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Civil rights groups sue HUD, Ben Carson for delaying Obama fair housing effort

Groups want Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule reinstated

Earlier this year, a group of 76 civil rights, housing, and community development organizations voiced their displeasure with the Trump administration moving to delay a controversial Obama-era fair housing rule.

Now, some of those groups are taking the Department of Housing and Urban Development and HUD Secretary Ben Carson to court to get the rule reinstated.

The rule in question, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, requires cities and towns that receive federal funding to examine local housing patterns for racial bias and design a plan to address any measurable bias.

After Carson announced earlier this year that HUD intended to delay the rule by one year, the 76 organizations said that the delay effectively gutted the rule.

“Without warning, HUD has decided effectively to suspend the regulation, leaving local jurisdictions confused, giving local residents less voice in important decisions about their communities, and reinstating an approach to fair housing that the Government Accountability Office found to be ineffective and poorly administered,” the groups said in January.

Now, three civil rights groups, led by the National Fair Housing Alliance, are suing HUD and Carson over the move.

On Tuesday, the National Fair Housing Alliance, Texas Appleseed, and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service asked a federal court in Washington, D.C. to order HUD to reinstate the federal requirement that local and state governments address segregated housing patterns in order to receive federal funding. 

According to the groups, the complaint accuses HUD of unlawfully suspending the AFFH rule, thereby effectively removing civil rights oversight of as much as $5.5 billion per year until 2024 or later for almost 1,000 jurisdictions.

“In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that HUD’s attempt to delay and dilute the AFFH Rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which sets out procedural and substantive requirements for the adoption and modification of federal regulations,” the groups say in a release.

“HUD failed to provide advance notice or opportunity to comment on the suspension and failed to articulate any plausible reason for the suspension. Plaintiffs also allege that HUD’s action violates HUD’s own AFFH duty,” the groups continue. “The plaintiffs seek a court order requiring HUD to restart the implementation of the AFFH Rule immediately.”

According to the groups, the AFFH Rule “created a greatly improved system for HUD grantees, including local governments, states, territories, and public housing authorities, to fulfill their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing.”

But, when announcing the delay, HUD stated that the rule wasn’t working as intended in the early stages.

“Early in this administration, HUD embarked upon a top-to-bottom review of the department’s rules and regulations. As part of this regulatory review, HUD asked the public to offer comment on those rules that might be excessively burdensome or unclear,” HUD’s announcement stated.

“What we heard convinced us that the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn’t working well,” HUD continued. “In fact, more than a third of our early submitters failed to produce an acceptable assessment—not for lack of trying but because the tool designed to help them to succeed wasn’t helpful.”

In their complaint, the groups argue that HUD’s characterization of the implementation of the AFFH rule is wrong.

“In the approximately two years since it went into effect, the AFFH Rule already has paid dividends. Many jurisdictions that have gone through the AFH drafting process have committed to concrete reforms that will improve the lives of their most vulnerable residents and create more integrated, inclusive communities,” the groups state in their complaint.

“They have, for example, committed to provide help for residents of predominantly African-American neighborhoods who disproportionately face unwarranted evictions; make zoning processes more inclusive for people with disabilities; and create affordable rental units in high-opportunity neighborhoods,” the groups continue.

“The jurisdictions have done so after taking input from their communities, accepting comments from fair housing organizations and others on their initial drafts, and undergoing review by HUD (which, sometimes, has required revisions),” the groups add. “This robust process has led to a newfound commitment to take meaningful steps towards affirmatively furthering fair housing.”

According to the groups, HUD “abandoned” the rule by taking “arbitrary” and “capricious” action and abdicated its responsibility to ensure fair housing for all.

“For thirty years, NFHA has promoted the affirmatively furthering fair housing requirement of the Fair Housing Act. We have advocated to HUD to release an effective AFFH Rule, educated jurisdictions, fair housing groups and community-based organizations about the AFFH requirements, and implemented programs designed to further fair housing,” said Lisa Rice, president and CEO of NFHA. “Each day HUD holds up requiring jurisdictions to fully comply with the law is another day that millions of people are being denied fair housing opportunities. HUD’s action is a clear example of ‘justice delayed, justice denied.’”

Although not a party in the lawsuit, the National Low Income Housing Coalition welcomed the legal action.

“The administration’s abrupt decision to in effect suspend this critical regulation without any input from key stakeholders and with only an ineffective and inadequate process in its place is in flagrant disregard of a core part of HUD’s job,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the NLIHC, said. “This lawsuit is an important step to ensuring the Fair Housing Act’s promise of making every neighborhood a community of opportunity is realized.”

To read the groups’ lawsuit in full, click here.

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