By CLIFF DUNN
The Trump administration continues to try to weaken federal protections against housing discrimination; in fact, this was an especially busy summer for the forces of regression.
It’s now important to ask what would have been unthinkable questions two years ago: Is fair housing still the law of the land? And are federal housing officials under Donald Trump still going to enforce it? Rising housing costs and strict lending standards have made the situation more urgent.
Fortunately for those opposed to Trump & Co.’s efforts, officials from the state and local level as well as stakeholders advocating for both affordable housing and social justice are taking steps to protect these regulations.
In late August, 153 state and local organizations asked the administration to keep a federal rule that’s designed to protect minorities. Among the groups that signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calling for preservation of the Disparate Impact Standard were the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign.
They were joined by the attorneys general of 17 states, who wrote to HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “In the five years since the Rule was finalized, the issues of segregation and discrimination in housing and lending have not abated.”
Unfortunately, advocates don’t have many options to force the feds to enforce fair housing. On August 17, a court dismissed a lawsuit that would require Carson and HUD to stick to the government’s policy on desegregation.
Of concern to advocates is the preservation of a legal doctrine that bans discrimination even when discrimination is not the explicit goal of the policies in question. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that housing practices that negatively affect minorities
disproportionately are prohibited, so that, for instance, a policy that requires low income housing vouchers be used in poor neighborhoods is just as discriminatory as a listing that says, “whites only.”
During the Obama Administration, HUD formalized its policy on Disparate Impact (or “discriminatory effects”). But this past June, Trump’s HUD changed course, announcing that it was considering a change to the Disparate Impact rule.
The other rule under fire is HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which Obama rolled out in 2015. The AFFH rule is an effort to codify an obligation set forth by the Fair Housing Act, which requires jurisdictions that accept HUD funds to “affirmatively further” desegregation.
But AFFH is another rule that could be undone by the Trump Administration. In January, HUD tried to delay its implementation. In May, HUD abandoned one of the requirements for jurisdictions to abide by AFFH. That prompted a lawsuit—the case that was dismissed on August 17 when the U.S. District Court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
A week later, HUD issued advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, this time for AFFH. HUD could reverse Obama’s fair-housing legacy by shredding the rules that delineate out how HUD enforces fair housing.
Existing federal law requires both the federal government and local officials to do better. But the Trump administration looks to be backtracking on both the rules that preserve anti-discrimination, and they way in which those rules can be interpreted by officials. That’s both bad faith and bad policy.