Fifty years on, HUD abandons Dr. King’s vision of integrated communities

Fifty years on, HUD abandons Dr. King’s vision of integrated communities
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which Congress passed one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. King dedicated the last years of his life to the Chicago Freedom Movement, fighting housing discrimination and government policies that created segregation and trapped black Chicagoans in high-poverty neighborhoods. This movement and, tragically, King’s murder, helped spur passage of the FHA, which remains one of our nation’s most vital civil rights laws.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that it is suspending a critical tool for carrying out the act’s mandate to combat residential segregation.  This action stymies a rule that would finally enforce local housing authorities’ longstanding, but long ignored, obligations to reduce segregation and barriers of access to desired neighborhoods.  HUD once again has fallen short of its mission to create “inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination,” yet another example of the Trump administration’s disregard of the civil rights commitments secured by the sacrifices of King and others.

The Fair Housing Act not only bans housing discrimination on the basis of race, but also requires that HUD administer its programs in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing. When passing the FHA, Congress recognized the government’s complicity in segregating American communities — through redlining practices used by the Federal Housing Administration, racially restrictive covenants imposed as a condition of federal loan guarantees, segregated public housing and exclusionary zoning.  


The law’s “affirmatively furthering” mandate charged HUD with ensuring that cities and localities that receive HUD grants take steps to combat residential segregation, among other fair housing goals. The mandate, as explained by then Judge Breyer, reflected Congress’s “desire to have HUD use its grant programs to assist in ending discrimination and segregation.”

This mandate, however, long went unenforced, with HUD providing minimal guidelines to local jurisdictions about how to satisfy their obligations and only lax review of grantees’ efforts. As a result, residential segregation remained deeply entrenched — and even increased over decades.

Finally, in 2015, HUD issued the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which breathed life into this key portion of the FHA. The AFFH rule created a framework for local jurisdictions to take concrete action to promote fair housing choice and overcome historical patterns of segregation: each locality that receives HUD grants must submit an Assessment of Fair Housing, a plan that sets forth locally-determined fair housing priorities and steps to achieve those goals.  

HUD provides data and technical assistance to help jurisdictions analyze their communities and measure their progress. Recognizing that local residents and community organizations often have critical knowledge of the needs of their communities, the AFFH rule also requires community participation in the development of a jurisdiction’s assessment.

HUD’s announcement to postpone the submission deadline for these assessments by nearly three years effectively halts enforcement of the AFFH rule, a devastating blow to fair housing progress. We fear this delay tactic is the first step in the complete erasure of the rule, reverting to a time when the “affirmatively furthering” mandate was largely ignored. HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBen CarsonTrump's '1776 Report' released on MLK Day receives heavy backlash Biden has an opportunity to win over conservative Christians Ben Carson dismisses 25th Amendment talk: 'As a nation we need to heal' MORE has made clear his hostility to the rule, calling it a “government-engineered attempt[] to legislate racial equality” and a “social engineering scheme.”

This is not the first attempt by HUD to roll back regulations that help people move into communities of opportunity. Last month, a federal judge ordered HUD to enforce its own rule enabling housing voucher recipients to use vouchers to rent homes across a broader range of zip codes. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., along with other civil rights advocates, brought a lawsuit against HUD after it attempted to suspend that rule without following proper procedures. The Legal Defense and Educational Fund will be scrutinizing HUD’s every move in case it tries to quietly retire the AFFH rule as well.

Housing is inextricably tied to avenues of opportunity — good jobs, quality schools, accessible transportation, clean water and safe streets. But racial residential segregation, an enduring legacy of pernicious government policies, has been linked to lack of employment opportunities, lower rates of economic growth and poor educational performance.  

HUD has a statutory duty and a moral imperative to meaningfully tackle residential segregation that often isolates people of color in pockets of poverty and scarce opportunities. The legacy of Dr. King demands no less.

Coty Montag is deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. An experienced civil rights lawyer, she previously was deputy chief of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. Follow her on Twitter @coty_montag.