President Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday night that he was considering ending a fair housing mandate put into place by the Obama administration. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule was put in place to reduce segregation and had already been suspended by the Trump administration in 2018. The rule required towns and cities to track and address racial bias and discrimination in housing. Housing advocates are warning that ending the mandate could have detrimental impacts on low-income communities and communities of color.
“At the request of many great Americans who live in the Suburbs, and others, I am studying the AFFH housing regulation that is having a devastating impact on these once thriving Suburban areas,” President Trump tweeted. He added that the rule is “not fair to homeowners.”
The AFFH rule was part of the Fair Housing Act passed by Congress in 1968 — an act which also banned the practice of redlining that kept people of color and other minorities out of certain neighborhoods. The rule mandated that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ensure programs accepting the federal funds did not discriminate in allocating those funds. Congress also intended that HUD funding would be used by programs to expand housing options, particularly for low income communities.
However, the rule was not enforced until 2015, when Julián Castro was HUD Secretary. Under Castro’s HUD, a new regulation was issued, “providing its program participants with more effective means to affirmatively further the purposes and policies of the Fair Housing Act,” according to the National Fair Housing Alliance.
“The AFFH mandate is one of the most important pieces of Civil Rights Legislation that this country has produced,” Lisa Owens, director of City Life/Vida Urbana, told Refinery29. “It ensures that cities and towns proactively address the legacy of segregation and systemic racism.”
In 2018, HUD effectively suspended the program by delaying the submission of program participants’ required fair housing plans until after October 31, 2020. The program has a 5-year cycle under which participants must submit their spending plans — known as Consolidated Plans — and most of them were due by the end of October. By delaying their submission, HUD was essentially not requiring participants of their program to provide a fair housing plan for review until at least 2024.
When this program was suspended in 2018, housing advocates urged HUD to reconsider their position. Thousands of people submitted comments to HUD opposing the suspension of the AFFH rule. In May of 2018, the NFHA, Texas Appleseed, and Texas Housers filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that HUD had violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Fair Housing Act.
The issue was raised again in January of 2020, when HUD secretary Ben Carson issued a proposal to revise and eliminate the mandate. “Mayors know their communities best, so we are empowering them to make housing decisions that meet their unique needs, not a mandate from the federal government,” Carson said at the time, according to NBC News.
“What HUD has released is not a rule to affirmatively further fair housing,” Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, told NBC News in January. “It significantly weakens fair housing compliance, entrenches segregated housing patterns, and continues the status quo in which some communities are strengthened by taxpayer-supported programs and amenities while other neighborhoods are starved and deprived of opportunities.”
The National Fair Housing Alliance released a report in November of 2019 saying that the nation was facing an “unprecedented attack” on fair housing, citing an increase in year-over-year housing discrimination cases and a 14.7 percent increase in hate crime offenses linked to housing. A new study by City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston found that, before the moratorium on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, 78 percent of evictions filed in Boston were in neighborhoods with predominantly residents of color.
And, a report released Wednesday by Suffolk University Law School shows that Black renters in Boston experienced discrimination from real estate brokers and landlords in 71 percent of their test cases. More than 50 years after the practice of redlining was banned, three out of four neighborhoods that had been marked as "undesirable" still struggle economically.
Advocates across the country say that if the Trump administration permanently ends the AFFH rule, it is communities of color who will be impacted the hardest. “The AFFH mandate is a key tool that communities can use to stop the legacy of segregation and the reality of unjust forced moves,” says Owens.