Trump administration continues to undermine Fair Housing Act

Trump administration continues to undermine Fair Housing Act
© Greg Nash

Fifty years after the passage of the landmark Fair Housing ActPresident TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE’s administration continues to undermine the law’s goals of fostering communities free from discrimination and ending racial segregation. Last week, a federal judge’s ruling gave Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonBen Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify Report: A third of Ben Carson’s appointees have no housing experience MORE new freedom to weaken the agency’s responsibilities to uphold fair housing laws.

Today’s segregated communities are a result of decades of purposeful federal, state and local housing policies. For most of the 20th century, people of color were denied the federal resources created to help white families become homeowners and build wealth. Redlining forced black households to live in areas of concentrated poverty, cutting them off from opportunities to climb the economic ladder. More than 14 million people live in high-poverty communities today, and the numbers are rising, nearly doubling since 2000. The effects are felt most profoundly within communities of color. One in every four black Americans and one in every seven Latino Americans lives in concentrated poverty, compared to one in every thirteen white Americans.

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Without a concerted federal effort, we cannot correct this ongoing injustice. Yet Under Secretary Carson’s leadership, HUD has slowed or stopped most high-priority fair housing investigations and enforcement. He considered removing from HUD’s mission statement references to promoting “inclusive communities” that are “free from discrimination.” After the city of Houston violated federal law by perpetuating racial segregation, Secretary Carson let the city off the hook by agreeing to a weak, largely unenforceable settlement. A court intervened earlier this year to prevent Secretary Carson from reversing policies that will make it easier for low income families to move out of high-poverty neighborhoods. And Secretary Carson has announced plans to revise HUD’s disparate impact rule, potentially weakening a powerful tool to protect people and communities from discriminatory practices.

 

Now Secretary Carson is doubling down on his efforts to suspend HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which helps communities recognize and address barriers to fair housing. The rule, developed after five years of exhaustive outreach and input, was the agency’s strongest effort in decades to reverse harmful patterns of segregation and discriminatory practices in communities across the country. Secretary Carson has criticized the rule as “social engineering” and associated it with “failed socialist experiments” and wants to write a new one that avoids “disrupting local decision making.”

While Secretary Carson purports an interest in using a new AFFH rule to reverse local exclusionary zoning barriers, it’s hard to take him at his word. His is the administration that let Westchester County (NY) off easy after its nine-year battle with the federal government pushing the county to remove such barriers. Rather than require the county to make substantive improvements to its local exclusionary zoning policies, Carson instead allowed the county to simply make cosmetic changes.

Groundbreaking research by Raj Chetty makes a compelling case for the high societal stakes of segregation and concentrated poverty and for urgent solutions. The research confirms that where you live has a profound impact on the opportunities you get in life, and every year matters. Each year a child spends living in a high-poverty neighborhood can cement lifelong detrimental impacts, influencing everything from educational attainment and earnings to life expectancy. The researchers also find that moving to higher income neighborhoods may reduce the intergenerational persistence of poverty and ultimately generate positive returns for taxpayers.

HUD dismisses this powerful evidence, flippantly stating that “the positive outcomes of policies focused on deconcentrating poverty are likely limited to certain age and demographic groups.” The preponderance of children in high poverty areas are African American and/or Latino.

Reasonable people can debate whether and how to build off of years of input and work to further improve HUD’s fair housing efforts. But constructive discussion is difficult in an environment where HUD bases the need for change on faulty assessments, exaggerations, and dismissal of sound research as part of a larger pattern of undermining fair housing and under a president who, as a private citizen was sued by the Department of Justice for discriminating against African-Americans and who today continues to stoke racism and racial discord.

The goal of the Fair Housing Act - and Congress’s intent in enacting it - is to ensure that everyone can choose where they want to live based on what is best for themselves and their families. We must work to ensure every community has ample opportunity for economic mobility, with access to affordable homes, good schools, jobs, healthcare, and transportation. Furthering fair housing is essential to this effort, one upon which our country’s future depends.

Diane Yentel is the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which was founded in 1974 and works for socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest incomes have affordable and decent homes.