Why Obama administration has new rule to desegregate housing

A new rule provides guidance to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and takes aim at segregation in federally subsidized housing. 

Christian K. Lee/AP
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announces a policy change at a news conference Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Chicago next to new public housing units on the city's South Side. The new rules provide guidance to help cities achieve the promises of the 1968 Fair Housing Act by promoting racially integrated neighborhoods.

A federally mandated rule to help communities meet longstanding fair housing obligations was announced Wednesday at a press conference on Chicago’s South Side.

The Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unveiled the Rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), which tackles the unfinished business of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The Fair Housing Act mandates equal opportunity and access to affordable housing regardless of race, origin, religion, sex or disability. AFFH aims to provide all HUD program participants with clear guidelines and data to achieve the state’s obligation to protect from discrimination.

“Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child’s future,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said.

At the core of AFFH is data. HUD said in a statement that by equipping HUD program recipients with technical assistance and data, communities may better meet mandated fair housing obligations, as well as identify and tackle longstanding policies that can lead to discrimination and segregation.

AFFH will help communities analyze challenges to fair housing access and choice, and help decision-makers identify concentrations of poverty and its relation to race and ethnicity. The data also identifies neighborhoods where housing needs are highest.

HUD said in a statement that the new rule is a response to HUD program participants request for clearer guidance, more technical assistance, better compliance and more meaningful outcomes.

“Housing discrimination is the unfinished business of civil rights,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said to The Washington Post, which first reported on the new rule. “It goes right to the heart of our divide from one another. It goes right to the heart of whether you believe that African American people’s lives matter, that you respect them, that you believe they can be your neighbors, that you want them to play with your children.”

Speaking with Castro in Chicago,  Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the city's history of using housing policy and real estate practices to keep blacks confined to poor neighborhoods made this the appropriate venue for unveiling the new rule.

"We have a long history as it relates to fair housing," Mayor Emanuel said while standing at the site of what was once Stateway Gardens, one of the city's neglected high-rise public housing projects. Chicago demolished it and the other projects in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Associated Press reported:

On Wednesday, Emanuel cut the ribbon on the latest low-rise apartment building to replace Stateway on what's now known as Park Boulevard, an example of the new kind of public housing developments that federal officials are promoting.

The development, open to people of various income levels and has a mix of homeowners and renters, is dotted with town house-style buildings, neatly landscaped walkways, playgrounds and open spaces.

Residential segregation by income has increased during the past three decades across the United States and in 27 of the nation’s 30 largest major metropolitan areas, according to an analysis of the latest census data by the Pew Research Center. But racial segregation has steadily declined.

The policy expansion comes just a couple of weeks after the Supreme Court upheld a broad interpretation of the Fair Housing Act; the 5-4 majority ruled that policies that discriminate against minorities are illegal even if those affected cannot provide evidence that they were victims of intentional discrimination.

“Much progress remains to be made in our nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. “The court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act’s continuing role in moving the nation toward a more integrated society.”

Parts of AFFH will take effect 30 days from Wednesday, with more policies phased in over time.

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