In its latest effort to rally white suburban voters and paint presumptive Democratic challenger Joe Biden as a candidate who wants to “abolish” suburban America, the Trump administration has officially scrapped an Obama-era Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulation created to prevent racial bias in housing and “foster inclusive communities that are free of from discrimination,” per a HUD fact sheet. The rule stipulated that in order to receive federal housing funds, jurisdictions were required to identify existing patterns of housing discrimination and work toward eliminating them using data-based tools created specifically designed for that purpose. Essentially, it bolstered and gave teeth to the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Under HUD Secretary Ben Carson, the Trump administration has never actually enforced 2015’s Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH) mandate, which the president claimed last month in a tweet has had a “devastating impact” on “once-thriving” suburban areas. (The administration officially suspended enforcement of the federal rule in 2018.) In a virtual town hall held last week, Trump said that Biden, if elected, would use the rule to do away with single-family zoning and bring “who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.” Biden has called such claims a “smear.”
Carson defended the decision to nix the rule in less inflammatory terms, describing it as yet another unnecessary and cumbersome regulatory hurdle to be done away with. Carson wrote in a statement that the administration found AFFH “to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most.”
He later tweeted: “The AFFH (Obama) rule was a ruse for social engineering under the guise of desegregation, essentially turning @HUDgov into a national zoning board” adding that the funding attached to AAFH “has been misused and abused for decades as slush funds for pet projects and causes ranging from an entertainment venue to a splash park and Planned Parenthood funding.”
While the move is seen as a racial animus-stoking effort to win back white suburban voters, particularly white suburban women, who, in the polls, have slipped away from Trump as of late, HUD has been at work on an AFFH overhaul for well over a year, and released an 84-page document laying out the plans for a less robust, “choice”-based replacement rule in January, as reported by Politico. That policy, which hands the enforcement of fair housing practices largely over to local jurisdictions, has been dubbed Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.
“President Trump and Secretary Carson’s action is a full-frontal assault on the rule of law and an insult to the nearly 20,000 people and organizations who commented in overwhelming opposition to their prior attempt to gut landmark fair housing protections earlier this year,” Thomas Silverstein, president and executive director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement shared by ABC News. “The civil rights movement will fight this tooth and nail.”
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) was also quick to condemn the move. The organization’s president, Vince Malta, noted that HUD’s scraping of AFFH “significantly weakens the federal government’s commitment to the goals of the Fair Housing Act.”
“With the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color reminding us of the costs of the failure to address barriers to housing opportunity, NAR remains committed to ensuring no American is unfairly denied this fundamental right in the future,” Malta added.