Trump rolls back fair housing rule with executive order

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Thursday said it would terminate and replace the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, calling it “complicated, costly, and ineffective" while anti-discrimination advocates condemned the move.

"After reviewing thousands of comments on the proposed changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation, we found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in a press release. "Instead, the Trump administration has established programs like Opportunity Zones that are driving billions of dollars of capital into underserved communities where affordable housing exists, but opportunity does not."

The president previously tweeted his intention to roll back the statute on July 2, noting it is "having a devastating impact on … once thriving suburban areas," to the vast dismay of equality groups.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

"It’s a dark day for the country when the president boasts about maintaining housing segregation, and the agency charged with carrying out the Fair Housing Act becomes a tool to help him do it," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement. "Secretary Carson must withdraw this perverse rule and reinstate the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule so America can get to the long-overdue work of fulfilling the promise of the Fair Housing Act."

In March, Brown led an opposition to the rollback, penning a letter to HUD with 36 other senators. The AFFH was a difficult rule to interpret and enforce when written in 1968 until the Obama administration added steps for clarifying the legislation's accountability in 2015.

Under the new Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice rule, HUD said it "remains able to terminate funding if it discovers, after investigation made pursuant to complaint or by its own volition, that a jurisdiction has not adhered to its commitment to AFFH."

However, advocates questioned whether it would the new rule would have teeth, saying that the revised regulation replaces the tracking of fair housing through data and metrics with local governments only having to verbally confirm that they're following the rule.

"It’s hard to even call it a policy. It doesn’t enforce anything," said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

Views diverge on some of the Trump administration’s broad efforts to roll back fair housing legislation, with some, like Van Tol, arguing it weakens efforts to curb discrimination at a time of intense national focus on racial equity. Others agree with HUD’s view that it would reduce frivolous claims and help focus fair-lending enforcement on catching the truly bad actors.

"The president’s implication that this five-year old rule somehow ruined suburbs is both counterfactual and a transparent shoutout to white supremacists who don’t like that America’s suburbs, along with the entire country, have become more diverse," Van Tol said.

"Ending housing segregation and discrimination isn’t just about housing. It’s about ending racism and white supremacy in everyday life that blocks people of color from opportunities for a good life that are available to whites, including access to great schools, homes, jobs, health care, clean air and water, nutritious food and the ability to save and invest in housing anywhere, and through that investment accumulate and pass on wealth to the next generation," Van Tol continued. "The Trump administration just said no to all of that. It’s shameful."

Among many others, the National Association of Realtors voiced disappointment with the Trump administration's broad efforts to repeal fair housing rules.

"A strong, affirmative fair housing rule is vital to advancing our nation’s progress toward thriving and inclusive communities," said Vince Malta, the Realtor group's president. "With the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color reminding us of the costs of the failure to address barriers to housing opportunity, NAR remains committed to ensuring no American is unfairly denied this fundamental right in the future."

Fair, affordable housing stands as a major issue in the upcoming presidential election and HUD's action further splits the party lines.

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