WASHINGTON — Nearly a year after the Trump administration replaced an Obama-era fair housing rule that critics decried as “burdensome” and that Donald Trump alleged would “abolish” suburbs, President Joe Biden’s housing department is restoring the requirement that communities take steps to reduce racial segregation or risk losing federal funds.
But missing from the requirement is the 2015 mandate that communities undergo an extensive analysis of local barriers to integration and submit plans to dismantle them to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to senior HUD officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an "interim final rule" before its publication in the Federal Register on Thursday.
Biden administration HUD officials said the creation and review of these assessments of fair housing "proved to be unnecessarily burdensome" for communities as well as the agency, echoing some of the complaints voiced by former HUD secretary Ben Carson.
Some housing experts worry that without mandating jurisdictions submit reports analyzing housing patterns, concentrated poverty and disparities in access to transportation, jobs and good schools, the agency would have a difficult time enforcing the requirement that communities take meaningful action against long-standing segregation.
"This doesn't reverse the damage of the Trump administration," said Jonathan Zasloff, a professor who teaches housing discrimination at UCLA School of Law. "The entire point of the 2015 rule was to have a standard data set. What gets measured gets dealt with."
Previous provisions to enforce the 1968 Fair Housing Act’s requirement to “affirmatively further fair housing” were essentially toothless, according to multiple past assessments by a bipartisan commission, the Government Accountability Office and HUD. Before the 2015 rule, jurisdictions would self-certify their compliance every few years, and their analyses of their efforts to assess and address fair housing concerns — if performed at all — were not reviewed by HUD, according to a 2018 lawsuit that fair housing advocates had filed against Carson and the agency after Trump officials suspended the rule. Last July, the Trump administration replaced it with a weakened version that civil rights advocates said no longer compelled recipients of HUD dollars to address housing discrimination and the effects of segregation.
Biden administration HUD officials said Tuesday that jurisdictions must still maintain records of the actions they are taking to promote fair housing, even if they are not required to submit them. They emphasized that HUD can investigate allegations of housing discrimination and conduct reviews to help ensure compliance; the administration would bolster staffing in the fair housing office to do so. They said the agency intends to undertake a separate rulemaking process to improve the rule to help communities achieve fair housing outcomes without additional burden.
Other civil rights advocates characterized the rule, effective July 31, as an important first step to reestablishing the basic obligation that all recipients of federal housing dollars attempt to desegregate their communities, given that the Biden administration has targeted billions of dollars toward housing.
"Enforcement of the affirmatively furthering fair housing mandate is key," said Lisa Rice, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance. "I have faith that what we are seeing is an opening salvo and that HUD will provide more tools, guidance, assistance and requirements."
Fair housing advocates have long expected HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge to reinstate the 2015 rule. Biden had signed an executive order in January directing the agency to reverse actions taken by the Trump administration that "undermined fair housing principles." The White House budget office posted a notice in April indicating that rules to combat housing discrimination were accepted for review but did not reveal details.
And last week while visiting Tulsa to mark the 100th anniversary of the racist annihilation of a prosperous Black community, Biden unveiled plans to generate Black wealth and pledged to root out housing discrimination with more robust enforcement the Fair Housing Act.
"My administration has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimination in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a White family," Biden said in Tulsa.
Housing is central to the Biden’s administration efforts to address racial inequity, which includes boosting Black homeownership and increasing rental housing in neighborhoods with more educational and economic opportunities, because where one lives is closely tied to schooling, employment, health and wealth.