Early on, the Trump administration signaled it would target regulations related to the Fair Housing Act for changes, first delaying implementing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision of the Act — put in place under President Obama — then proposing changes, and finally, last week, abolishing the AFFH rule altogether.
In the week since the rule was abolished, both HUD Secretary Ben Carson and President Donald Trump have commented officially and through social media about their reasons for abolishing the rule. I sat down with Julian Castro, HUD Secretary under Obama from 2014-2017 — to talk about the AFFH and what future he sees for it.
Sarah Wheeler: Let’s talk about the AFFH provision of the Fair Housing Act, which President Trump struck down last week. What was the original intent of that provision?
Julian Castro: We implemented AFFH as a piece of unfinished business of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The intent was to hold communities across the country more accountable for ensuring fair housing opportunities for everyone — no matter what they looked like.
Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, so many years removed from the Fair Housing Act, people still face discrimination in the housing market and we wanted to address that and provide greater opportunity for people.
SW: When Secretary Carson announced HUD was abolishing AFFH, the reasons he listed included that the AFFH regulation was “unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with.” What was your experience with communities as they worked under the rule? Did they find it difficult?
Castro: The process of coming up with AFFH involved a tremendous amount of outreach to communities throughout the U.S. to get their input to make this a workable, pragmatic but effective rule. So we did a lot of work making sure that this was something communities could comply with, that’s why I don’t put much stock in Secretary Carson’s view.
SW: After the formal announcement, Secretary Carson tweeted out that the AFFH rule was “a ruse for social engineering under the guise of desegregation.” What do you make of that?
Castro: That’s all about ideology and fear-mongering. What we were looking for was a partnership with local communities to create a better and more equal housing opportunity for everyone. AFFH was about allowing communities to come up with stronger plans to ensure fair housing opportunities — not about the federal government telling communities how they had to achieve better opportunities, but allowing them to come up with their own strong plans and evaluating that.
SW: President Trump went even farther, tweeting two days ago: “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…Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!” What was your reaction to that statement?
Castro: Trump sounds like a small-town sheriff or mayor from 60 years ago. It’s a naked ploy to drum up racial fears and white resentment about people of color a couple of months before an election that Trump knows he is losing. He is losing the suburbs to Biden and this is his embarrassing ploy to try and get people back on his side — acting like it’s 1950 instead of 2020. Although this racism may appeal to some people, I think the vast majority of people are going to reject it.
SW: What are we missing if we don’t have neighborhoods that have a mix of housing types?
Castro: Millions of American families are being blocked from living in higher-opportunity areas with access to better jobs, schools, healthcare — it runs the gamut. Research done by Raj Chetty offers a powerful analysis of the benefits of living in a higher-opportunity area. This should inform our policy going forward, as right now a lot of people are losing opportunity simply because they earn a lower income.
Q: You launched a PAC this year called People First Future. What is the goal for that organization?
Castro: We’re committed to helping build a strong progressive bench of policy-makers at federal, state and local levels by supporting programs and candidates in 2020 elections. It was motivated by the realization that it’s not enough to only have progressives at one level, in the House or Senate for instance. We need people that are district attorneys, who want to work on criminal justice reform, we need mayors and state attorneys general. So we are identifying and supporting fantastic progressive candidates that will create a bench of lawmakers that have a vision of serving the most vulnerable Americans. We announced a new round of people yesterday, so we’re now supporting a total of 22 people.
SW: Anything else you’d like to add?
Castro: One of the first orders of business for the next HUD secretary is to get the AFFH back on track, beginning Jan. 20, 2021.
SW: You’ve already served as HUD secretary… If Biden wins, is there another role you would like to work in?
Castro: Right now my focus is on doing what I’m doing, which is supporting other people. I’m not aiming for any office.