Fair Housing Month Event
About the event
Homeownership is the primary path for sustained, multigenerational wealth-building for families in the United States. And yet, biases engrained in how homes are bought, taxed, and sold create numerous barriers for Black and Brown families to realize this goal. While government at every level has helped perpetuate these discriminatory practices, it has also sought to address them.
On April 13, 2023, the Cook County Assessor's Office in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Midwest Regional Office, hosted a Fair Housing Month Event that focused on "Seeking Equity in Property Assessment, Appraisal & Valuation." This event brought together leaders in the field of housing, academia, research, and local government on a collective mission on how we can further address inequities in American homeownership.
Each April, we commemorate the Fair Housing Act, the historic federal law that guarantees the right to housing of your choice, regardless of your race, gender, or economic character. It has been 55 years since this act became law, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — as well as countless state and local governments throughout the country — continues to fight housing discrimination.
In addition to acknowledging Fair Housing Month, this event recognizes the Biden-Harris Administration’s recent efforts to curb housing discrimination. One year ago, the White House’s Interagency Task Force on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity (PAVE) released a landmark report and action plan that provided further evidence of home appraisal bias against Black and brown families and ways to better combat these biases.
Watch the Event
Erika Poethig, Special Assistant to the President for Housing and Urban Policy at The White House Domestic Policy Council
The Assessment Gap: How to make property tax assessments fairer for all communities
Fritz Kaegi, Cook County Assessor
Professor Chris Berry, University of Chicago
Amber S. Hendley, Director of Research, Woodstock Institute
Alvin Horhn, Deputy Chief Financial Officer and Chief Assessor, City of Detroit
Fair Housing: How discrimination affects access to homeownership
Demetria McCain, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal
Opportunity, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Athena Williams, Executive Director, Oak Park Regional Housing Council
Amy Nelson, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana
John Petruszak, Executive Director, South Suburban Housing Center
Professor Michael P. Seng, University of Illinois Chicago
Appraisal Bias: What it is and how it impacts the ability to create wealth
Karen Freeman-Wilson, President, Chicago Urban League
Lamont Robinson, Illinois State Representative
Craig Steinley, MAI, SRA, AI-GRS, AI-RRS, President, the Appraisal Institute
Jane Dokko, Vice President and Community Affairs Officer, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Keynote Address: Erika Poethig
Special Assistant to the President for Housing and Urban Policy
at The White House Domestic Policy Council
Erika Poethig is Special Assistant to the President for Housing and Urban Policy in the White House Domestic Policy Council. In this capacity, she leads interagency policy development on the housing and community development components of the President’s Build Back Agenda. Prior to joining the Biden-Harris administration she served as vice president and chief innovation officer at the Urban Institute, where she created and led the Research to Action Lab, an innovation hub serving decision makers and creative thinkers eager to effect social change.
Before joining Urban, Poethig was acting assistant secretary for policy, development, and research at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. During her tenure in the Obama administration, she was also deputy assistant secretary for policy development and was a leading architect of the White House Council for Strong Cities and Strong Communities. As associate director for housing at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, she developed grantmaking strategies focused on rental housing policy and research and research on how housing matters. In the 1990s, she was assistant commissioner for policy, resource, and program development at the City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and developed Mayor Richard Daley’s campaign to combat predatory lending, prevent foreclosures, and stabilize communities. Previously, she was associate project director of the Metropolis Project, which produced the Metropolis 2020 agenda for regional leadership around the major issues faced by metropolitan Chicago.
She was a Phi Beta Kappa member at the College of Wooster and a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Vienna, and she has an MA with honors in public policy from the University of Chicago.
The Assessment Gap
How to make property tax assessments fairer for all communities
Fritz Kaegi is the Cook County Assessor where he is responsible for valuing the nearly 2 million properties in Cook County fairly. Prior to beginning his career in Cook County government, Fritz spent more than 20 years valuing assets as a mutual fund portfolio manager and analyst. He holds the Chartered Financial Analyst and Certified Illinois Assessment Officer designations, and he is a member of the IAAO, the International Association of Assessing Officers.
Since assuming office in 2018, Fritz has brought fairness, ethics and transparency to the Cook County Assessor’s Office with a vision focused on operational changes, technological upgrades, and the elimination of favoritism. These changes have increased predictability in the assessment system and spurred investment in Chicago and Cook County.
Fritz was born and raised in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago and still maintains close ties to the community. He attended Hyde Park’s Kenwood Academy for high school, completed his undergraduate studies at Haverford College, and received his MBA from Stanford University.
In 2020 Fritz received the A. Philip Randolph Change Agent Award from the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum and in 2021 the Adlai Stevenson Award for Public Service from the Chicago chapter of the American Society for Public Administration.
Christopher R. Berry is the William J. and Alicia Townsend Friedman Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the College. He is the academic director of the Center for Municipal Finance. His research interests include American politics, metropolitan governance, municipal finance, and intergovernmental fiscal relations.
Berry is the author of Imperfect Union: Representation and Taxation in Multilevel Governments, winner of the Best Book Award in Urban Politics from the American Political Science Association, Theory and Credibility (with Scott Ashworth and Ethan Bueno de Mesquita), and many other scholarly publications. His research has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the Chicago Tribune, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and many other outlets. For access to Professor Berry's writings, please visit his research website. To learn more about Professor Berry's research on property tax fairness, visit www.propertytaxproject.uchicago.edu.
Amber S. Hendley
Amber S. Hendley joined Woodstock Institute as a Research Associate in 2022 and was named Director of Research in January 2023. She leads the organization’s research on financial security and equity for low- and moderate-income households and communities of color. In March 2023, she launched a collaborative, solutions-focused research series designed to reframe homeownership’s role in closing the Black-White wealth gap.
Previously Amber worked with Roosevelt University’s Policy Research Collaborative, where she authored two reports examining housing discrimination patterns in Chicago’s 2019-2021 rental markets. In June 2021, she coauthored Public Housing Authority Homeownership Programs: Scaling Up a Powerful Yet Underutilized Tool to Restore Wealth Building Opportunities. This report focused on the opportunities, barriers, and impacts of public housing authority homeownership programs as they relate to Black voucher holders.
In May 2019, Amber co-authored The Plunder of Black Wealth in Chicago: New Findings on the Lasting Toll of Predatory Housing Contracts. This publication quantified the amount legally and unjustly extracted from the Black community in Chicago through predatory residential contract selling during the Second Great Migration. Plunder of Black Wealth was released at a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago symposium. It also helped inspire Tonika Johnson’s Inequity for Sale project on the ground in Chicago’s Englewood community.
Amber earned an M.A. in Analytical and Political Economy at Duke University and a B.S. in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Florida State University.
A lifelong Detroiter, Alvin Horhn started with the City of Detroit in the Finance Department, Assessment Division in October 1997. He was named as one of the three members to the city’s Board of Assessors in September 2012 by then Mayor Dave Bing. He was named the city’s Deputy CFO – Office of the Assessor by Mayor Michael Duggan in June 2015 following the restructuring of the Finance Department into the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and the Assessment Division into the Office of the Assessor. He was named Chief Assessor at the time as well.
Alvin holds a Bachelor of Business Administration and is currently in the graduate program at Siena Heights University, where he is working on a Master of Arts, Organizational Leadership. He holds a Michigan Advancement Assessing Officer (MAAO), Michigan Certified Personal Property Examiner (MCPPE) and the Assessment Administration Specialist (AAS) Designation from the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO). He is a candidate for the IAAO’s Certified Assessment Evaluator (CAE) designation, anxiously awaiting the results of his narrative appraisal, the last step in obtaining that designation.
Moderator: Kelwin Harris
Kelwin Harris is the Chief Civic Engagement Officer, Deputy Assessor for The Cook County Assessor’s Office. In this role, he leads the office’s community outreach strategy for residential, commercial and affordable housing stakeholders in Cook County. Kelwin also created the organization’s Racial Equity and Real Estate Conversations series assembling local and national experts to address challenges and provide solutions to racial disparities in housing and real estate in Chicago. Prior to the Assessor’s Office, Kelwin was Senior Outreach Planner for The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) where he led public engagement for Chicago’s official regional plan, ON TO 2050 and helped guide the organization’s inclusive growth and health equity strategies.
Kelwin held numerous leadership roles on the Southside of Chicago in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood where he led programs to upskill residents, address food and housing insecurity, and combat violence with Catholic Charities and St. Sabina Church.
How discrimination affects access to Homeownership
Demetria McCain serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At FHEO, McCain assists HUD’s efforts to eliminate housing discrimination, promote economic opportunity, and achieve diverse, inclusive communities.
McCain joins HUD following fifteen years of service, with five as president, at the Inclusive Communities Project (ICP), a Dallas, TX-based affordable fair housing nonprofit. Prior to becoming president, she oversaw operations, communications and ICP’s Mobility Assistance Program, a housing mobility program that helps housing choice voucher holders exercise their fair housing rights. Conceived by Demetria, ICP’s “Voices for Opportunity” initiative has provided advocacy training to low-income renters and neighborhood groups of color.
Before joining ICP, McCain worked on USDA Section 515 rural multifamily housing matters at the National Housing Law. She was also a staff attorney for the Neighborhood Legal Services Program of Washington, D.C., assigned to the southeast office, where her portfolio primarily included landlord-tenant matters for low-income renters in private and public housing. She has taught, as an adjunct instructor, a Fair Housing and Homelessness course to undergraduate Coppin State University students.
McCain brings dual vantage points to FHEO after having spent years assisting both housing choice voucher holders who sought low-poverty well-resourced housing options and neighborhood groups in underserved communities of color who sought more equitable distribution of resources and services. McCain has sat on several local and national nonprofit boards and is a sought-after panelist and commentor on affordable fair housing and the impacts of residential segregation. She is a graduate of Howard University School of Law, New York University and Brooklyn College and a member of the Dallas Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Athena Williams is the Executive Director of Oak Park Regional Housing Center, an organization regarded as a leader for fair housing rights, expansion of housing options, and equal racial access in Oak Park and surrounding West Cook County communities including Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
Athena, a lifelong resident of Chicago’s West Side, has fought for the communities she serves as a longtime community organizer and advocate. She has played many advocacy roles in the community including Chicago Public School Local School Council President, Associate Director of the Monroe Foundation, Development Director for the Westside Minister’s Coalition, and an administrative assistant to the City of Chicago 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts. Athena, a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison, has served on many committees including the Oak Park Business and Civic Counsel, the Housing Task Force of Austin Forward Together Quality of Life Plan, and several others. She often makes media appearances to represent the communities she serves in relation to housing, and racial justice. Athena has many certifications which allow her to facilitate homeownership and financial education.