Among the changes sought by the Department of Housing and Urban Development: redefining what it means to promote fair housing, eliminating the assessment used to address barriers to racial integration, and encouraging cities to remove regulations that stand in the way of affordable housing, according to the proposed rule obtained by The Washington Post.
Fair housing advocates say the proposal reduces the financial pressure on local governments to end residential segregation, as required by the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and is the latest erosion of Obama-era regulations designed to enforce the landmark legislation.
The 2015 regulations required communities to take meaningful action against long-standing segregation by analyzing housing patterns, concentrated poverty and disparities in access to transportation, jobs and good schools.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson has characterized those steps as “overly burdensome” and “too prescriptive,” saying that transforming segregated living patterns and poor neighborhoods into areas of opportunity is often not within a community’s control.
The proposed rules focus on increasing what the administration is calling “fair housing choice” — through greater housing supply along with safe and sanitary housing conditions that HUD says will better allow families to live where they want — rather than racially integrating communities.
“The proposed rule entirely ignores the essential racial desegregation obligations of fair housing law,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Thomas Silverstein, a fair housing attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that “discrimination and segregation will continue unabated when HUD doesn’t provide meaningful fair housing oversight of local governments.”
HUD officials declined to comment on Friday.
The housing agency also wants to rank communities based on housing costs and fair market rents, and give top performers priority for federal housing grants.
The administration says such incentives would bolster the availability of affordable housing. But Silverstein said it would punish high-cost coastal cities with great housing needs — areas that are less supportive of Trump — and reward smaller, cheaper ones.
The proposed rules, to be published in the Federal Register ahead of a 60-day public comment period, come two years after Carson suspended the 2015 rule requiring more than 1,200 communities receiving federal housing dollars to draft plans to desegregate their communities — or risk losing billions in federal funds.
Fair housing advocates unsuccessfully sued HUD in 2018 over what they characterized as its failure to enforce fair housing laws.
Housing advocates said the proposed new rule represents a dangerous and fundamental misunderstanding of fair housing issues. The provision known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing was put in place five decades ago to prompt communities and public housing authorities that receive federal funds to address the harmful effects of their historical actions, said Lisa Rice, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance.
“Those lingering effects are still with us today,” Rice said. “There is an inextricable link between race, place and opportunity. The fact is that communities of color disproportionately do not have banks, do not have grocery stores, do not have basic infrastructure or equal access to municipal services and amenities like sewer lines and paved roads.”
The proposed rule also limits enforcement by only toughening federal scrutiny of communities sued by the federal government — and not private entities including civil rights and fair housing organizations, Rice said. That means jurisdictions found liable for discrimination through private lawsuits would still be eligible to receive federal funding, she said.
“Secretary Carson is scrapping years of extensive input and intensive work that went into the fair housing rule and essentially reverting to the agency’s previous flawed and failed system,” Yentel said. “In doing so, Secretary Carson continues his pattern of attempts to weaken and disrupt the agency’s responsibility to uphold its fair housing duties.”
Carson has long criticized federal efforts to desegregate American neighborhoods as “failed socialist experiments.” When questioned about the agency’s intention regarding the fair housing provision during congressional hearings last spring, Carson testified that it “costs a lot of money and man hours to do that analysis.” He signaled that he intended to focus on building affordable housing across all communities by deregulating and easing zoning restrictions.
“Why do you have segregation in housing? Not because George Wallace is blocking the door. It’s because people can only afford to live in certain places,” Carson said at a House hearing in May.
Some libertarian economists characterized the previous rule requiring communities to document segregation patterns and barriers to fair housing as an “exercise in bureaucratic symbolism” and praised the Trump administration for getting rid of the “tedious reporting requirements.”
In a blog post for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Emily Hamilton and Salim Furth wrote: “This rule cannot achieve housing affordability or accessibility nationwide, it cannot undo decades of segregationist housing policy, it cannot even guarantee that every HUD grantee is using best practices. But, inherent limitations and all, it is a positive step toward a healthy and accountable relationship between HUD and the cities and counties that receive HUD grants.”