Two Texas civil rights groups and the National Fair Housing Alliance are suing the Trump Administration over enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. The suit, specifically naming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as Defendant, charges violations of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
While the impetus of the suit was concern over the allocation of relief funds for housing and infrastructure rebuilding to victims of Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast, the plaintiffs are principally suing over Carson's January cancellation of a 2015 HUD rule known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision. The rule required communities receiving federal housing dollars to draft plans to end segregation in their communities based on race, income, ethnicity, or physical disability. About 1,200 communities were affected by the rule and billion of federal dollars were at stake.
According to Tracy Jan, writing in The Washington Post, the rule, developed over a six-year period, was viewed by many as an effort by HUD to enforce the 50-year old Fair Housing Act after years of inaction by the agency. It was promulgated after three separate studies in 2008-2010 found that HUD was requiring no evidence of anti-segregation efforts on the part of communities as a condition of funding and that many communities could not produce documentation of fair housing efforts. More than a third had not completed their required five-year assessments.
By suspending the rule, the plaintiffs say, Carson is allowing local and state governments to receive HUD grants without proof of compliance with the Fair Housing Act. They allege Carson took the action without providing the required public notice nor a comment period. According to a notice in the Federal Register at the time of the cancellation, local governments must continue to promote fair housing but had until at least 2024 to do so. The Agency was suspending its review of community plans and advised communities not to submit any that were in process.
In the meantime, HUD said communities should revert to what they were supposed to have been doing before the 2015 rule and certify that they have conducted an analysis of impediments to fair housing and taken actions to overcome them.
The suit charges that Carson's actions violate the Fair Housing Act, leaving HUD without a way to prevent discrimination in distributing $28 billion in disaster funding. The plaintiffs say the litigation was intended to ensure that black, Hispanic and low-income residents of Houston and Corpus Christi are not put at risk in the event of another natural disaster.
The New York Times reports that Carson is acknowledging he probably can't prevail in the lawsuit and has told HUD staff to create an alternative plan which might include new hearings into how to improve the rule. Reporter Glenn Thrush says, "While Mr. Carson favors slowing down enforcement of the anti-segregation initiative and limiting its scope, the impetus for doing away with the rule comes from White House officials, according to three people with knowledge of the situation."
Before becoming HUD Secretary, Carson wrote an editorial for the conservative Washington Times calling the rule "social engineering." He predicted that its enforcement would repeat "the failure of school busing" in the 1970s.
Thrush recounted testimony Carson gave Congress last month in which he said he intended to comply with other department regulations requiring that the majority of disaster relief funding be directed to those most in need. However, when he met with fair housing advocates last month he rejected their requests to reinstate the rule.
"HUD has continued to grant federal dollars to municipalities even when they know the municipalities are engaging in discrimination," Lisa Rice, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance told the Washington Post. "They are rewarding cities for bad behavior."
Jan said a HUD spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, pointing to a statement at the time the agency suspended the rule which asserted the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn't working well. "HUD stands by the Fair Housing Act's requirement to affirmatively furthering fair housing, but we must make certain that the tools we provide to our grantees work in the real world."
The Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and Texas Appleseed joined the National Fair Housing Alliance in the suit.