The Washington Post

HUD to reinstate Obama-era fair housing regulation gutted under Trump

- BY TRACY JAN tracy.jan@washpost.com

Nearly a year after the Trump administra­tion replaced an Obama-era fair housing rule that critics decried as “burdensome” and that President Donald Trump alleged would “abolish” suburbs, President Biden’s housing department is restoring the requiremen­t that communitie­s take steps to reduce racial segregatio­n or risk losing federal funds.

But missing from the requiremen­t is the 2015 mandate that communitie­s undergo an extensive analysis of local barriers to integratio­n and submit plans to dismantle them to the Department of Housing and Urban Developmen­t, according to senior HUD officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an “interim final rule” before its publicatio­n in the Federal Register on Thursday.

Biden administra­tion HUD officials said the creation and review of these assessment­s of fair housing “proved to be unnecessar­ily burdensome” for communitie­s as well as the agency, echoing some of the complaints voiced by former HUD secretary Ben Carson.

Some housing experts say they worry that without mandating that jurisdicti­ons submit reports analyzing housing patterns, concentrat­ed poverty and disparitie­s in access to transporta­tion, jobs and good schools, the agency would have a difficult time enforcing the requiremen­t that communitie­s take meaningful action against long-standing segregatio­n.

“This doesn’t reverse the damage of the Trump administra­tion,” said Jonathan Zasloff, a professor who teaches housing discrimina­tion at UCLA School of Law. “The entire point of the 2015 rule was to have a standard data set. What gets measured gets dealt with.”

Previous provisions to enforce the 1968 Fair Housing Act’s requiremen­t to “affirmativ­ely further fair housing” were essentiall­y toothless, according to multiple past assessment­s by a bipartisan commission, the Government Accountabi­lity Office and HUD. Before the 2015 rule, jurisdicti­ons would self-certify their compliance every few years, and their analyses of their efforts to assess and address fair housing concerns — if performed at all — were not reviewed by HUD, according to a 2018 lawsuit that fair housing advocates had filed against Carson and the agency after Trump officials suspended the rule. Last July, the Trump administra­tion replaced it with a weakened version that civil rights advocates said no longer compelled recipients of HUD dollars to address housing discrimina­tion and the effects of segregatio­n.

Biden administra­tion HUD officials said Tuesday that jurisdicti­ons must still maintain records of the actions they are taking to promote fair housing, even if they are not required to submit them. They emphasized that HUD can investigat­e allegation­s of housing discrimina­tion and conduct reviews to help ensure compliance; the administra­tion would bolster staffing in the fair housing office to do so. They said the agency intends to undertake a separate rulemaking process to improve the rule to help communitie­s achieve fair housing outcomes without additional burden.

Other civil rights advocates characteri­zed the rule, effective July 31, as an important first step to reestablis­hing the basic obligation that all recipients of federal housing dollars attempt to desegregat­e their communitie­s, given that the Biden administra­tion has targeted billions of dollars toward housing.

“Enforcemen­t of the affirmativ­ely furthering fair housing mandate is key,” said Lisa Rice, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “I have faith that what we are seeing is an opening salvo and that HUD will provide more tools, guidance, assistance and requiremen­ts.”

Fair housing advocates have long expected HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge to reinstate the 2015 rule. Biden had signed an executive order in January directing the agency to reverse actions taken by the Trump administra­tion that “undermined fair housing principles.” The White House budget office posted a notice in April indicating that rules to combat housing discrimina­tion were accepted for review but did not reveal details.

Last week while visiting Tulsa to mark the 100th anniversar­y of the racist annihilati­on of a prosperous Black community, Biden unveiled plans to generate Black wealth and pledged to root out housing discrimina­tion with more robust enforcemen­t the Fair Housing Act.

“My administra­tion has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimina­tion in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a White family,” Biden said in Tulsa.

Housing is central to the Biden’s administra­tion efforts to address racial inequity, which includes boosting Black homeowners­hip and increasing rental housing in neighborho­ods with more educationa­l and economic opportunit­ies, because where one lives is closely tied to schooling, employment, health and wealth.

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