This Toolkit does not reflect any decisions made in connection with HUD's February 9, 2023 notice of proposed rulemaking and only relates to voluntary fair housing planning conducted pursuant to HUD's June 10, 2021 Interim Final Rule and may be used to support a program participant's certification that they will affirmatively further fair housing. Please also note that the IFR does not contain a Community Participation requirement related to Fair Housing Planning. However, community or public participation is still required for the Consolidated Plan and PHA Plan processes. Program Participants are nonetheless encouraged to engage the community during their Fair Housing Planning to enable them better to meet their substantive affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH) obligations.

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Module 4

Community Participation in Fair Housing Planning

Fair Housing Planning Toolkit

Module 4 Objectives:

  • Icon of check mark Learn WHO needs to be engaged in Fair Housing Planning from the community
  • Icon of check mark Learn WHAT are the best practices for Community Participation
  • Icon of check mark Learn HOW to reach protected class populations and organizations that advocate on their behalf

Module 4 Content:

Key Players

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Program Participants should consider designating a coordinating individual to oversee the process of equitably engaging with the public. Additionally, it is essential to determine ahead of time what roles each of your staff or team members will play during engagement events. Consider having:

  • A moderator to direct the conversation and solicit participation from participants
  • A designated notetaker present to document the meeting

Larger jurisdictions may have additional staff to designate to other roles during engagement events; however, smaller jurisdictions may be limited with their staff roster. When establishing roles, the strengths and weaknesses of staff in engaging with the community should be acknowledged. For example, those with stronger conflict mediation skills may serve as moderators or facilitators. Others may be effective notetakers or be adept at speaking one-on-one with community members. Regardless of their role, team members should be prepared to listen and allow community members to influence the direction of the conversation.

Examples of groups that the Program Participant may wish to contact, request comments from, or engage directly with in the Fair Housing Planning process may include:

  • Direct community members such as marginalized or underrepresented groups, which may include communities of color, persons with disabilities, non-prominent religious communities, LEP persons and related interpreters, and those in racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (R/ECAP).
  • Community-based organizations that represent protected class populations, including civil rights advocacy organizations (for example, disability advocacy organizations—such as independent living centers, state protection and advocacy organizations, and local or regional chapters of national organizations, representing the interests of individuals with various disabilities, such as individuals who are deaf or blind—and faith-based organizations).
  • State or local fair housing agencies and organizations, including fair housing advocacy organizations, such as fair housing assistance program (FHAP) and fair housing initiatives program (FHIP) members.
  • Housing organizations, such as public and private housing providers, state housing coalitions and affordable housing advocates, affordable housing developers, and community-based development organizations;
  • Tenant organizations, including resident management corporations, resident councils, assisted housing resident organizations and advocates, and the Resident Advisory Board of the PHA operating in the jurisdiction and region.
  • Public and private agencies that provide social services, including those focusing on services to low-income populations, children, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, and homeless persons.
  • Local government agencies with metropolitan-wide planning responsibilities, especially regarding problems and solutions beyond a single jurisdiction (for example, transportation or employment), or neighboring governments regarding priority non-housing community development needs.
  • Local PHAs or other affordable housing providers, such as LIHTC agencies, especially concerning fair housing needs, planned programs, and activities.
  • Organizations relevant to the opportunity analysis, for example, local school district leadership or parent groups and environmental justice groups.
  • Philanthropic organizations.
  • State and local universities and colleges.
  • Realtors, property management companies, and developers.
  • Appointed Public Officials serving their jurisdiction on a citizen advisory group (i.e. as a commissioner on homelessness) and/or has a liaison to a Housing Director on housing related issues the jurisdiction faces.
  • Community Land Trusts or Land Banks.
  • Lenders/banking institutions, especially regarding their obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and its correlating opportunities under the duty to affirmatively further fair housing.
  • Regional Government Councils or Planning Commissions.

Key Definitions

In order to achieve the purpose of Fair Housing Planning, it is important to take steps to involve members of the community, and particularly those who otherwise would not participate, beyond generalized outreach and participation. Community Participation elicits the participation of members of groups with characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act, which are race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), familial status, and disability. Thus, Community Participation requires Program Participants to actively work to encourage participation of members of communities that have been historically underrepresented, underserved, or subject to discrimination. This may include (but is not limited to) communities of color; religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; Limited English Proficiency (LEP) persons; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality. Community Participation can be achieved by direct engagement with community members and community leaders, and by forging relationships with organizations that represent these communities. Program Participants can use Community Participation as a best practice to engage members of the public and elicit participation in the Fair Housing Planning process.

Federal nondiscrimination laws define a person with a disability to include any individual (1) with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) with a record of such impairment; or (3) who is regarded as having such an impairment. See also 24 CFR § 5.151 and FHEO’s Disability Page.

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, recipients of HUD financial assistance, state and local governments, health care facilities, group homes, assisted living facilities, colleges and universities, and housing rental and sales offices, among others, have the legal obligation to take appropriate steps to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities. Effective communication is generally provided using appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such as interpreters, computer-assisted real time transcription (CART), captioned videos with audible video description, visual alarm devices, a talking thermostat, accessible electronic communications and websites, documents in alternative formats (e.g., Braille, large print), or assistance in reading or completing a form, etc. This requirement applies to all oral, written, audible, visual, and electronic communications, including letters, notices, emails, social media, internet websites, forms, leases, rules, and other written documents and electronic media, as well as communications that occur in person, over the telephone, over the internet, and in interviews, meetings, training classes, hearings, and public presentations, when communicating with an individual with a disability or when such communications are expected. Under the effective communication requirement, steps must be taken to ensure that communications are provided in the most integrated setting appropriate for the individual with a disability. It is also necessary to give primary consideration to the means of communication preferred by the individual with a disability. See also the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity’s (FHEO) Effective Communication page for more information.

In Executive Order 13985 Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, equity is defined as “the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”

A fair housing goal is a goal identified through the analysis in the Fair Housing Plan, to overcome fair housing issues. Program Participants are responsible for taking meaningful actions to achieve each of the fair housing goals identified in their Fair Housing Plan. Meaningful actions are significant actions that are designed and can be reasonably expected to achieve a material positive change that affirmatively furthers fair housing by, for example, increasing fair housing choice or decreasing disparities in access to opportunity.

A federal protection under the Fair Housing Act prohibiting discrimination in housing against families with children under 18 years, persons who are pregnant or in the process of obtaining legal custody, or persons with the written permission of the parent or legal guardian. See also 42 U.S.C. 3602

The Fair Housing Act contains a limited exemption from the familial status prohibitions for housing for older persons. Specifically, these exemptions apply to the following types of housing:

  • Provided under any state or federal program that the Secretary of HUD has determined to be specifically designed and operated to assist elderly persons (as defined in the state or federal program);
  • Intended for, and solely occupied by, persons 62 years of age or older; or
  • Intended and operated for occupancy by persons 55 years of age or older.

The "housing for older persons" exemption does not defend such housing facilities or communities from liability for housing discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), familial status, or disability.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in accordance with Supreme Court precedent in Lau v. Nichols, recipients of federal financial assistance are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by limited English proficient (LEP) persons. In accordance with Executive Order 13166, the meaningful access requirement of the Title VI regulations and the four-factor analysis set forth in the Department of Justice (DOJ) LEP Guidance apply to the programs and activities of federal agencies, including HUD. See also FHEO’s Limited English Proficiency Page, and LEP.gov for more information.

Abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Plus.

Several federal laws require that private and federally-assisted housing be accessible to persons with disabilities. These laws and their implementing regulations set out the requirements for physical accessibility:

  • Fair Housing Act
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)

Most entities are subject to more than one federal accessibility law and architectural standard in the operation of their housing services, programs, and activities. In addition, state and local laws may also apply and provide for greater protections. Entities must be aware of all applicable laws and ensure that they and any subrecipients comply with such laws. This may require applying multiple federal accessibility laws and architectural standards to ensure physical accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Additional state and local requirements may also apply. See also FHEO’s Physical Accessibility page for more information.

Under the Fair Housing Act a reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service. The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and public and common use areas.

In addition, the Fair Housing Act prohibits a housing provider from refusing to permit, at the expense of the person with a disability, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises.

Unlike the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 does not distinguish between reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications. Instead, both are captured by the term “reasonable accommodations". Under Section 504, the requirement to make reasonable accommodations applies to any changes that may be necessary to provide equal opportunity to participate in any federally-assisted program or activity. This includes a change, adaptation or modification to a policy, program, service, facility, or workplace which will allow a qualified person with a disability to participate fully in a program, take advantage of a service, live in housing, or perform a job. Reasonable accommodations also include any structural changes that may be necessary. Reasonable accommodations may include changes which may be necessary in order for the person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces, or participate in the federally-assisted program or activity. Under Section 504, reasonable accommodations must be provided and paid for by the housing provider unless providing them would be an undue financial and administrative burden or a fundamental alteration of the program. In such cases, the provider is still required to provide any other reasonable accommodation up to the point that would not result in an undue financial and administrative burden on the particular recipient and/or constitute a fundamental alteration of the program. In addition to the statutory requirement to make reasonable accommodations under Section 504, HUD's Section 504 regulation provides for making "housing adjustments" at 24 C.F.R. § 8.33.

Similar to and based upon the Section 504 reasonable accommodation requirement, Titles II and III of the ADA require public entities and public accommodations to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination. This obligation applies unless the public entity can demonstrate that the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity (Title II), or the public accommodation can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations (Title III). See also FHEO’s Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications page for more information.

Section 508 requires all electronic and information technology (also referred to as information and communication technology or ICT) that is developed, procured, maintained, or used by a federal agency to be accessible to people with disabilities. Examples of ICT include web sites, telephones, multimedia devices, and copiers. Access available to individuals with disabilities must be comparable to access available to others. Standards for Section 508 compliance are developed and maintained by the United States Access Board. See also 29 U.S.C. §794d, Section 508 at HUD, and Section508.gov for more information on the United States Access Board’s standards for 508 compliance.

Populations sharing a particular characteristic, as well as geographic communities, that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life, as exemplified by the list in the preceding definition of ‘equity.’

Timeframes

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We estimate that this Fair Housing Planning task should take approximately 40 business days.

The length of time Fair Housing Planning takes may vary based on the size of the Program Participant, the different types and amounts of resources available to them, or the number of barriers to fair housing choice that must be analyzed. The timeline provides information on how long an estimated planning task might take. The work that goes into Fair Housing Planning is scalable across Program Participants of various sizes, so while it can seem like a complex task, creating a Fair Housing Plan is a manageable task for Program Participants of all sizes and capacities.

As you prepare for Fair Housing Planning, consider the following:

  • Planning for Community Participation. Program Participants should develop a Community Participation plan before the Fair Housing Planning commences that includes how they will work to ensure individuals with protected characteristics, including those from hard to reach, underserved, marginalized, and disadvantaged communities, have the chance to provide their important perspectives. A successful plan for Community Participation will include a plan for marketing and outreach as a mechanism for targeting the intended individuals and organizations, utilizing diverse strategies to ensure that all voices are heard in the Fair Housing Planning process.
  • Conducting Community Participation. While Community Participation planning might first happen early in the Fair Housing Planning process, note that Community Participation should also happen several times during the Fair Housing Planning process, and each distinct event should have targeted marketing and outreach conducted:
    • Engage the community at the outset of Fair Housing Planning to receive feedback on grassroots perspectives about fair housing issues in the community.
    • Engage the community when fair housing data is obtained to reflect on what the data shows in the local area and how that data compares to local experience.
    • Engage the community around setting fair housing goals so that the goals set respond to community needs.
    • Engage the community around evaluating the implementation of fair housing goals.

Module 4.1: Best Practices in Community Participation in Fair Housing Planning

Community Participation is designed to engage the residents of the community or geographic area in which the Program Participant operates, populations affected by housing and fair housing decisions, investments, and challenges, and other interested parties in Fair Housing Planning. There is no requirement that the community be experienced in housing issues and/or fair housing issues.

See the list of individuals and agencies to consult with in Fair Housing Planning in the “List of Key Players.” One effective way to reach the community is by holding public meetings, whether in-person or virtual. To reach the broadest audience possible, the Program Participant should place meeting notices in various print and digital media outlets and, if applicable, in a variety of languages. This can be achieved by publishing a summary of each document in one or more newspapers of general circulation, and by making copies of each document available on the internet, on the Program Participant’s official government website, and at libraries, government offices, and public places.

In the Fair Housing Planning context, these best practices focus on the local implementation of an inclusive process where community members, community-based organizations, and Program Participants develop partnerships to undertake Fair Housing Planning, including setting fair housing goals.

Module 4.2: Best Practices in Meaningful Community Participation

Community Participation processes will differ depending on the local context. Each geographic area has its own assets and challenges; nevertheless, the following principles are widely applicable regardless of the diverse nature of these areas.

Planning for Community Participation

  • Identify populations with protected characteristics and those who may be underserved in your community. Think about who lives in your community, especially groups that have been historically disadvantaged or marginalized, and communities representing groups with characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act. This may include communities of color, LEP persons, families with children, persons with disabilities, and other populations.
  • Establish and build relationships with key stakeholders. It is important to reach out and build relationships with stakeholders that serve diverse and underrepresented groups and protected classes, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, persons with disabilities, and LEP persons. These relationships should be established early in the planning process to ensure that all perspectives are brought to the table then maintained throughout and beyond the planning process to establish a long-lasting relationship that continually receives feedback from community stakeholders.
  • Build capacity. Training, education, and technical assistance will facilitate participation and engagement by groups and organizations with limited bandwidth, experience, or resources. Capacity building will equip the next generation of leaders and empower citizens to continue speaking for and advocating for their community.

Outreach and Marketing for Community Participation

  • Work with existing networks and community leaders. To strengthen the effectiveness of Community Participation, work through trusted community-based organizations, networks, and leadership that serve and organize in diverse communities. Leverage existing networks and consider designating a coordinating entity to oversee the Community Participation process.
  • Use tools and social media. Consider alternative, interactive, and nontraditional approaches to expand your reach and build rapport. Employ technology and diverse media channels to engage different communities, set priorities in Fair Housing Planning, move the planning process along, and find common ground among diverse stakeholders.
  • Meet people where they are in terms of language, location, and time. Choose a location convenient to the group you are trying to reach. When advertising, use precise and intentional language. Manage expectations by being upfront and honest about what is required.

Conducting Community Participation

  • Make sure the meeting is accessible to all. Consider hosting hybrid and/or virtual meetings. Ensure accessibility for in-person and virtual meetings for persons with disabilities. Ensure LEP access by providing translated materials and interpretation at meetings. Ensure the location is accessible by multiple modes of transportation. Ensure childcare is available to make meetings accessible to those who need it.
  • Consider the structure of the meeting. Create a safe, open, and friendly environment to make people feel comfortable sharing information. Use a facilitator to keep the conversation on track and evenly distributed. Build incentives for engagement that reduce barriers to participation. For example, offer meetings in the evenings and on weekends; whenever possible, provide childcare, meals, transit passes, etc.
  • Prioritize information accessibility and transparency. Communicate what is being done and what will be done in the future. Share how the community’s input is being leveraged in Fair Housing Planning, including setting fair housing goals. Use clear language and terminology that people can understand. When LEP persons are in the jurisdiction, translate materials and provide interpretation at community meetings. Ensure that all announcements are in an accessible format.
  • Keep accurate records of the views and recommendations being expressed. Keep a record of the views and recommendations being expressed, as well as provide a summary of community views and recommendations.

Q&A: Examples of Best Practices in Community Participation

A:

  • Who are your community participants? What is their experience and background? What expertise can they contribute?
  • Why are you engaging with this group? Is your primary aim to identify fair housing impediments? To gain a deeper understanding of resident experiences? To problem solve and design solutions together?
  • At what level do you plan to engage with this group? Are you collecting data or perspectives? Will they be a strategic partner?
  • How will the information they provide be used? This is where transparency of process and follow-through on next steps matter for building trust and creating lasting partnerships that can be helpful in fulfilling fair housing goals.
  • Where and what modality will you use to provide equitable opportunities and gather inclusive community input?

A:

  • Translate materials into all applicable languages. Utilize community partners that fluently speak the language of the audience you are looking to engage and prep them on the discussion to ensure that higher-level ideas and concepts can be accurately translated.
  • Send outreach materials based on contact lists for existing programs that benefit target groups, for example, PHA resident lists or resident associations.
  • It is uniquely important when dealing with non-English speaking populations to routinize outreach, which helps overcome structural barriers to engagement.

A: Working with existing leaders/organizations. Ensuring the meeting location and time is convenient to the community, and the structure is accessible (childcare, food, etc.).

  • Delegate outreach responsibilities to local community leaders who can take the lead in coordinating engagement within their own spaces. For instance, one HUD grantee paid local leaders to conduct outreach. Another similarly relied on non-governmental partners to coordinate with a particular community that had a strong distrust of city government.
  • Smaller focus groups, such as those with formerly incarcerated persons, can also be useful in reaching marginalized communities.

A: Rural communities face a unique set of engagement challenges, both practical and ideological. Vary the times and format of Community Participation meetings (during and after the workday, hybrid options), and have trusted local officials and groups take the lead.

A: Ensure that you consider many types of disabilities, not just the most common ones. Are meeting spaces wheelchair accessible? Are they accessible by public transit without a long walk? Are presentations friendly to color blind viewers? Are online documents screen reader friendly? Is there an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter? Have you engaged disability group activists and asked for their input on meeting spaces?

A: At least three roles should be identified ahead of time:

  1. Moderator to lead the session;
  2. Note-taker to document the meeting in writing; and
  3. Facilitator to walk the room, take photographs (with permission), encourage participation, monitor the tone of the room, and bring any community participant issues to the attention of the moderator.

A:

  1. Set ground rules: At the beginning of the meeting, set basic ground rules about respectful listening and speaking practices. Allow community participants to contribute their own recommendations to the list of ground rules.
  2. Empower community participants with information: Provide enough context and information about the Fair Housing Planning process and purpose of the engagement so that community participants feel empowered and able to contribute in a meaningful way. For example, if you want to engage in a discussion about fair housing solutions, provide an overview and examples that demonstrate how strategies can use policies, programs, and partnerships to effect change. Keep foundational information brief and direct. Keep language plain by avoiding excessive jargon and explaining any acronyms.
  3. Offer conversation starters: Fair Housing Planning topics may seem abstract to community participants who aren’t familiar with planning language. Be prepared to open the conversation with some examples or prompts of your own. Through examples, try to make the topics relatable. Instead of asking, “Is transportation access an issue in your community?” ask “Do you know people who have difficulty getting to work?” Another approach might be to give people something to react to. Instead of asking, “What are impediments to fair housing in your community?” you might draw from the list of impediments from previous fair housing analysis and planning documents then ask community participants to share their own examples.
  4. Provide multiple mediums for feedback: While a large public forum is a common method of public engagement, it can be intimidating for some and leaves the possibility for a vocal minority to overtake the session. To help address this challenge, give community participants the means to provide feedback in different mediums. While some participants will feel comfortable speaking in front of a large group, others might prefer to engage via smaller breakout groups. Enabling community participants to share written feedback, or even audio recordings of their stories, can encourage hesitant participants to engage. Giving participants multiple mediums to provide feedback also may help people with physical disabilities, intellectual limitations, or LEP persons participate more easily in activities.
  5. Use visual tools liberally: Visual tools are excellent for supporting Community Participation discussions – use them liberally. When used effectively, visual tools can communicate a lot of information quickly and easily. Have copies of the meeting agenda and handouts readily available for people to familiarize themselves upon entry. Create graphics to illustrate concepts and have them available in large formats or as handouts so people can easily read them. Create visuals in the moment by documenting the session on a whiteboard or large poster. Select one or as many visual tools as you need for a given session. Visual representations of information, especially maps, are very useful in communicating large amounts of information to people at once. Give community participants the opportunity to interact with these visuals themselves, ideally with a facilitator available to respond to questions.
  6. Facilitate and educate: Throughout the session, the moderator should look for opportunities to build knowledge among the group. Usually, engagement events bring together people with diverse perspectives. Design activities and facilitate discussions so people can share their perspectives and be heard. Sometimes, these perspectives can be difficult to balance in a group. See the next section, Making the Most of Conflict, for guidance on how to treat these imbalances as opportunities for growth and learning.
  7. Be an attentive facilitator: An attentive facilitator continually reads the room and responds in real time to mediate points of conflict and identify points of consensus that move the discussion forward. Check in regularly for questions and comments throughout the session. Check in with people who appear troubled, and if a person looks confused, offer an explanation, and then follow up on their understanding. If it seems like the meeting is not progressing well or the facilitator observes that the content is not resonating with the community participants, it might be necessary to redesign the meeting on-the-spot. It is always helpful to have a back-up plan in case there is a need to shift gears.
  8. Hire local organizations and partners: Local organizations or partners can take the lead or provide significant support to outreach efforts, such as hosting forums without representation from the Program Participant to allow for open, honest discourse. Additionally, one HUD grantee divided their public engagement process by geography and subject and partnered with several nonprofits, each of which dedicated their efforts to a single subject area.

A: Have you reached the saturation point? Ask yourself:

  • Have we engaged a broad and diverse range of community members and organizations?
  • Has the amount of “new” and “surprising” information learned in recent engagement activities lessened?
  • Can we identify cohesive themes from Community Participation thus far?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then you have reached saturation for the topics you have been investigating.

Checklist

  • Icon of check mark Have you identified key players, specifically, community members such as marginalized or underrepresented groups, which may include communities of color, persons with disabilities, non-prominent religious communities, LEP persons and related Interpreters, and those in racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (R/ECAP)?
  • Icon of check mark Have you engaged your state or local fair housing agencies and organization(s), including fair housing advocacy organizations, such as Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) and Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) members?
  • Icon of check mark Have you ensured meetings are held at convenient times and locations and are accessible to individuals with disabilities as well as LEP persons?

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