HUD proposes easing Obama-era fair housing rule

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed an overhaul of an Obama-era rule meant to guide local jurisdictions in how they comply with the Fair Housing Act, sparking concerns from Democrats that local governments might be less willing to meet fair housing obligations under the new plan.

After President Trump took office in January 2017, his administration suspended the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, arguing that it was too prescriptive. The rule, drafted by the Obama administration, was meant to help locales meet obligations under the Fair Housing Act to provide affordable housing options and avoid housing discrimination.

Under a proposal issued Tuesday, HUD would change how participants in the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program are evaluated and would revise the definition of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing to “provide a more tailored approach that would take into account local issues and concerns by allowing local jurisdictions to create custom approaches based on their unique circumstances.”

“By fixing the old Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, localities now have the flexibility to devise housing plans that fit their unique needs and provide families with more housing choices within their reach,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a press release.

The new plan would require participating local governments to submit a certification that would include three goals it plans on addressing in the following years, or the obstacles it faces to increase fair housing choice, according to HUD.

But HUD will not require jurisdictions to carry out specific steps to further fair housing, arguing that the approach would “allow jurisdictions to act as they deem necessary to achieve their results while allowing HUD to avoid micromanaging localities,” and would allow a degree of flexibility for state and local authorities.

“HUD intends this regulation to promote and provide incentives for innovations in the areas of affordable housing supply, access to housing, and improved housing conditions,” the proposal says. “This is part of HUD’s ongoing effort to improve regulations to allow and encourage innovative solutions to the housing problems facing America today.”

Senate Democrats were quick to criticize HUD’s proposal, expressing concern that the agency had gone too far in rolling back fair housing protections.

“Instead of working to identify and overcome patterns of housing segregation and inequality, the Trump Administration pretends they don’t exist,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said on Twitter. “HUD needs to reconsider this rule.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, called the proposal “shameful.”

"This new proposal is a major retreat in the Federal Government's efforts to confront its history of discrimination and reverse that legacy so that all families, across all communities, have access to the resources they need to succeed,” she said in a press release.

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Fair Housing Act Affordable housing Racial Bias Redlining Regulatory relief Ben Carson Elizabeth Warren Sherrod Brown HUD