Obama admin. lays out new housing rules to fight segregation

Reuters / John Gress
New housing rules introduced by the Obama administration will require cities that receive federal funds to scrutinize housing patterns for racial bias. They will also be required to report on those biases and include remedies for reducing segregation.

This is the most serious effort that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has ever undertaken to do that (reduce segregation),” HUD Secretary Julian Castro told reporters Wednesday. “I believe it is historic.”

Under the new rule, HUD will provide communities with historical data they must use to analyze segregation patterns, areas where race and poverty are concentrated, and access to good schools and jobs. Communities will be required to submit these analyses to HUD, set goals for reducing segregation and track the results.

Where communities consistently flout the law, HUD could possibly withhold a portion of the billions of dollars it hands out in federal funding each year.

This truly represents a new partnership with cities, one that makes it easier to fulfill the goals of the Fair Housing Act,” Castro told reporters. “Not enough has been done to explain what fair housing does or what it means.”

The Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, gave everyone equal access to housing regardless of race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin. The act was passed four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who had led a campaign for “open housing” which exposed how African-Americans had been restricted to slums in northern cities and neighborhoods had been “redlined” by banks that refused to lend to African-American homebuyers.

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As a former mayor, I know firsthand that strong communities are vital to the well-being and prosperity of families,” said Castro in a released statement.

Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child’s future. This important step will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity.”

The rule changes respond to recommendations from a 2010 Government Accountability Office report and was a top demand by civil rights groups who said federal enforcement of fair-housing laws had been opaque, difficult for smaller communities to follow, and had been the most fraught frontier of racial progress.

“Housing discrimination is the unfinished business of civil rights,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, told reporters.

It goes right to the heart of our divide from one another. It goes right to the heart of whether you believe that African American people’s lives matter, that you respect them, that you believe they can be your neighbors, that you want them to play with your children.

Black and white housing segregation still exists in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and New York, but the federal housing agency has pursued some complaints for defying the law.

Westchester County in New York has been in a legal battle with the agency, which is claiming the county misled the government by accepting HUD funding without affirmatively furthering fair housing. A 2009 settlement led to the county agreeing to build 750 new affordable housing units in communities with few minorities. It also agreed to adopt a law banning landlords from discrimination against subsidized tenants. The county missed some of the deadlines of the settlement, though, and HUD began withholding funds. The county has since decided against requesting block grants from the agency, a tactic many see might be employed as the new rules goes into effect.

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Other critics, like Republican lawmakers, argue the new housing rule forces communities to integrate even when it is against the will of current and prospective residents.

This overreaching new regulation is an attempt to extort communities into giving up control of local zoning decisions and reengineer the makeup of our neighborhoods,” said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), who has introduced several pieces of legislation that would prohibit HUD from implementing the rule, according to the Wall Street Journal.