What the end of Obama housing rule means for American suburbs

The Trump administration is revoking an Obama-era regulation to diversify U.S. suburbs, claiming it raises crime and lowers home prices. The new rule removes the requirement that local jurisdictions prove they are addressing racial disparities. 

Evan Vucci/AP
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speaks during a roundtable with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, June 15, 2020. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation, aimed to diversify suburbs, was revoked on July 23.

The Trump administration said Thursday that it is revoking an Obama-era housing regulation designed to eliminate racial disparities in the suburbs, a move that fair housing advocates have decried as an election year stunt designed to manipulate the fears of white voters.

In a tweet addressed to "The Suburban Housewives of America," President Donald Trump made his intended audience clear. "Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream," he said. "I will preserve it, and make it even better!"

Mr. Trump has repeatedly characterized the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing regulation as an existential threat to the suburban way of life that will bring about more crime and lower home prices.

In a statement, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said the regulation known as AFFH, was "unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with."

It will be replaced by a new rule that reduces the burden on local jurisdictions to prove that they are actively taking steps to address historical patterns of racial segregation in order to qualify for HUD financing.

"Washington has no business dictating what is best to meet your local community's unique needs," Mr. Carson said.

Fair housing advocates said the new regulations water down the previous requirements to the point of meaninglessness.

"What's surprising is they're going this far and essentially rendering the rule null and void. This is as far as this administration could have possibly gone," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "It feels like a real gutting of the rule."

Debby Goldberg, vice president of housing policy and special projects for the National Fair Housing Alliance, said that HUD has removed almost any oversight or burden of proof for jurisdictions to show they are addressing racial disparities.

"They're not even going to check. It's completely hands off. It's completely the honor system," she said. "And for jurisdictions that really want to figure this out, it's almost totally useless."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the move, "a betrayal of our nation's founding values of equality and opportunity for all."

Ms. Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement: "It is a shameful abdication of our government's responsibility to end discriminatory housing practices and to lift up our nation's most vulnerable communities. The Administration must reverse this outrageous decision and uphold the law."

The topic has become a potential hot-button issue in an election year as Mr. Trump, using language that housing advocates describe as openly racist, has repeatedly said the rule would force the construction of low-income housing in the suburbs.

"Your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise," Mr. Trump said last week. "People have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they're going to watch it go to hell. Not going to happen, not while I'm here."

HUD had already floated the idea of changing the rule earlier this year, but ultimately decided to cancel it entirely. Fair housing advocates says the latest HUD move attempts to skip over the traditional months-long notice and comment process where stakeholders are invited to weigh in on a proposed rule change.

The 2015 rule established a 92-question survey and grading tool requiring local jurisdictions to assess their own racial and economic disparities and present detailed plans on how to address them. Mr. Carson said the jurisdictions were "forced to comply with complicated regulations that require hundreds of pages of reporting."

The issue has been a long-standing issue for Mr. Carson, and fair housing advocates say the program never truly got off the ground because Mr. Carson suspended its implementation shortly after taking office.

Mr. Trump has used the AFFH rule as a means of contrasting himself with Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger and Barack Obama's vice president. Mr. Biden has said he would implement the Obama administration's housing rule.

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said, "Donald Trump is yet again attempting to distract from his catastrophic, failed response to the pandemic by trying to divide our nation. Turning Americans against each other with total lies is unacceptable for a commander-in-chief at any time, but it's especially heinous to do so in a moment of worsening crisis."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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