Mar. 07 2017

In Protest Against Limits to Disparities Data

Dean Fried joins leaders from research, education, housing, and civil rights in opposition to efforts to cut off an important source of racial disparities data

Dean Linda P. Fried has joined with research, education, housing, and civil rights leaders opposing legislation introduced by Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that would limit the collection of racial disparities data.

A New York City snapshot using the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Data and Mapping ToolThe legislation would undo U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulation that reports localized information on measures like race, income, housing affordability, and proximity to jobs, transit, and schools. Available online, the Data and Mapping Tool provides evidence to researchers studying community-level disparities, and informs local officials working to fight housing discrimination as mandated by the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Dean Fried is among many to sign a letter to Congress as part of a formal protest organized by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health and the National Fair Housing Alliance. The letter underscores the importance of geospatial data collected and maintained by the federal government, calling it “a crucial underpinning of research, planning, and policymaking.”

Andrew Rundle, associate professor of Epidemiology, organized his own protest against the legislation at a recent postcard-writing party.  He urged those attending the party to write post-cards to their elected representative in Washington about the negative effects of the legislation, explaining that the proposed changes represent an attack on the Fair Housing Act. “If you can’t collect data about neighborhood segregation,” says Rundle, “you can’t identify public policies that are excluding people from living in neighborhoods based on their race, ethnicity or country of birth.”

He gave the example of communities that have passed laws restricting extended family members from living together under one roof—not coincidentally the sort of living arrangements common among new immigrants, many who are Hispanic. “You’d never know that rules like this were having an effect on segregation if you couldn’t collect the data,” says Rundle.

The Senate and House bills (H.R. 482/S. 103) each contain the same explicit instruction: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”

Sociomedical Sciences Assistant Professor Diana Hernandez researches the connection between housing and health using government data sources, including the American Housing Survey and the American Community Survey. One of her ongoing projects looks at the effect of structural improvements to HUD-administered public housing projects such as energy efficient windows and smoke-free buildings.

“Where we live matters deeply for our health,” says Hernandez. “Housing provides shelter and meets our basic needs. It also situates us in a community with access to social and institutional resources and life opportunities.”