Vincent Reina on fair housing in the U.S., in the city, and in pandemic times

Vincent Reina is a Penn Institute for Urban Research (IUR) Faculty Fellow; assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design; and faculty director for the Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP), an initiative based in PennPraxis that brings research, analysis, and partnerships to achieve more effective, equitable housing policy. His research focuses on urban economics, low-income housing policy, household mobility, neighborhood change, and community and economic development.

Vincent Reina smiles on a front door stoop.
Penn IUR faculty fellow and assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning, Vincent Reina. (Image: The Stuart Weitzman School of Design)

This past fall, Reina co-edited “Perspectives on Fair Housing” with Provost Wendell Pritchett and Penn IUR co-director Susan Wachter, which pulled together experts across disciplines to look at the legacy of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), passed more than 50 years ago.

“We know that the Fair Housing Act is crucial to addressing issues of racial discrimination, segregation, inequality, and inequity, but we can't stop there,” Reina says. “It will take more proactive efforts, more proactive policy, planning, and follow-through to truly dismantle racism in housing markets—along with an acknowledgement that the challenges around fair housing compound and evolve over time, therefore requiring ongoing action.”

The pandemic, he says, has highlighted the inequities discussed in the book. “There's overwhelming evidence showing that individuals and communities of color, and particularly Black communities, are disproportionately being affected by the pandemic through their employment, housing, and actual exposure to the virus. This moment makes those systemic inequities stark.”

Reina argues that cities need to think constructively and proactively about how to address housing needs. “Our work with the City of Philadelphia highlights opportunities to address challenges around current and long-term housing affordability: to assess, understand, promote, and increase the supply of affordable housing; to think critically about tenant protections and tenant rights; and to promote investment in neighborhoods that doesn’t result in displacement,” he says. “But the need for rental assistance programs far exceeds the financial capacity of the City of Philadelphia on its own—federal support is needed. What’s interesting in the current COVID-19 moment is the federal response, which, in many ways, is unprecedented. The $25 billion for rent relief legislated several months ago, and additional support that was just passed, represents a real moment of opportunity for local governments to address affordable housing needs.

“We’re learning that there’s a lot of innovative stuff going on in cities across the country and that every city is different. We know cities need federal support, but local context matters—programs work differently in different places. We need to acknowledge the import of local contexts, histories, and resources.”

Read more at the Penn Institute for Urban Research.