Trump Administration Postpones an Obama Fair-Housing Rule

Undermining another Obama-era initiative, the Trump administration plans to delay enforcement of a federal housing rule that requires communities to address patterns of racial residential segregation.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, in a notice to be published Friday in the Federal Register, says it will suspend until 2020 the requirement that communities analyze their housing segregation and submit plans to reverse it, as a condition of receiving billions of federal dollars in block grants and housing aid. The notice tells cities already at work on the detailed plans required by the rule that they no longer need to submit them, and the department says it will stop reviewing plans that have already been filed.

The move does not repeal the 2015 rule, a product of years of pressure from civil rights groups and review by the Obama administration. HUD argues that it is trying to respond to cities that have struggled with the rule’s requirements, delaying it for several years while the agency further invests in the tools communities use to assess their housing patterns.

But advocates say the notice effectively strangles the federal government’s first major commitment in decades to address racial inequality in housing, burying it in calls for more analysis and preparation. Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the move misguided and shortsighted.

[There are] fears that the Trump administration will entirely undo the rule, which has been a goal of many Republicans in Congress ever since it was adopted. Critics of the rule — including Ben Carson, before he became HUD secretary — argue that it amounts to an aggressive intrusion by the federal government into some of the most intimate decisions local citizens and communities make: about where to live, who lives next door and how to design their neighborhoods. Since joining the agency, Mr. Carson has said that he wants to “reinterpret” the rule.

The Obama rule was devised to address unfinished business of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which forbids discrimination in the housing market based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The original language of the law also required communities to “affirmatively further” fair housing — to, in effect, promote desegregation in addition to prohibiting discrimination.

The federal government never fully enforced that element of the law, however. And 50 years after the Fair Housing Act was passed, many communities have made little progress toward desegregation, while some programs funded with federal support have had the effect of reinforcing segregation.

The 2015 rule — the “affirmatively furthering fair housing rule” — required communities to analyze policies that contribute to segregation. These might include locating low-income housing projects only in black neighborhoods, or barring multifamily housing from neighborhoods with good schools. The rule broadly required analysis of housing opportunities available not just to minorities, but also to the disabled, the poor and other disadvantaged groups.

(Excerpted from Upshot, New York Times 1/4/18)