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HUD rule aims to put the ‘fair’ back into Fair Housing Act

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Takeaways:

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued a new rule to the Fair Housing Act.
  • The rule calls on HUD grantees to analyze their fair housing landscape and come up with a plan of attack against integration and segregation.
  • Grantees must submit a plan of action based on HUD’s data analysis no later than 270 calendar days prior to the start of the program year beginning Jan. 1, 2018, and program participants must submit updated plans once every five years.

Despite four decades of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) working to promote fair housing and equal opportunity under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, patterns of racial, ethnic and economic segregation persist in many areas of the country — but a new HUD regulation aims to change that.

On July 16, the department published its final Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule in the Federal Register. The rule aims to better equip communities that receive HUD funding to better meet long-standing fair housing obligations.

The rule is HUD’s response to a 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, which identified the most common impediments to fair housing choice, including zoning and site selection, inadequate public services in low- and moderate-income areas, less favorable mortgage terms from private lenders, and lack of access to information about fair housing rights and responsibilities.

The GAO called on HUD to provide greater clarity and support to jurisdictions that receive HUD funding and to help facilitate local decision-making on fair housing priorities and goals.

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“As a former mayor, I know firsthand that strong communities are vital to the well-being and prosperity of families,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child’s future.

“This important step will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity.”

The rule calls on HUD grantees to analyze their fair housing landscape and come up with a plan of attack against integration and segregation. HUD will provide grantees and the general public with data on:

  • Patterns of integration and segregation.
  • Racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty.
  • Disproportionate housing needs.
  • Disparities in access to opportunity.

Grantees must submit a plan of action based on the data analysis no later than 270 calendar days prior to the start of the program year beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Subsequently, program participants must submit updated plans once every five years. HUD will review the plans to determine whether a participant has met the requirements of the rule. If HUD does not accept a plan, it will explain its reasoning and spell out the actions the participant must take to resolve the rejection.

The rule comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Projects, which held that the legal doctrine of “disparate impact” is cognizable under the Fair Housing Act.

In one of his recent weekly addresses, President Barack Obama said the Supreme Court “recognized what many people know to be true from their own lives: that too often, where people live determines what opportunities they have in life.

“In some cities, kids living just blocks apart lead incredibly different lives,” Obama said. “They go to different schools, play in different parks, shop in different stores and walk down different streets. Often, the quality of those schools and the safety of those parks and streets are far from equal, which means those kids aren’t getting an equal shot in life.”

Obama said the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule “won’t make every community perfect,” but the plans developed by HUD grantees “will help make our communities stronger and more vibrant, and they’ll help keep this a country where kids from every background can grow up knowing that no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you live, you can write your own story.”

The rule has been hailed by many fair housing advocates and citizen watchdog groups as a step in the right direction to fix some of the shortcomings of the Fair Housing Act.

The rule is not without critics, however. In a piece published July 18 by the New York Post, Paul Sperry, a Hoover Institution media fellow, accused Obama of “collecting personal data for a secret race database.”

“Unbeknown to most Americans, Obama’s racial bean counters are furiously mining data on their health, home loans, credit cards, places of work, neighborhoods, even how their kids are disciplined in school — all to document ‘inequalities’ between minorities and whites,” Sperry, author of “The Great American Bank Robbery,” a book that details some of the racial politics behind the mortgage crisis, wrote.

“This Orwellian-style stockpile of statistics includes a vast and permanent network of discrimination databases, which Obama already is using to make ‘disparate impact’ cases against: banks that don’t make enough prime loans to minorities; schools that suspend too many blacks; cities that don’t offer enough Section 8 and other low-income housing for minorities; and employers who turn down African-Americans for jobs due to criminal backgrounds.

“Big Brother Barack wants the databases operational before he leaves office, and much of the data in them will be posted online,” Sperry wrote.

The rule will undoubtedly be a point of contention among presidential candidates as they campaign next year.

Email Amy Swinderman.