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President Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a rule this past week grandly titled “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.” That rule undid an Obama administration rule on the same topic, called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH). In July 2015, the Obama administration adopted an aggressive position that allowed HUD to monitor state, county, and local governments that received HUD grants to see that they had undertaken exhaustive efforts to remediate a wide range of racial disparities in housing markets, thereby raising the costs that arise from accepting government grants. Under HUD’s recently revised regulations, HUD Secretary Ben Carson scaled back the regulations so they concentrated not on the overall condition of local housing markets, but on the risks that individual acts of discrimination pose to individual applicants.
At no point in that order did HUD single out suburban housing for special treatment. Nonetheless, with scant regard to the content of the revised rule, President Trump posted a celebratory tweet: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.” This ill-advised outburst prompted a cascade of criticism that portrayed the new HUD regulation as a backhanded effort to undo President Obama’s much-needed protections against racial bias. As one critic alleged, whereas Carson carefully cloaked these major substantive reforms in a procedural guise that stressed paperwork reduction, the new rule in reality was intended to “reduce the pressure on local governments to provide space and opportunity for Black families in affluent white neighborhoods.”
But the new HUD rule scores well on two key points. First, it is more consistent with the basic objectives of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA), which aimed to prevent pernicious forms of discrimination in the housing market. Second, it avoids the highly interventionist mission creep of the Obama-era AFFH rule, which insisted that the purpose of HUD was “to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable housing for all.”