Will Federal Lawmakers Turn Back The Clock On Fair Housing?

By: Charlene Crowell

When future generations read the history of the nation’s first Black President, I believe there will be greater acknowledgement of his administration’s significant accomplishments. For now, however, an undeniable strategic war is underway to dismantle the very progress President Obama achieved.

General market media outlets have extensively reported on reforms or repeals of the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform and the future of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is equally important to share that a key Obama regulation that spoke to the future of fair housing is again under assault on Capitol Hill.

A 2015 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rule finally delivered on the promises first made with the 1968 enactment of the Fair Housing Act. While the Act outlawed housing discrimination, it also included another important legal requirement. To advance the purposes of the Act, federal agencies and federal grantees were also to forge inclusive and diverse communities as a means to reverse America’s housing history of segregation and Jim Crow.

Known as “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH), the HUD rule requires that cities, counties and states receiving funds for housing and community development engage in a planning process to help them take meaningful and deliberate actions to overcome historic segregation patterns, promote fair housing choice and create inclusive communities free from discrimination. Two HUD tools were shared to assist communities in the planning process, Data and Mapping and an Assessment of Fair Housing.

AFFH affects all public housing authorities and three other popular HUD programs: Community Development Block Grants CDBG), Emergency Solution Grants (ESG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

From its beginning, HUD’s AFFH rule was met with attack and multiple legislative attempts to repeal it. The latest attempt is The Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017. If enacted, it would nullify the HUD rule. The bill would also ban federal funds from being used for any federal database that contains geospatial information on community racial disparities and disparities in access to affordable housing.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill has already attracted 24 co-sponsors from 14 states. Half of the lawmakers’ support for the repeal comes from only four states: California, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. A companion bill was also introduced in the Senate with one co-sponsor.

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, the bill lead sponsor in the lower chamber, shared in a prepared statement why he feels so strongly about appealing the rule:

“The AFFH rule marks President Obama’s most aggressive attempt yet to force his utopian ideology on American communities disguised under the banner of ‘fairness’. This overreaching mandate is an attempt to extort communities into giving up local zoning decisions and reengineer the makeup of our neighborhoods.”

For civil rights, housing and consumer advocates, the unique Black American experience was deliberately engineered—but from a different perspective: to deny housing opportunity, voting rights, economic mobility and even quality employment or education.

“AFFH is central to fulfilling the purposes of the Fair Housing Act,” said Wade Henderson, President and CEO on the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “It’s based on a simple and perfectly fair premise: if a city or locality seeks taxpayer funding for HUD projects, they should actively work to ensure that all taxpayers can enjoy the benefits without the prospect of unlawful discrimination. Indeed, the rule provides local jurisdictions with broad discretion to decide which issues to prioritize and address.”

“By attacking the AFFH rule, Rep. Gosar and other bill sponsors are seeking to re-codify housing discrimination into U.S. law,” noted Maya Rockeymoore, President and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm. “By disallowing the collection of federal data by place, race and other key demographics, the bill’s sponsors seek to prevent local governments from making their communities the best places to live by limiting their ability to use critical data and information to inform their community planning decisions.”

Until the 1968 Fair Housing Act, local zoning laws across the country supported segregation along with redlining Black communities to exclude borrowers from mortgage and home improvement loans along with a litany of bad real estate practices that denied opportunities to build family wealth. Omitting Black neighborhoods from multiple listing services, door-to-door block-busting that attempted to create a sense of fear from lost property values due to integration, and restricted covenants that explicitly excluded many minorities from ever buying property in designated areas — were all the kinds of tactics used to preserve segregated housing before the Fair Housing Act.

Fortunately, a growing coalition of progressive interests is conveying to Congress their firm intent to preserve HUD’s rule. Led by the National Fair Housing Alliance, to date more than 950 academicians, individuals and advocacy organizations spanning national, state, and local levels in civil rights, fair housing, affordable housing have joined the battle to preserve an essential component of the Fair Housing Act.

Speaking for the coalition working to preserve the AFFH rule Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance said, “It reflects the strongly held American value that everyone deserves access to the opportunities they need to flourish, regardless of the color of their skin or the zip code in which they grow up.”

Charlene Crowell is the communications deputy director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.