to residents, additional time and support to move rent abatement for the for the period of time that residents were still living at this contaminated complex. And residents when they were moving, were to receive let it better lead inspections and the Housing Choice Voucher Program than they otherwise otherwise would have received. So at request, I can share any of those documents and they are available on our website. But I’m going to turn it over now to Debbie on to talk a little bit about the super fund advocacy and environmental advocacy that was going on simultaneously.
Thank you so much, Emily. And before I jumped in, I just want to say when we learned about these events in East Chicago in 2016, and visited residents who had been living on the site for some of them for decades, I was just horrified and scared for the residents. We entered the situation by attending a very chaotic meeting with lots of different agency officials in a room packed with residents who were completely shocked to learn about the levels of contamination in their homes. And the more we looked into it, the more we realized how many different agencies had dropped the ball. As Emily mentioned, Shriver center was approached by residents living in public housing. There were also residents living in private housing both as section eight, with section eight vouchers and then as owners of the private housing. And what we learned pretty quickly was that 500 homes had been left out of a cleanup plan that had been agreed to by the responsible parties or polluters at the site, and that the community had not been adequately told about the problems. Most of the notices to the public were very bland, they did not explain the extent of contamination. And there had been a health report by the public agency called the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, that actually said that there was no risk to human health from exposure to the air or the soil, which is just not true. So we saw lots of opportunities through litigation, advocacy and communication strategies designed to pressure EPA into doing more to protect the residents. You know, when you approach the get involved in Superfund sites, the ideal way to do that is to get involved early. And really the Superfund program is theoretically designed to engage residents early, but that doesn’t happen. And so I want to take a minute now to step back and talk about the Superfund process. So you can follow this discussion. As you can see on this chart, first of all, this is an EPA chart. So when it says community engagement, we want to hear from you that is aspirational. And that doesn’t always happen. But the chart does show the steps in the process. So when there’s a contaminated site, it will be in it’s brought to EPA as attention, it will be evaluated to see if it meets criteria to be listed on what’s called the national priorities list, which is a list of the most contaminated sites that will be cleaned up. And then EPA will undertake what’s called a remedial investigation and to understand the nature and extent of contamination, as well as the risks at the site and all and then as you can see here, there will be a study of possible options, a proposed plan, and then a record of decision. And what there are some important things I want to mention one is that the community should absolutely be involved at every step. And in particular at this step of assessing the risks to the community and because only if you understand how residents interacted a site, can you properly clean up the site, but when we got to the community they had not been involved. At a very deep level at all, there weren’t tools in place to really ask for their input about what should happen at the site. And so we used a variety of methods to try to push EPA to get involved in the site. First we saw, we decided to file a motion to intervene so that residents could have their voices heard in this process. The Superfund law does provide for that opportunity explicitly in the statute, but residents have never been able to use it successfully. So we filed a motion to intervene to try to lift up their voices, and was during the course of that pending motion. We also used advocacy to pressure EPA and calm strategies, communication strategies to do this. And as a result, we were able to get EPA to add the 500 sites that I mentioned earlier 500 homes that have been left out of the plan to undertake indoor dusts testing, sampling and remediation, and also to consider whether the drinking water was safe and ultimately learned that it wasn’t and EPA, and that the reason it wasn’t safe was because of lead pipe issues as opposed to the soil contamination. But this relates back to Megan’s point, which is often communities. Black Latino communities in areas that are highly industrialized, are exposed to a variety of exposures to lead and other contaminants. And so here, the drinking water is contaminated due to aging lead service lines, but they were also being exposed to lead in their soil and in the dust in their homes. And so we were able to get drinking water sampling, and then the replacement of many lead service lines. We also help the community form a community advisory group, which plays an official role on a Superfund site as a liaison to EPA from the community and also as a conduit of information from EPA to community members. And then we were able to prepare written comments in conjunction with the residents on decisions that were still being developed. So even though the process was pretty far along, we were able to influence other steps that were still happening. And I want to pause for a second and say that, in this process, we realized even though we were coordinating very closely with the Shriver center and our other allies at the unit, at a loyal who’s working on health issues, and other allies, that we could see how often the issues could be siloed, the housing issues could be treated separately from the environmental issues. And as Megan said earlier, it was so compelling that at this juncture that we needed to do more than just even attending that first meeting, we saw that there was a disconnect between the housing and environmental issues. The comments that we prepared, together with the Shriver center and with community members and leaders on a project proposed demolition of the public housing really brought all of that together, and really helped us realize that we need each other to do this work well. And what we did in that process was develop comments on HUDs environmental review of the demolition of the public housing at the Superfund site. And even though everyone was watching, HUD did not notify the residents stakeholders about this draft environmental assessment. Luckily, we were able to we found it and were able to seek an extension of the comment period and public health and public hearing. And it was really important because this wasn’t just an ordinary plan for demolition. This is a plan that was dangerous, it would have exposed residents to contaminated groundwater and would have uncovered 12 feet of severely contaminated soil without a plan to take it away. It also would have resulted in significant dust emissions that have contaminated dusts. So we were able to work together to seek deeper environmental review of impacts and change plan. Although we did not get a deeper review, we were able to get the plan changed so that it reduced the risk to the residents. So I think the most important thing that we’ve said so far is that we really need to work together across housing and environmental expertise to be able to identify the places where we can help residents influence the process. And with that said, I’m going to turn it over to Emily to talk about what how we took what we learned from this process and and took next steps to try to make change.
Thanks, Debbie. So next slide. on just about two months ago, HUD HUDs, Office of Inspector General came out with a report on called contaminated sites pose potential risks to residents at HUD funded properties. And the report largely focused on all of the missteps that happens in East Chicago, but it also really presents a call to action for, for agencies, for advocates, and for communities across the country that are dealing with environmental contamination, to really take a harder look at these these issues, to prevent another a Chicago from happening in another community. And so this is the on the screen, you’ll see something that is pulled from the the O YG. report that really just outlines the many different years that went by where HUD failed to, to do anything about the contamination that they had been notified of where there are all of these times where agencies should have acted where residents should have been alerted that their homes were severely contaminated. And that did not happen. And you know, when you see this, this many chances across across so many different years for for HUD to do something for somebody to do something, it really makes you question, you know, where else is this happening? What else is either slipping through the cracks or where there are inadequate policies and procedures in place to adequately deal with contaminated sites. And what the OIG report really shows is that there’s 1000s of these sites around the country that HUD has failed to investigate, to ensure that it’s safe for families to live there. Oh, he says this is caused by first the failure of environmental review oversight, second, inadequate communications between federal and local agencies, and third HUDs failure to research and review sites even where they are notified of that contamination. And I would really add to this this list that, you know, HUD has an obligation to be investigating sites that they oversee. That’s a statutory obligation that they have, they need to make sure that it is safe for residents to live where, where they’re subsidizing residents to live. And they have an independent obligation to ensure this level of safety. And you know, immediately after West Calumet, me Chicago, we’re making national headlines on hot an EPA began to share some data with each other and look into where there were other public housing or HUD multifamily housing developments that were located close to Superfund sites. And EPA actually provided HUD with a list of nearly 7700 developments for HUD to review. And what the OIG report really says is that HUD chose to, to focus just in on seven sites, it doesn’t go into much detail about what exactly was done at those seven sites, what those seven sites are, what residents of those seven sites know, whether it’s actually safe, and it’s been cleaned up to quality standards. None of that is is discussed in the report. But you know, the stark difference between, you know, 7000 8000 sites, down to seven is is pretty alarming. And oh, he HUDs Office of Environmental energy actually said more recently that there’s around 2000 sites that they view as being at the most at risk. So we’ve been continuing this advocacy, we’re going to talk a little bit about a report that we recently released. Next slide again, um, and we did a little bit of our own mapping as part of that project. And so this is just the snapshot of where there is federally assisted housing within a quarter mile of a Superfund site. And the different colored dots are just different types of housing programs, low income housing, tax credits, public housing, rad developments, that you know, formerly public housing or you know, in process of converting Rural Development And you can find more of these, these maps on our website, which we’ll show in just a minute. Um, so next slide, actually, next two slides, and I think I’m going to turn it back over to Debbie to, to discuss our report.
Thank you. And so this first slide, you’ll see the partners in our report. In addition to the Shriver center Earth justice, we partnered with the University of Chicago Law Schools, Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, as well as Columbia Law Schools health justice clinic, and our work was supported by the Joyce Foundation. And if you go to our website, you’ll be able to see more information both you access the report and see information of stories that have happened since then see more of the maps that Emily was talking about. Next slide, please. Then, as Emily has been building towards this report, really is was our way of taking that next step of how can we make sure that we’re supporting other communities around the country that are facing the same situations as a Chicago and some of the key takeaways in the report are may seem basic, but they also seem are but they also are critical to making change. So community engagement, making sure that communities have the opportunity to impact decision making. Also disclosure, it seems obvious that if you were moving into public housing, or into using a section eight voucher that you would learn if the home was on a contaminated site. But that’s just not the case. The laws vary dramatically from state to state. And so we should never assume that residents will learn about contamination. Also, tools for when residents are in these situations where they discover that they’re living in a contaminated area, having the opportunity to choose what they’d like to do, whether they’d like to relocate, whether they would like to have an area remediated or what steps they want, and, and being ready to advocate for those. And then lastly, ensuring that HUD or its private partners are undertaking the appropriate environmental reviews that are required by law, but now not implemented are often not done, or done appropriately. Looking for accountability there. Next slide, please. And I wanted to put this slide up. This is an environmental justice screen or ej screen that EPA has on its website, you can generate a report for any community that will give you a sense of the demographics and also the environmental exposures. So you’ll see on this list, the different types of air and other exposures, including led paint, and how those compared to the state. So how the particular selected area of comparison the state as well as the demographics. And that information can edit. Also, if you do ages go to eg screen, you can also look at public housing and different types of housing. And so that’s a really important tool that you can use to get a sense of what kind of risks are in the community. And then next slide, please. And then just it’s so important to look for opportunities to either partner with environmental lawyers or to find ways to comment on National Environmental Policy Act reviews, the environmental reviews we were talking about. They are triggered when there’s new construction for rebuilt, rehabilitation, redevelopment, or demolition. And there are some easy sort of low hanging fruit things that you can do to request the public hearing requests an extension of time so that you can engage environmental experts, technical experts to make sure that hot are the partners who are doing this, these reviews are really taking them seriously, and identifying issues and evaluating ways to minimize the risk to communities. And I just want to say one other thing that I haven’t we haven’t mentioned yet is that we are beyond this report. We’re looking for ways to influence the way HUD handles housing as it come with regard to external environmental threats. And so we partnered with the National Housing Law Project Earth justice partner with the National Housing Law Project to submit comments on the HUDs National inspection standard rulemaking and its inspire project to raise these issues call for more consideration of lead in the home and, and also other contaminants in in home. So we think there are a lot of opportunities to really make a difference at this intersection of environmental justice and housing justice. And I’m going to turn it back to Emily for one more second before we wrap our our point in case she has any concluding remarks on the section.
Nope. I am all done. So I think we’re just going to turn it over to Bridget for for her presentation. Thank you so much.
Hi everyone. And thank you so much to Megan, Debbie and Emily for those great presentations. Once again, I’m Bridget Samantha staff attorney with the National Housing Law Project and today I will be speaking to you about housing conditions and advocacy as an extension of environmental justice. Environmental Justice is characterized as valuing and welcoming all into the conversation about protecting the environment, and land use issues. Housing is obviously an aspect of environmental justice. technology advances how big Vance’s have expanded where we can live and how we live. However, some of those advances have resulted in unintended consequences of harms to the environment, as well as to our most vulnerable neighbors, mate neighbors. Natural Disasters have caused mass displacements of families from cities, or has caused families to take on additional housing debt. And obviously, these disasters have laid bare the need for resilient and energy efficient housing. But everyday task like industrial uses public infrastructure use, as well as keeping properties in good functioning order can spur serious public health concerns and harm to our communities. Unfortunately, most of our housing policies as discussed by my colleagues previously, our housing policies in response to environmental issues are reactive rather than proactive. Next slide. So when I use the term conditions, what am I referring to? So generally conditions refers to the traditional habitability concerns of a property, essentially the capital health of that property. Thinking about the building systems such as plumbing, electricity h fac, the roof the foundation? Are these various systems intact and are in good functioning order? also thinking about the land owners attention to the property? Is there an infestation property problem? How is the land owner addressing rotin issues? Does the property have clean air issues due to mold radon and other toxins? Does the property have a smoke free policy in place to reduce the exposure to secondhand smoke conditions also refers to the materials used to develop the property as well as the materials used to repair any defects at the property. So the materials thinking about what is behind the wall what is used for installation is the paint lead based paint. How is the property heated and cooled throughout the year, but types of materials used to develop and repair properties is a particular concern for older properties. Because we know previously these materials were characterized as safe to use and housing but now we know they are very dangerous to people’s health. In addition to the traditional habitability concerns, we also know that the past uses and current uses of surrounding land impacts family’s health and the conditions of properties, as described by Emily and Debbie. Previous uses of land can detrimentally impact family’s health, if the land is not properly cleaned, or the contaminant not properly contained. We also know that surrounding uses such as as I mentioned, industrial uses, proximity to highways, bus depots, ports, water treatment plants, land fields, other public infrastructure also can impact to the detriment of have a detrimental impact on families health. And we know that this disproportionately impacts families of color. And broadly speaking, we should be thinking about housing that is sustainable. And if those properties can endure the ever changing climate, one of the reverberating effects of redlining, restrictive covenants and other discriminatory housing practices. Is that many affordable housing properties are located in floodplains and other areas susceptible to severe weather. Megan spoke about this earlier, she alluded to this earlier. If these properties are not properly fortified or made resilient, the properties themselves will decay at a faster rate, potentially leaving families subject to displacement, mass displacement of families or making those families more housing burden. And next slide. So in this moment, I just want to pause and discuss why we should commit energy and effort into conditions advocacy. The current public health crisis has served as a reminder of the importance of having a place to live. Remaining house has allowed families to practice social distancing, to prevent the contracting or spreading of COVID-19. But these protections of a home are eroded if poor conditions are present. poor conditions such as mold, infestation defective plumbing, please residents physical and mental health at risk. conditions. advocacy is also an important element to preservation of the preservation of housing in particular affordable housing. Looking to the market to develop deeply affordable housing has proven to be an ineffective strategy. The National Low Income Housing code coalition estimates there is a shortage of 6.8 million million rental homes available and affordable for extremely low income renters. For the nearly 10 point 8 million extremely low income renters only 7.4 million rental homes are affordable and available nationwide. So the more affordable housing that we’re preserving the more housing options we are providing to our neighbors. But more importantly, having issues regarding having environmental issues, environmental justice issues and conditions issues and having environmental justice issues and characterizing housing conditions as an environmental justice issue. Having this at our forefront is in the forefront of our consciousness is really an active valuing of our neighbors, in additionally is a reflection of the behaviors that we deemed to be acceptable in our housing market. So families dignity and their humanity isn’t contingent upon their socio economic status. But sometimes when we discuss housing and how it should be provided, we d humanize our neighbors. Often conversations impose the failures of systems onto individuals. Some would even say go further and say that these systems were actually crafted to create these inequities, and that we the collective we, we have not actively done enough to correct the system. Instead, we make families responsible for systematic disinvestment in black and brown communities. We make them at fault for the intentional exclusion, from participation in environmental justice issues, and land use issues in conversations in and around how property rental properties are supposed to be kept in good working order. And then further, we fault them for not having the resources to just move to a better location. And so while today’s conversation really focuses on subsidized properties, I do want to say that this is also an issue in the non subsidized property stock as well. And I just say that to say that we all have a role to play, even if we don’t work with subsidized residents. Next slide. Okay, so we have discussed what conditions advocacy is and what it covers and why it’s important. But how do you identify substandard conditions and how do you prove them? Well, generally speaking, the state and local code will codify or describe and describe described and defined what conditions standards are and how they can be met for rental properties. local and state codes can be really detailed, they can get to the point where they define the minimum size of a bedroom, how many exits a structure should have, you know, window sizes for lighting, how well landlord should handle any toxins found at the property. So really spanning the gambit of defining habitability concerns. On the other hand, logo codes can also have very serious gaps for instance, a state or local law may not codify or even speak to how a landlord is supposed to handle mold in a rental property. So if you the takeaway for this kind of portion of this slide is that you have to kind of figure out what are all of the applicable state and local laws, you know, see statutes ordinances, case law, yet we have to kind of just figure out the lay of the land, and then enforcement. The enforcement process, as well as the agency tasked with oversight and enforcement will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If you are working with a group of residents who live at a property that is subsidized by a housing program, and particular properties subsidized by a Federal Housing Program, the program will have condition standards, federal agencies, they have an obligation to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing. Now, how do we define decent, safe and sanitary will be contingent upon the agency and the housing program. Each agency will have its own condition standards, meaning they will define conditions differently, they will define the elements of functionality very differently. And it will also each agency will also have its own process for assessing the physical health of assisted properties. And finally, they’ll also have their own enforcement protocol. On this slide, I said that even more standard sometimes, because these agencies really have uneven oversight practices, their process, their processes for assessing the physical health of a property are also very antiquated. And then finally, they’re very slow to bring troubled properties back into compliance. It has truly been the work of advocates and residents to bring properties back into compliance and to create preservation plans and to improve housing conditions. Next slide. Okay, so we have identified physical conditions that are substandard at a prop at a property. So what next? Well, essentially, there are two options in regards to the physical property itself, communities can decide to continue to allow the property to deteriorate, or they can advocate for improved conditions. In hlp, we are affordable housing advocates. And so we we hope in all cases, the communities decided to advocate for better conditions. As previously mentioned, the loss of affordable housing units create serious consequences for low income families, and the communities in which they live, the supply of federal subsidized housing is very much falls short of the high demand. This also includes a naturally affordable housing, there’s just the fordable housing, there’s just not enough. And then, you know, this is compounded the consequences are compounded when the property at issue that has the condition issues is the only property providing affordable housing within the community. This means that if the property is not preserved, then we essentially lose neighbors who have contributed a great amount of social capital into the in the communities in which they live. So here, I’ve included a couple of considerations when developing an advocacy plan. And the cornerstone of any advocacy plan must be the residents. Resident organizing is so so, so important. Emily gave us a great brief overview of what resident organizing was able to achieve in Chicago. So resonant organizing is a way to build collective power amongst community members, which is really important when we’re thinking about the particular demographic that we’re working with, in particular, the particular demographic that lives that subsidized housing, right? These communities are typically marginalized, there are typically their voices are typically not considered in the processes to have oversight and enforce condition standards. And this is really just harkens back to what the other panelists were describing of the importance of disseminating information to residents. So resident organizing is a great way to do that to share information to build empowerment amongst the community. And it’s also a really great tool to get conditions improved at a property and to do that in a way that is mutually beneficial to residents, to the community, to the housing provider. And then I just would close here and say that, once again, it is really truly been the efforts of residents and their allies that have driven the improved conditions and the preservation of properties. And so really, you know, residents are experts on Their lives and they know what it is that they need in order to remain housed at the current property. And so I cannot emphasize enough the importance of elevating, supporting and championing resident voices in ensuring that they have agency in choosing where they get to live and remain. Next slide. So here, I just wanted to provide a couple of resources, if you consider, or if you should decide or find yourself in need of developing an advocacy plan to address condition issues. So the research research resources includes resources that describe the various federal housing programs, as well as the various programs provided at the federal level to help address preservation issues, which can also be leveraged to address condition issues. The strategy resources, include documents that can help spur or help you kind of outline your own strategy and what to think about when developing an advocacy plan regarding conditions and preservation. And with that, I’ll turn it back over to Megan.
Thanks so much. Thank you to all of our panelists. And with that, we’ll turn it over to the audience for questions. All right, so thank you so much. Again, I think that we did an okay job trying to keep a piece with questions in the chat. I apologize again, that we didn’t leave a little more time for interactive q&a. And that folks on this panel just had so much rich content to present. So thank you all again. And panelists, do you Did you see any other comments in the chat or questions in the chat that you wanted to respond to that we didn’t already get to?
No, okay, um, well, with that, I think we will conclude our session, I put our emails in the chat box. So please feel free to reach out to us if anyone would like to discuss any of this with with us further. And thank you so much for joining our session today.