YIMBY (Yes in my back yard!)

Virginia Supportive Housing’s New Clay House Expansion

The New Clay House is a 47-unit building located at 1125 W. Clay Street in Richmond, Va.  It is owned and managed by Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH). Opened in 1992, it houses formerly homeless single adults and is part of Virginia Supportive Housing’s portfolio of housing units which provide transitional housing for individuals who need extra supportive services to stabilize their lives and retain permanent housing. New Clay House has aged and become out of date. The units are single room occupancy (SRO) and residents share communal bathrooms and kitchens. Virginia Supportive Housing recently submitted a plan to the city which will renovate and expand New Clay House to a total of 80 units. The new project will include green space, will use energy efficient building standards and the units will be converted from SRO’s to full apartments. It will use a variety of tax credits and other funding sources so the project will not cost the city any money.

When neighbors got wind of the proposed expansion they sent angry letters to the Planning Commission in opposition expressing concerns about safety and possible declines in property values. Today, the Planning Commission heard comments both in favor of and against the proposal. They ultimately  voted in favor of the proposal and the final decision will be made tonight at the City Council meeting.

Helen Hardiman, HOME’s Director of Fair Housing, spoke in favor of the proposal and called attention to the possible Fair Housing implications if the Planning Commission were to deny the proposal. Should a Planning Commission or City Council make a decision which makes housing unavailable for a person or group of people because of their membership in a protected class, that Commission or Council has violated the Fair Housing Act. Many of the comments against the proposed expansion of the New Clay House were based on stereotypes about people with disabilities.

Morgan Barker, HOME’s Fair Housing Specialist, spoke in favor of the proposal but as a private resident of Carver. Below are her comments:

“Good afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the Planning Commission, thank you for giving me the chance to speak to you about Virginia Supportive Housing’s proposed project at the New Clay House in Carver.

My name is Morgan Barker. I have been a resident of the Carver neighborhood since August of 2014. I live on the 1400 block of Leigh Street in a duplex with two roommates, both of whom are young women like me. Next to us are young working men, and on the other side are VCU students. A few doors down on either side are families with young children. On the corner next to the Kroger is a rooming house. The New Clay House is about four or five blocks away. The neighborhood is a mix of renters, owners, families, single people, young people, old people, the list goes on. I have trust in my neighbors and my neighborhood as a whole. I’ve never felt unsafe though I have walked or biked around at all times of the day and night. I specifically chose to live in this neighborhood because it’s diverse, close to everything I need, and more affordable than other neighborhoods in the city.

In a city severely lacking in affordable and accessible housing, any addition of affordable and accessible housing, especially an addition that will be managed by a reputable provider like Virginia Supportive Housing, should be welcomed and praised. Carver is a great neighborhood for a project like this because it is in close proximity to a Kroger, the bus line, and other services. Additionally, Carver is a mixed income community. Much of the affordable and accessible housing in the city is in food deserts, areas with a high concentration of poverty, and far away from necessary services.

There is no reason to believe that the proposed plan for the New Clay House would be a detriment to the neighborhood. The New Clay House has been a part of the neighborhood longer than most current residents and the neighborhood has thrived with it in it’s midst. This addition would be an asset for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. Virginia Supportive Housing provides a necessary service to the city by providing participants with a path towards stabilization and success. This project would add to their capacity and ensure success for even more members of the city.

The best part about Carver is the diversity of residents, take away this project and you ensure that this neighborhood will become ever more homogenous. As a resident, that is not what I want to see. I hope you will approve this proposal. “

New Housing Virginia Study Finds Residents of Energy Efficient Affordable Rental Housing Save Over $600 per Year on Electricity Bills

Originally posted on HousingVirginia.org

Housing Virginia released today the findings of a first-of-its-kind study that demonstrates the impact of energy efficient construction requirements in affordable rental housing. The new report shows that the average resident of an energy efficient apartment saves $54 per month on their electricity bill, which amounts to $648 annually.

Read the Richmond Times-Dispatch article here.

The year-long study conducted by Virginia Tech’s Center for Housing Research also finds that apartments built to higher energy efficient standards, including third party testing and inspection, outperform new standard construction housing by more than 40% with respect to energy consumption.

The study is the first of its kind in Virginia and one of the first in the nation to verify actual electricity usage in apartments built to meet high level efficiency standards.

View the full study here. Or, for an easy-to read fact sheet, click here.

“Virginia has been a leader in encouraging energy efficiency in the affordable rental housing market and this study verifies the effectiveness of this strategy,” said Robert Adams, Executive Director of Housing Virginia. “The energy efficient design and standards add to the economic benefit that these lower income families and seniors receive. Every dollar not paid for utilities can go to other important family budget items, including food, transportation, and healthcare.”

Another key finding of the study is that construction standards of this type do have a significant impact on the affordability of apartments for lower income families and seniors. The impact is greater as incomes are lower. For example, at 30% ofmedian income, the average tenant will see their ability to afford housing increase by nearly 10%. In Virginia, 30% of area median income is an income of $23,250 per year for a family of four.

The target communities are affordable rental housing that is developed through the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s (VHDA) Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The study included senior housing and family housing. It also looked at the differences between new construction, rehabilitated housing and adaptive re-use.

Beginning in 2007, VHDA implemented a set of incentives in the LIHTC program that encouraged developers and builders to use a recognized third-party standard in design and construction in order to reduce long term energy usage. The incentive required the use of rigorous standards, third party testing and inspection from EarthCraft Virginia and LEED. Virginia was one of the first states to provide these types of incentives in the LIHTC program and has been a national leader in this regard. This study confirms that these policies are achieving their intended goals. Construction of EarthCraft homes with these energy efficiency features costs no more than 3% more than that of traditional construction.

“When VHDA made changes to its tax credit program several years ago to encourage green building construction techniques, it created a very positive effect on affordable housing developments in Virginia,” said VHDA Executive Director Susan Dewey. “One of the best results from these changes is that utility bills have been significantly lowered for tenants, thereby improving their quality of life. I am pleased that this study confirms that we are on the right track.”

“Through VHDA’s leadership and the work of our development partners, 196 developments representing more than 13,500 apartments have been certified in Virginia since 2007,” added K.C. Bleile, Executive Director at EarthCraft Virginia. “This study demonstrates the value of green building implementation through public-private partnerships to achieve monthly utility savings for residents, maximize financial investments, and support sustainable communities.”

The study was conducted by the Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Dr. Andrew McCoy, the Center’s Director, served as the principal investigator for the project. During the spring and summer of 2014, researchers visited 15 affordable apartment complexes across the state and met with residents to conduct energy usage surveys. Tenants provided permission to allow access to actual utility consumption for the previous 24 months. The behavioral surveys and consumption data were correlated to the apartment’s original energy usage estimate that was calculated when the unit was built or rehabilitated.

The energy use behavior survey revealed a number of findings that point to opportunities to achieve even greater savings. Residents reported setting thermostats at levels that exceed typical comfort temperatures, which impacts utility costs and building durability. This indicates a need for better education about the potential savings and strategies for adjusting resident behavior. Resident responses also indicated a need for more education about the equipment and design of their apartments in order to take full advantage of efficiency technologies.

“Our interaction with residents reveals that there are substantial savings that can still be achieved with more effective education and incentives. We have also learned some lessons that will help us to refine design standards and make better decisions on what technologies to deploy,” stated Dr. McCoy.

The LIHTC Program is the primary federal housing program designed to create rental housing that is affordable to families and seniors with low and moderate income. Under the program, private investors in affordable rental housing receive a tax credit as an incentive for investment. The program serves families and seniors with incomes up to 60% of the area median. In 2014, 60% of the area median income was $46,500 for a family of four. The program produces over 100,000 apartments every year nationally and approximately 2,000 per year across Virginia.

Ready, Set, Advocate!

Today is Housing Advocacy Day. Supporters of HOME’s mission are talking to members of the General Assembly about the bills we support and the changes we hope to see in this session. There have been almost 2,000 bills filed this session between the House and the Senate; these are the ones HOME is keeping an eye on. Click the bill number for the full text of the proposed bill. The bills in bold are the ones we strongly support.

House Bills:

HB 208- Amends the existing vested rights statute by clarifying that structures that meet certain conditions shall be considered nonconforming. Additional changes make clear that a requirement under existing law to bring certain structures into compliance with the Uniform Statewide Building Code shall not affect the nonconforming status of those structures.

HB 222- Requires the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to notify the local governing body of a locality in which a provider has proposed or applied for an initial license or to modify a license of the proposal or application, and to receive and consider comments submitted by the local governing body when making decisions regarding issuance of a license or modification.

HB 224- Changes the criteria for transferring certain tax-delinquent real property to localities through a special commissioner in the Cities of Norfolk, Richmond, Hopewell, Newport News, Petersburg, and Hampton by reducing the percentage of taxes and liens from exceeding 35 percent to 20 percent and of taxes alone from 15 percent to 10 percent, respectively, and including parcels with an assessed value of $100,000 or less.

HB 259- Proscribes an individual from alleging a real estate licensee has engaged in untrue, deceptive, or misleading advertising unless such licensee has been convicted doing so.

HB 273- Changes the applicability of the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act from the ownership of no more than 10 single-family residences to ownership of no more than two single-family residences and makes the application uniform across the state. The bill also authorizes a landlord to expedite the disposition of security deposits under certain circumstances. The bill repeals the requirement for a landlord to accrue interest on security deposits, effective January 1, 2015.

HB 295- Increases the total amount of tax credits granted for the Livable Home Tax Credit program in any fiscal year from $1 million to $2 million and increases the total amount of tax credits made available through the program allocated for purchase or construction of new residences from $500,000 to $1 million and the total amount allocated for retrofitting or renovation of existing residences from $500,000 to $1 million. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 296- Requires localities to take steps to align transportation infrastructure and facilities with affordable, accessible housing and community services when developing the transportation component of the comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 331- Establishes first-time home buyer savings accounts that are to be used for saving funds for the purchase of homes by first-time home buyers. Moneys in the account are required to be used solely for the down payment and closing costs for the purchase of a home by a first-time home buyer. The bill establishes an individual income tax subtraction for income earned on contributions to the account. However, if moneys are withdrawn from the account for purposes other than to pay eligible costs, any income previously subtracted would be subject to recapture by the Commonwealth and a five percent penalty would be imposed. There would be no recapture and addition to taxable income if the amounts withdrawn were (i) withdrawn because of the death or disability of the account beneficiary, (ii) a disbursement of assets pursuant to a filing for protection under federal bankruptcy laws, or (iii) transferred to another first-time home buyer savings account
The bill limits the amount of principal that can be contributed to any account to $50,000 and limits the total amount that can be retained in an account at any time to $150,000. Persons would be allowed to contribute only cash or marketable securities to a first-time home buyer savings account.

HB 418- Adds discrimination based on sexual orientation as an unlawful discriminatory housing practice. The bill defines “sexual orientation” as a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity or expression. “Sexual orientation” does not include sexually deviant disorders (paraphilias) as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

HB 419- Broadens the class of individuals who may hold property as tenants by the entireties to include any married couple whose marriage is recognized under the laws of any state in the United States.

HB 524- Requires the Board of Housing and Community Development to revise the Uniform Statewide Building Code to require that at least 10 percent of all dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any newly constructed multifamily residential building shall be affordable, accessible units designed and constructed in a manner that satisfies the criteria for Type A units, in accordance with ANSI A117.1. Currently, at least two percent of dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any multifamily residential building must be Type A units. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

HB 527- Provides that for purposes of zoning, a residential facility in which no more than eight individuals with mental illness, intellectual disability, or developmental disabilities reside, with one or more resident or nonresident staff persons, shall be considered residential occupancy by a single family. Currently, such facilities are required to have one or more resident counselors or other staff persons to qualify for this zoning designation.

HB 600- Extends to tenants with one or more minor children who live within 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines the right to continue to occupy their apartment or unit or at least one of equal size and overall quality under a lease agreement, even though their apartment or unit will be converted to a condominium. Under current law, the locality must enact an ordinance to afford these rights, and currently such rights are available to elderly or disabled tenants.

HB 792- Requires localities in Planning District 8 (Northern Virginia) to include provisions in their zoning ordinances that limit the number of residential units with 500 square feet or less of living space to no more than 100 residential units per 100,000 population in the locality. Zoning changes required to accommodate such units must be at a location in which the zoning prior to January 1, 2014, was at least 12 residential dwellings per acre.

HB 816- Adds lawful source of income to the list on the basis of which it is unlawful to discriminate in fair housing practices. The bill defines lawful source of income as any income used by a person to pay for the purchase or lease of a dwelling, including (i) public assistance, (ii) any manner of gross income, (iii) federal supplemental security income benefits, (iv) child support, and (v) any federal, state, or local housing assistance, regardless of whether the funds are paid directly to the person or to a landlord or other third party for the benefit of the person. The bill also authorizes the governing body of any county, city, or town to enact an ordinance in accordance with the provisions of the Virginia Fair Housing Law, provided such ordinance includes protections against discrimination that are at least as protective as those provided by the law.

Senate Bills

SB 58- Requires localities to take steps to align transportation infrastructure and facilities with affordable, accessible housing and community services when developing the transportation component of the comprehensive plan for the physical development of the territory. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission.

SB 63- Requires the Board of Housing and Community Development to revise the Uniform Statewide Building Code to require that at least 10 percent of all dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any newly constructed multifamily residential building shall be affordable, accessible units designed and constructed in a manner that satisfies the criteria for Type A units, in accordance with ANSI A117.1. Currently, at least two percent of dwelling units, but in no case less than one dwelling unit, in any multifamily residential building must be Type A units. The bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Disability Commission

SB 313- Provides that if any locality elects to enforce Part III of the Building Code, it shall also enforce the unsafe structures provisions for tenant complaints and enforce the elevator, escalator, or related conveyance inspections. The bill also provides that where a county provides enforcement of Parts I and II of the Building Code in a town, and elects to inspect and enforce Part III of the Building Code, the county is also required to inspect and enforce Part III of the Building Code in any such town situated in the county that has also adopted Part III, upon entering into a nonmonetary agreement with the town for such enforcement, unless the town elects to inspect and enforce Part III. The bill contains technical amendments.

SB 340- Allows a locality to require any party wishing to establish a certain type of residential facility for the aged, infirm, disabled, or those with mental illness to provide public notice and participate in a public hearing. The bill requires the operator of such a facility to install smoke detectors regardless of when the building was constructed and directs the Board of Housing and Community Development to adopt regulations establishing standards for requiring smoke detectors.

Keep checking in with us as we post updates on the progress of these bills. Remember, the decisions made in the General Assembly affect all of us as Virginians. Write your legislators and urge them to support the bills you care about.

For more information on the General Assembly.

Find your legislator and send them a message!

Lobbyist in a Box service allows you to track up to five bills at a time, for free!

Local government budgets and Smart Growth

For years, research has shown that smart growth development can reduce costs for localities and in some cases can even increase public revenue.  Over the last 10 to 15 years, research about smart growth development strategies has continued to develop.  However, one question in particular still remained: What impact does smart growth development strategies have on municipalities’ bottom lines?  An organization called Smart Growth America sought to answer that very question.

Smart Growth America published a report entitled Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development.[1]  This report examined 17 case studies of municipalities across the country.  Localities in this study included Afton, MN; Champaign, IL; Charlotte, NC; Fresno, CA and Phoenix, AZ just to name a few.  Specifically, the report compared municipal revenues in two types of development scenarios: smart growth and conventional suburban.  Smart growth development is characterized by buildings located closer to each other, neighborhoods that allow ample walking for residents, streets with better connections among destinations, a greater mix of home types and increased transportation options.  On the other hand, buildings farther away from each other, neighborhoods designed primarily for driving, street systems with longer distances between destinations and fewer public transportation options are characteristics of conventional suburban development.  The report by Smart Growth America focused on three financial aspects of these two strategies: the cost of upfront infrastructure, the cost of providing ongoing services, and the tax base created by additional development.

So, what did this comparison study show?  First, smart growth development costs about one-third less for upfront infrastructure than conventional suburban development.  Some type of infrastructure is of course required to support and supply any development.  Often, the most expensive forms of infrastructure in new developments include roadways, water lines and sewer lines.  The less expensive costs for upfront infrastructure in smart growth development scenarios can be attributed to the fact that smart growth development typically requires fewer infrastructures.  This means that upfront capital costs, maintenance costs, and presumably costs for eventual replacements are lowered.  Additionally, smart growth development scenarios often reuse existing infrastructure, which serves to further lower upfront capital costs.

Secondly, the comparison study showed that smart growth development saves municipalities an average of roughly 10 percent on ongoing delivery of services.  Examples of ongoing delivery of services include the cost of services provided by first responders in emergencies such as police, fire and ambulance.  The way a community is configured has a profound impact on delivery of public services.  Because smart growth development utilizes street systems with better connections among destinations, service vehicles may drive fewer miles, thus allowing a reduction in operating costs.  Further, research showed that the savings on services in rural areas were even higher.

Finally, the survey concluded that smart growth development produces 10 times more tax revenue per acre than conventional suburban development.  Tax revenue typically refers to property and sales taxes, as well as licensing fees and other small sources of revenue in some instances.  This finding is particularly significant because for most communities property taxes are an extremely important source of revenue.  In fact, a 2010 U.S. Census survey of local government budgets nationwide showed that 48 percent of revenue from municipalities’ own sources came from property taxes.[2]

The findings of Smart Growth America are significant for multiple reasons.  The primary reason is because it shows that smart growth strategies create significant revenue for local governments and significant savings for residents! These findings are particularly relevant to local governments given our anemic recovery. Areas that experienced or are experiencing a lot of sprawled “McMansions” development are burdened with high land use and development costs.  Localities across the country have seen that low-density developments fail to pay for their own infrastructure. Transportation costs for families have ballooned, in some cases to more than a quarter of their income. There is a significant correlation between lack of transportation and access to higher paying jobs.[3]  By making the decision to utilize smart growth development strategies, local governments may find that that their public balance sheets AND quality of life for residents can be improved for decades to come.

This is a guest post by Jasmine McKinney. Jasmine is currently a second year student at the University of Richmond School of Law.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia Tech in 2012.  She is currently a legislative/public policy intern at HOME of Va through the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service.


[1] Smart Growth America, Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development, available at http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/building-better-budgets.pdf

[2]  U.S. Census Bureau (2012, September), State and Local Government Finances Summary: 2010, available at http://www2.census.gov/govs/estimate/summary_report.pdf.

[3] Shaila Dewan, Is Suburban Sprawl on Its Way Back?, Sept. 14, 2013, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/sunday-review/is-suburban-sprawl-on-its-way-back.html?_r=0.

3 ways to best use HUD’s new housing affordability data

A great blog post about how best use HUD’s new data on housing affordability:

Three Ways to Use Data from the Location Affordability Portal to Inform Policy and Practice:

1. Understand the “complete costs of place” of a proposed affordable housing development. If we really want to deliver housing that is affordable, we need to focus not only on the costs of rent or a mortgage, but also on the costs of heating / cooling the home and getting to and from work and around town—collectively, the “complete costs of place.”  A home that offers low housing costs but requires residents to spend all the savings on higher transportation costs is no bargain.  While cost is not the only relevant factor in siting affordable housing (see below), it is an important one, and developers can increase the odds that a home with low housing costs is truly affordable by using the Location Affordability Portal to estimate a site’s transportation costs and factoring that into an estimate of the complete costs of place.

2. Target transportation investments to places with low housing costs but high transportation costs. There are two main ways of ensuring that the combined costs of housing and transportation are affordable to low- and moderate-income households: reduce the housing costs of places where transportation costs are already low (see item No. 1 above) or reduce the transportation costs of places where housing costs are already low. The Location Affordability Portal can help communities identify places where transportation investments—such as car sharing, improved commuter bus service, and improved pedestrian infrastructure—are needed to help improve affordability for low- and moderate-income households that have relatively affordable housing costs but high transportation costs.

3. Compare communities and regions. Sometimes policymakers, advocates or researchers find it useful to compare housing costs across regions—for example, to identify places with policies we may wish to emulate. If these analyses consider only housing costs but ignore transportation costs, they may well give us distorted results.  For example, in an analysis of the housing and transportation costs of the 25 largest metro areas, we found that Houston had the eighth most affordable housing costs (as a percentage of income).  But when we considered housing and transportation costs together, Houston dropped to 17th, making it one of the less affordable regions.  The Location Affordability Portal provides useful metrics for comparing the combined costs of housing and transportation costs across jurisdictions.

Open letter on housing to VA’s gubernatorial candidates

The Virginia Housing Coalition has released this open letter to the candidates running for Governor of Virginia. The election will take place on Tuesday November 5th.

Housing is a cornerstone for our families and our communities in Virginia. For 30 years, the Virginia Housing Coalition has advocated that every family and every individual in the Commonwealth should have an affordable and decent place to call home.  As we emerge from the worst housing recession in our nation’s history, there are many reasons to focus on the housing status of our citizens here in Virginia.

  • More than a million Virginia households are housing cost burdened – meaning, they pay more for housing than they can afford.
  • Over 100,000 families lost their homes to foreclosure and this epidemic is still affecting our people and our neighborhoods.  Many areas of the state still lag behind our stronger markets.
  • The homeownership rate in the state and the nation are continuing to decline. We need to make sure that rental housing is available to meet this growing demand,  but we also need to rebuild the opportunity for young families to buy a home and begin to build equity.  Homeownership has long been the principle way that lower and middle class households increase wealth.
  • The cost of rental housing has outpaced the growth of renter incomes over the past decade.  In 2013, it would take a wage of $20.72 per hour to afford Virginia’s  2BR Fair Market Rent ($1,078), but the average renter wage in Virginia is only $15.79.
  • Finally, while we have begun to make progress in reducing homelessness, this progress is threatened by cuts to federal rental assistance funding.

Good housing policy does more than just provide adequate shelter to Virginians.  Housing is an important element of our state’s economy.  Housing construction generates jobs and economic spinoff benefits the surrounding community. For example, the construction of 100 single family homes in Fairfax County supports 222 short term jobs and 20 long term jobs, bringing the total economic impact to over $16.5 million. Usually, housing leads us out of a recession.  That has not been the case with the Great Recession. Our homebuilding industry has been in a depression for the past five years and that needs to change in order for economic growth to accelerate in our state.

Housing is integrally connected to many of the important issues that you will face as Governor.  Housing density, location and development patterns fuel our transportation needs and expenditures.  Good, stable housing correlates with improved educational achievement in young children, as well as providing mental and physical health benefits, especially to our older citizens.

As Governor, we urge you to place a priority on the development of a detailed housing policy and plan in the first year of your term. We also ask you to commit to continue funding for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund – an effort that has already begun to yield benefits to families across the state. The first round of Housing Trust Fund projects will be getting underway by the end of the year and will serve a broad range of housing needs in the state, including veterans, persons with disabilities and individuals experiencing homelessness.

On behalf of our membership across the state, we look forward to working with you to expand and improve housing opportunities for all Virginians in the next four years.

Sincerely,

Bob Newman, President

A Fair Chance in Our Economy

A Fair Chance in the Economy is Humanly Possible

George Mason University Economics Professor Don Boudreaux wrote recently: “I do not in the least care about income (or wealth) inequality.”

Don Boudreaux

Don Boudreaux

This seems a pretty bold and heartless statement, but he clarifies:

“I care – very deeply – whether the process for pursuing one’s life’s goals is fair or not.  I want everyone to have as fair a chance in the economy as is humanly possible.  I despise special privileges that stack the deck either in favor of Jones or against Smith.  (We can have a debate about what the details of “fair process” and “special privileges” look like, but this post is not the place for such a debate.)  But I do not care about differences in monetary income or wealth as such.”

Every American is entitled to a fair chance to succeed in our economy. But here’s an incontrovertible fact: human bias and prejudice actively prevent some Americans at a fair shot.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about housing discrimination.

For example:

Zenobia of Petersburg Virginia wanted to move her family to a better neighborhood so her four children could attend better schools and build a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, she was turned down for housing repeatedly because she uses public assistance to pay for rent. This type of housing discrimination reduced the fair shot Zenobia is entitled to.

A recent study found that many low income Americans are trapped in areas with fewer opportunities:

One of the most disappointing results of the study, Tegler says, is that the majority of recipients of the Housing Choice Voucher Program still live near low-performing schools, even though the program is designed to provide greater housing options.

It is humanly possible to give these folks a fair chance in our economy. We have to eliminate discrimination against people using public assistance for housing. When people are able to choose great neighborhoods themselves, they will have the fair shot they are entitled to in our economy. We must also make sure that there is affordable housing in great neighborhoods.