The Trump administration is planning to ease fair housing regulations for local governments throughout the country, the latest effort to scale back sweeping Obama-era rules meant to crack down on segregation.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development this week will propose a rule that would redefine the way jurisdictions are required to promote fair housing and scrap a key assessment tool used to map racial segregation under the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.
The 2015 rule — which the Obama administration introduced as a way to beef up enforcement of the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968 — required local governments to track patterns of poverty and segregation with a checklist of 92 questions in order to gain access to federal housing funds.
The regulation as it stands is “too prescriptive in outcomes for jurisdictions,” HUD will say in the new rule, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by POLITICO.
“Since the issuance of the 2015 final rule, HUD has determined that the current regulations are overly burdensome to both HUD and grantees and are ineffective in helping program participants meet their reporting obligations,” the proposal states.
The revised rule would “alleviate the unintended consequences of discouraging the use of federal assistance in communities that need additional help instead of restrictions,” according to the proposal.
This isn’t the first time that HUD Secretary Ben Carson has tinkered with Obama-era fair housing rules, which he derided as “social engineering” in a 2015 op-ed.
Fair housing groups unsuccessfully sued Carson and HUD in 2018 after he announced a five-year delay in implementing the 2015 rule. And in August, the agency proposed revamping the groundbreaking 2013 "disparate impact" rule to make it harder to prove unintentional discrimination.
Fair housing advocates see the latest attempted rule change as a sign that communities rife with discrimination would now be rewarded with taxpayer dollars rather than pressured to change.
“HUD is basically just letting these jurisdictions and public housing authorities off the hook,” said Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance.
The proposal is “a step in the wrong direction,” Rice said.
“It would weaken fair housing enforcement and basically abdicate jurisdictions and public housing authorities from their fair housing responsibilities,” she said. “It’s even weaker than the scheme that HUD had before the 2015 rule was implemented …That’s the system that the [Government Accountability Office] found to be completely inept and ineffective.”
A 2010 GAO audit found that HUD’s oversight of jurisdictions’ fair housing plans was effectively toothless.
To comply with the 2015 rule, local jurisdictions were supposed to use a new HUD computer assessment tool to map patterns that exacerbate segregation, including disparities in access to jobs and credit. The new proposal permanently withdraws that tool, which HUD suspended in May 2018.
The new rule would instead emphasize “fair housing choice,” which it defines as allowing “individuals and families [to] have the opportunity and options to live where they choose, within their means, without unlawful discrimination.”
A HUD spokesperson declined to comment on the proposal, the outlines of which were earlier reported by The Washington Post.
“The Obama administration’s fair housing rule made the strongest effort in decades to reverse harmful patterns of segregation and discriminatory practices in communities across the country,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Carson, the only black member of President Donald Trump's cabinet, “is scrapping years of extensive input and intensive work that went into the fair housing rule and essentially reverting to the agency’s previous flawed and failed system,” Yentel said.
Democrats have repeatedly slammed the Trump administration’s handling of anti-discrimination laws.
Just last month, House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) excoriated Carson for slow-walking a notice to release funding for the agency’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program. That was on the same day that presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) requested a GAO investigation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s enforcement of fair lending laws.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, criticized HUD's latest move.
"Instead of working to identify and overcome patterns of housing segregation and inequality, the Trump Administration pretends they don’t exist," Brown wrote in a tweet. "HUD needs to reconsider this rule."