The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a delay this month in implementing a 2015 fair housing rule designed to reduce residential segregation.
The rule requires local governments receiving HUD community development funds to submit an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) report. This assessment documents where segregation is occurring in the community. It also includes measurable actions local governments will take to reduce segregation. Local jurisdictions are supposed to submit the AFH in order to qualify for HUD community development funds. But HUD’s announcement means that jurisdictions will not need to submit their AFH assessments until October 2020 at the earliest.
Why the delay?
HUD’s notice says that local jurisdictions needed more time to learn how to use the assessment tool and that many of the early submissions were not acceptable. HUD also noted that reviewing failed submissions was a drain on staff resources. HUD will instead spend time revising the assessment tool to make it easier to use. It will also provide technical assistance to local jurisdictions so that their submissions are not rejected in the future.
Why does this matter?
Federal, state and local government all played an historic role in promoting segregation, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act requires them to affirmatively further fair housing. This not only means outlawing practices that promote segregation, but also taking steps to reduce segregation. Delaying use of the AFH removes an important tool for measuring progress and holding government accountable. The assessment tool requires local agencies to seek public input on development plans that affect the community. Residents will lose an important avenue for voicing their concerns about new projects if the rule is delayed.
In delaying the AFH requirement, HUD told local governments to continue using the existing system. States are required to prepare a Consolidated Plan that sets five year goals for housing and community development. The Consolidated Plan also includes an evaluation called Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (AI). The AFH assessment would provide more detailed information on segregation patterns and lending bias. It would also include concrete measures to reduce segregation, rather than the broad goals typical in the Consolidated Plan. Part of the reason for developing the AFH in 2015 was that the existing system did not produce results.
Opposition is strong
Opponents argue that the delay effectively suspends the fair housing rule. A group of 76 civil rights, faith-based, affordable housing, and other organizations issued a joint statement calling for HUD to move forward with the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule as originally planned. They noted that HUD made this change without warning. It would give local residents less voice in community development decisions, and would put back a fair housing system that the General Accountability Office determined was ineffective and poorly administered.
Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, noted that this move runs counter to the Fair Housing Act’s requirements, saying that, “Suspending the tools that help communities meet that obligation, without any input from stakeholders, is a step in the wrong direction.” The group concludes their letter by also calling on Congress to provide policy and budgetary oversight of HUD to make sure it is meeting its fair housing promises.
There is also an effort in Congress to hold HUD accountable for delaying the fair housing rule. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) are circulating a Dear Colleague letter asking HUD Secretary Ben Carson to provide more information about suspending the AFFH rule. When large numbers of Representatives and Senators sign on to a Dear Colleague letter, the Department Secretary is required to provide a public response. It is one way that Congress gets a fuller accounting of policy and program changes from the Administration.
What can you do?
If you feel that local governments should be using the AFH assessment tool to document trends in bias and reduce segregation, you can contact your Representative. Ask them to sign onto the Jayapal and Ellison Dear Colleague letter about HUD suspending the AFH assessment rule. They are urging other Representatives to sign on by noon January 29.