When President Donald Trump tweeted that he was eliminating the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule to protect the suburbs from low-income housing, and crime, it was clear he was using racial undertones that were offensive. However, what is worse are the actual actions taken behind the tweets that have resulted in substantial erosion of fair housing mechanisms in place among HUD-funded entities. Eliminating AFFH is significantly setting us back from doing meaningful work to address segregation and housing inequality in our country.
The Fair Housing Act, primarily written by our own Vice President Walter Mondale, banned overt segregation in the United States in 1968. Personally, without it I would not have been able to grow up in the neighborhood I did as a Mexican American, given that the house I live in had a racial covenant attached to it in south Minneapolis restricting the purchase of the home to only those of the “Caucasian Race” (to learn more see PBS’ “Jim Crow of the North” and the Mapping Prejudice project).
However, when President Barack Obama took office, America was arguably more segregated than before. A landmark study completed by Harvard professors Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren statistically provided evidence that the ZIP code a child grows up in has a significant impact on their earnings in the future. The study confirmed that the results of segregation have detrimental effects on children who grow up in concentrated areas of poverty, giving urgency to affirmatively further fair housing. Thus, the Obama administration took action, and then-Housing Secretary Julian Castro championed the new AFFH rule.
The AFFH rule required HUD-funded entities to use federal and local data to provide an extensive, intensely analytical report on barriers to fair housing called the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH). This new report expanded what President Bill Clinton created in 1994 called the Analysis of Impediments (AI) that required HUD-funded jurisdictions to identify the barriers to fair housing choice.
AFH was different from AI because it required the use of data and mapping, and modernized the practice of identifying barriers to fair housing. For decades, HUD-Funded entities have conducted AIs and used the recommendations in those reports to justify investing federal funds to combat racist housing practices. Fair Housing paired testing, for instance, is a practice that would send a Black person and a White person to apply to rent the same unit. If the landlord discriminated, it was documented and could lead to legal action. The AI paved the way for local governments to take real action in dismantling segregation. The AFH from the Obama administration was the next step forward. It required local governments to think deeper about what they can do to integrate their communities.
The rule would not have been an end-all, nor would it have (despite what Trump has said) changed the suburbs overnight. We do not have enough federal housing dollars to make that kind of dent in the housing market. However, AFFH pushed many fair housing practitioners out of their comfort zone into thinking about how to address these issues of housing, segregation, and poverty not in our limited view of just our city, but a more extensive, regional view.
When Trump came into office and appointed Ben Carson as HUD secretary, things changed. One of Carson’s first actions was to pause any work on AFH and have all local governments go back to AIs. On July 23, 2020, Carson terminated Obama’s AFFH rule requiring the AFH report. The administration created a brand new rule called “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.” Despite the name, this rule does not preserve neighborhood choice but instead restricts it. This rule eliminated not just the AFH that the Obama administration created but also the AI, effectively removing any meaningful reporting requirement on Fair Housing. The rule states that all local government and HUD-funded entities can just self report anything remotely related to fair housing, which would be enough. Local governments no longer have to conduct an analysis of segregation and develop actionable steps to address it. In many jurisdictions, this means no action on any fair housing issue.
Trump’s elimination of AFFH reporting effectively takes local government out of fair housing action. If local governments have no interest in taking action on fair housing issues, they can do virtually nothing with limited recourse from the federal government and leave just community organizations to bear the brunt of the work. Trump’s tweets, although offensive, were only the tip of the iceberg. In a time when we are facing a looming eviction crisis, increasing housing inequality, skyrocketing rents, unprecedented job losses, and growing segregation, we need AFFH more than ever.
Tyler Moroles is the co-chair of the Twin Cities Fair Housing Implementation Council, and he manages the Community Development Block Grant Program for Hennepin County and the County’s fair housing portfolio. He has worked in affordable housing for more than five years. The opinions expressed here are his own and are not a representation of the position of the county nor the FHIC.
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