Jurisdictions must uphold fair housing obligations, despite delay of key 2015 HUD rule

HUD’s Postponement of the New Fair Housing Rule from Texas Housers on Vimeo.

Last week the Trump administration announced that it will delay the implementation of a 2015 rule that provided a formalized process for localities to assess housing opportunity and patterns of segregation in their communities and create plans to address barriers to fair housing.

The 2015 rule provided clarity about fair housing obligations for cities, counties, and public housing agencies and provided tools to help them analyze barriers to fair housing and develop action plans to address those barriers. Jurisdictions across the country were already complying with the new rule, using the process specified to produce an Assessment of Fair Housing. In addition to providing a roadmap for analyzing and promoting housing choice and opportunity, the 2015 rule also required meaningful public participation in local jurisdictions, and that jurisdictions submit their Assessments of Fair Housing to HUD for review. Under the rule, jurisdictions had to commit to specific actions to address those barriers in subsequent planning processes across areas from housing to infrastructure and transportation.

National civil rights and housing advocates expressed their disappointment at the delay late last week in a joint statement signed by 75 organizations. In the 50 years since the Fair Housing Act was signed, the law has always required local governments to promote integrated residential housing opportunities for all people, but the law provided little guidance about how local and state governments should do that. Before the 2015 rule,States and cities that received grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were required to produce a plan called an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing (AI), and take meaningful actions to overcome the identified impediments. The AI was not formally reviewed by HUD. That lack of attention could explain why many jurisdictions may not have found the process to be an effective tool for fair housing planning, according to a 2010 the Government Accountability Office report. The GAO found that many jurisdictions did not even have an Analysis of Impediments or had not updated it in years, and that HUD was not holding jurisdictions accountable for failing to comply with the law.

With the new 2015 rule HUD provided states and cities data sources and a standardized tool to use to prepare their fair housing plans. HUD also provided guidance and assistance to local governments in developing the plans, and mandated a meaningful public participation process that included people historically excluded from the process and required jurisdictions to include and respond to public input. The object was to make the plans mean something and to fulfill the mandate of the 1968 Fair Housing Act to work toward “integrated living environments” and creating inclusive communities free from discrimination.

Today in our country the voices of those who seek to stoke racial divisions and hostility are increasingly heeded. There are those who would repudiate our country’s half-century commitment to residential integration and non-discrimination.

But HUD’s suspension of the affirmatively furthering rule is merely a Pyrrhic victory for the opponents of integration. HUD’s suspension of this regulation means only that jurisdictions will return to the old process, which will leave cities and counties with the same mandate to promote fair housing and integration but without the data and support to help them do so. The Fair Housing Act is still the law of the land and all jurisdictions must provide and promote housing choice and equitable access to opportunity. Community leaders and advocates will continue to insist cities and states follow the law.