Locating affordable continuing education (CEU) opportunities is a treasure hunt for AFC®s and other types of professionals. National conferences—such as the annual AFCPE® Research and Training Symposium—are great ways to learn, network, renew virtual relationships, and travel. But the downside is time off from family and work, as well as the costs of travel, lodging, meals, and conference fees. This week I stumbled across a true gem in a one-day regional symposium at the nearby university.

Washburn University School of Law and Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted a free event (with lunch!) on Fair Housing and Financial Market Diversity to recognize the Fair Housing Act passage 50 years ago. Housing experts from the Midwest discussed the areas of law, policy, academia, and research in regards to the past, current, and future application of FHA to protect all United States citizens.

Housing impacts everyone as a central thread that ripples through all other areas in the spider web of life: physical and mental health, sense of security and belonging, crime against persons and property, access to public transportation, quality of education, and employment opportunities to name just a few.

By mid-morning of the symposium, I realized in my search for CEUs that I had stumbled across a diamond in my own backyard! Because the attendance was significantly less than a national conference, I was able to easily interact with presenters seated at my table, experts on many topics, and the local housing advocates and government officials. After an exciting second panel, a presenter that piqued my interest joined our table. We were able to immediately continue the conversation through lunch about collaborating on a future conference presentation and journal article. Come to find out, similar events are available at my alma mater of Washburn University several times a year. I just needed to know where to look!

A few of the thought-provoking topics about application and impact of Fair Housing Assistance policy in the past, present, and future:

  • Maps of neighborhood racial make-up in urban areas are similar today as in the early 1900s. The passage of the Fair Housing Act and elimination of official redlining policies (lack of lending in targeted neighborhoods) does not appear to have changed where people live. Yet, is this by choice or lack of options—or some of both? Do people of different backgrounds, circumstances, and characteristics prefer to live near others similar to themselves (e.g., to pass on cultural and religious traditions)? Does one group of individuals have the right to decide what is best for another group, even with the best of intentions? Should investment in housing occur in creating new neighborhoods, diversifying “better off” neighborhoods, and/or investing in existing neighborhoods?
  • Lenders, local government, and other parties have creatively found proxies for discrimination that do not directly violate statements made in FHA. Lack of access to financial products impacts credit capacity disportionately by racial background, thereby reducing the likelihood of access to the best mortgage products. Race continues to be associated with higher cost and riskier loan products, all else being equal. Discrimination based on income source (typically unearned income) harms individuals and families that rely on government assistance programs, housing vouchers, and spousal/child support.
  • “Discrimination with a smile” activities have been empirically studied to reveal ongoing subtle discrimination. The appearance of open access is outward, but actions by a lender still show discrimination based on race or income source.
  • Housing needs to be addressed at the federal level for policy and funding. However, housing is a local issue and solutions need to be customized to each community’s needs. A one-size-fits-all solution, especially without input from those impacted, does not work.
  • Gentrification of urban areas continues to be a debated double-edged sword: New investment is needed to bring improvements and business to a local neighborhood. However, many times this happens at the expense of pushing out long-term residents and changes the neighborhood’s characteristics.
  • “Financial deepening” needs to continue in order to improve access to more financial products and increase access for people of different socio-economic backgrounds. The improvement on a household level will accelerate economic growth and households’ wellbeing. [Accredited Financial Counselors®, Financial Fitness Coaches, and other financial professionals on the continuum contribute to this much-needed deepening!]
  • Interpretation, application, and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act continues to be challenging for policymakers, regulators, and advocates. The creation and enforcement of policy has limited power. The foundational challenge to fair housing and equal access is changing the hearts and minds of people.

Large national conference attendance requires me to save up, leave home, and travel great distances. It is possible to find amazing learning opportunities in your own backyard. My experience this week reminded me of the story about the farmer that sold everything to search the world for diamonds. After great sacrifice and no success, he returned home only to find that diamonds were discovered in his old field by the new owner. Sometimes we just need to search our own backyards a bit harder for these CEU gems to learn, network, and inspire.

Cherie Stueve, MBA CPA (Inactive), AFC®, is a PhD Candidate in Personal Financial Planning at Kansas State University and a 2011 FINRA Military Spouse Fellow. Her current dissertation research will explore the access and barriers to appropriate professional financial assistance. Cherie has earned certificates in financial planning and financial therapy. Locally and virtually, she provides fee-based and pro-bono financial counseling services to working families, as well as teaching undergraduate personal finance electives for KSU.

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