Letter from the Executive Board

Housing & Community Development Division Members:

Over the past month, we have seen demonstrations against police violence seize the national conscience, and we have been listening. We hear, and we know that these uprisings are not solely in response to acts of brutality against Black individuals. We know they are equally in response to a collective experience, in part characterized by continued acts of harm perpetuated upon Black communities through disparate access to housing, economic opportunity, community investment, education, and all of the systems through which we operate. These acts of harm have been normalized within our nation, and one thing is clear – this injustice is no longer silent and was never acceptable.

As planners – especially as housing and community development planners – we know the full weight of our profession’s involvement in racial segregation and persistent disparities that have directly led us to this point. But not all of us feel this weight through lived experience or trauma. In many of our own current working lives, non-Black expectations and experiences still center our processes and institutions. And as we listen to our communities, we must acknowledge the ways in which we have been complicit as a product of working within these systems. Despite the bravery of Oliver Brown, Ethel Lawrence, Dorothy Mae Richardson, Patricia Roberts Harris, and countless others we have not left our profession’s past behind us – we are still in it. Justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and all the people whose names are on that unknowingly-long list is overdue. But true justice must be as deeply ingrained and systemic as the problems to be overcome.

As we work toward this justice, we know there will be heavy lifts in the sectors that we know best: equitable and affordable housing, economic empowerment, childcare and education, and many more. But a greater challenge than the process of investment, there will be heavy lifts in upending both how our systems were created to operate and how we as planners operate within them. This isn’t an easy task – and in the days, weeks, and years to come we will do all we can to support you in centering voices that have been marginalized, equitably investing in disinvested communities, and rearranging our systems to work for the experience of Black Americans and all communities of color.

As a Division, our first step in that process is sharing knowledge and centering critical conversations. To begin that process we are introducing a series of first steps: we will be hiring a new Research Fellow focused on Race and Housing who will serve as a resource for Division members, compiling and centralizing critiques, techniques, articles, and analysis into a central location on our website; we are currently in the process of programming two new webinars, the first will be focused on rewriting the Planning Canon to include voices of color; we are also in the process of organizing a workshop on how to create housing plans that promote and support diversity in your municipality; and later this summer we will be announcing a new scholarship fund specifically for minority would-be graduate students to pursue a professional degree in planning with an expressed interest in housing and community development.

These are just the first steps of many and we hope this will lead to continued engagement on practices and processes that can support centering these conversations in our daily work. We acknowledge that each of these are small actions – but taken together we hope to build momentum and will be looking to our membership to help us keep that momentum with your support, your ideas – and even your criticism – for programs and actions that will follow, but most importantly your willingness to join in the conversation.
Whether this is the first time we are taking the opportunity to listen, or whether we have lived this experience every day of our lives, we must commit to leading our communities in equitable rebuilding. We must provide spaces for our communities to heal, and spaces for our communities to listen. We must give a voice to those who are voiceless. It is the very first postulate under the list of principles to which we, as planners, are to aspire: We shall always be conscious of the rights of others. And this list goes on to state that we shall seek social justice. As planners, housers, and community developers we are uniquely equipped to provide our skills and talents to achieve equitable neighborhoods where all can thrive, and it is our responsibility as a profession to ensure we meet that standard.
The HCD Division Executive Committee

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