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Suburban Americans should reject Trump’s regressive housing offerings

In a recent Twitter post, President Trump suggested that he would end the federal housing rule Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing “at the request of many great Americans who live in the Suburbs.” On Thursday he ended it. The tweet suggested that suburban Americans would like to have fair housing undermined on their behalf. As a civil rights leader living on New York’s Long Island, home of modern suburbia, I call on white suburban Americans to reject outright the president’s suggestion that he can gain support in the suburbs by rolling back the clock to a more racist past.

Structural racism is firmly intact throughout America — including the suburbs — because the federal government historically has been an active proponent of it. Structural racism is the historical and ongoing racial discrimination, segregation and marginalization of African Americans, in particular, that is typically instigated or sanctioned by government at one level or another. President Trump’s action provides the latest evidence. 

Another good example is the practice of redlining, which began in the 1930s, under which the federal government drew red lines on maps around neighborhoods with African American residents, preventing home mortgages within those neighborhoods and thereby marginalizing those communities and their residents. Today, most redlined neighborhoods (74 percent) are still low- to moderate-income communities, and many are majority-minority. 

On Long Island, one of the nation’s 10 most racially segregated metropolitan regions, structural racism is evident in, among other examples, the fact that its two counties have 125 school districts. That pattern reflects its segregated residential communities, not educational priorities.

The federal rule Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing was one of the landmark civil rights achievements of recent years. The idea that it would be repealed to satisfy suburban Americans is preposterous.

The rule proposed — and now acted upon — by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which I previously discussed in greater detail in The Hill, no longer requires HUD — or state and local governments receiving funds from HUD — to take affirmative steps to further fair housing. It assures local governments that if they do not want to change their exclusionary zoning policies, a driver of segregation and high housing costs, HUD will not make them do so.

But in my experience, suburbs are grappling with their racist pasts — and their current manifestations — not trying to return to them. That is why more than 700 people participated in the inauguration of ERASE Racism’s region-wide public initiative, “How Do We Build a Just Long Island?” That is why thousands, even in the suburbs, have been marching and demonstrating in support of Black lives and against structural racism.

Many local leaders know that Long Island’s economic future depends on attracting a diverse workforce and preparing its students for a diverse workplace. Supporting a scheme to perpetuate segregation would directly undermine the region’s economy.

Similarly, a Newsday survey of Long Islanders ages 18 to 34 revealed that 82 percent feel positively about the region’s growing diversity, 77 percent believe that diversity in schools is important, and 68 percent feel that racial and ethnic diversity is important. Likewise, current Long Island high school students reflecting a wide range of racial and ethnic diversity are meeting through ERASE Racism’s Student Task Force to enhance culturally responsive education in schools.

Even America’s banks, the same institutions that implemented redlining, are nervous that they may be associated with President Trump’s call to revert to a more racist past. Executives of America’s four biggest banks recently joined together to urge the Trump administration not to implement another racist reversion: a proposal to nullify the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard, under which the impact of a policy is just as relevant as the motivation, by shifting the burden of proof onto the plaintiff at every step of a disparate impact discrimination claim. The banks recognize that it is not in their interest to be associated with efforts to turn back the clock.

The banks are right to make their opposition clear, and America’s suburbs should follow suit. It is time for white, suburban Americans and their elected officials to make clear that they are not attracted by the president’s offers to perpetuate segregation on their behalf.

Let him know that his views are out of date and do not reflect today’s American suburbs. Let him know that our suburbs are moving toward a more dynamic economic future that depends on fair housing and cannot be achieved otherwise.

Elaine Gross is president of the regional civil rights organization ERASE Racism based on Long Island, N.Y.

Tags Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Donald Trump Housing discrimination in the United States Racial segregation Redlining

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