The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unveiled a proposed rule change Tuesday that it says will help fight housing segregation, though the proposal was immediately condemned by advocacy groups as an “alarming” development that would “dismantle civil rights protections.”

The proposal would modify the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which is part of the federal Fair Housing Act. The AFFH requires local governments that get federal funding for housing to analyze, and proactively try to correct, segregation patterns in their communities. The current rule was passed in 2015.

However in its proposal Tuesday, HUD argues that “the current regulations are overly burdensome,” and that they consume “significant resources from program participants” and from HUD itself. The proposal also states that “the 2015 rule focused too much on planning and process,” and that the results from a limited rollout “were sufficient to cease further implementation.”

Ben Carson | Credit: HUD

The proposed changes to the rule would simplify the definition of AFFH and create a “new process” to evaluate communities’ efforts to promote fair housing. A HUD statement described this as an “improved” version of the rule, and HUD Secretary Ben Carson said that “fixing” the AFFH will give localities “the flexibility to devise housing plans that fit their unique needs and provide families with more housing choices within their reach.”

“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 added in the statement.

Critics, however, were not convinced.

In a statement Tuesday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) — a non-profit advocacy organization that fights discrimination — called the proposal an “outrageous step backwards” that would “gut” HUD’s oversight of states’ fair housing efforts. The statement also argues that the proposal would do away with assessment and replace it with goal setting that places “no real obligations on public housing authorities.”

Kristen Clarke

“Secretary Carson not only seeks to dismantle HUD’s system for providing oversight of its fair housing grantees, the proposed rule also doubles as a transparently ideological attack on equitable local policies that advance racial and economic justice,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of LCCRUL, added in the statement. “In no uncertain terms, we condemn this latest attempt by Secretary Carson to undermine fair housing efforts in our country.”

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) also blasted HUD Tuesday for the proposed rule change. NFHA said in a statement that the proposal “would permanently weaken enforcement of fair housing laws and allow communities to perpetuate housing discrimination and segregation.” The advocacy group also described the proposal as “alarming” and part of a “sustained campaign by the Trump Administration to dismantle civil rights protections under the Fair Housing Act.”

Lisa Rice

“What HUD has released is not a rule to affirmatively further fair housing,” NFHA president and CEO Lisa Rice also said in the statement. “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 Poverty and Race Research Action Council and the Center for Responsible Lending — both advocacy organizations — also condemned the proposal Tuesday.

The controversy is just the latest to emerge from HUD during the Trump administration. Carson in particular has been a polarizing figure due to his lack of prior experience with housing, and has drawn criticism for his lavish spending habits and for confusing housing terminology with Oreo cookies, among other things. Carson’s HUD has also earned criticism for awarding jobs to political appointees without prior experience in the sector.

As for the AFFH, HUD’s new proposal is now subject to a 60-day public comment period before it can be formally put in place. And during that period, critics such as the NFHA and LCCRUL plan to continue their opposition.

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