Fair Housing Act (FHA) requirements for funding have now been put on hold by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) until 2020, leaving housing advocates across the country worried about unaddressed inequities.
Under President Barack Obama HUD began requiring communities to provide data on how they address segregation issues and other concerns under FHA in exchange for federal dollars in 2016. Under HUD Secretary Ben Carson that deadline has been pushed back a few years, according to a memo published by HUD in the Federal Register.
ThinkProgress first reported on the memo before an announcement was made public by HUD on January 5.
Advocates for housing and the homeless fear this move signals an attempt by HUD to rollback protections, including National Law Center Homelessness & Poverty Sr. Attorney Eric Tars.
“Secretary Carson has stated that he believes that these kinds of programs represent social engineering,” Tars said. “It’s social engineering through red lining and legalized segregation that put our current status quo in the state that it is. We can’t pretend that it’s equal treatment under the law just to say that everything’s equal,” adding that this could be the first step in trying to dismantle these types of programs.
National Coalition for the Homeless Interim Director Megan Hustings also expressed concern for HUD polices moving forward given the announcement of the delay.
“We’re coming up to 50 years of the Fair Housing Act,” Hustings said, “… it just seems counterintuitive to delay policy that is long overdue.”
Brian Sullivan, press specialist for HUD, told Spare Change News that furthering fair housing remains “a longstanding requirement under the Fair Housing Act” and called the move an extension, not a delay.
In a statement Sullivan said the move to change the policy was in response to public comment on rules that it might be excessively burdensome or unclear.
“We are extending the deadline to submit these required assessments while HUD invests substantial human and technical resources toward improving this Assessment of Fair Housing tool,” the statement read. “HUD stands by the Fair Housing Act’s requirement to affirmatively further fair housing, but we must make certain that the tools we provide to our grantees work in the real world.”
Hustings said groups like hers have been fighting for this policy despite HUD’s assessment that it may be unclear or burdensome.
“We had gotten to a point where we were starting to work towards and look at ways to ensure people had more access to fair housing with cities following through on enforcement of the fair housing rules that were in place for a long time. Now it is not being followed through,” Hustings said. “We need to strengthen affordable housing and access to affordable housing, not weaken it. It’s the government’s job to do that and to make sure that cities are complying.”
Groups in Boston have mixed reactions to this latest decision from HUD given the city’s position on the need for more affordable housing and the homeless.
Lisa Owens, executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana, said a federal delay should not change things at the municipal level, particularly in Boston, adding that her organization will remain committed to anti-displacement.
“We actually are not worried at all. We take the mayor at his word when he said that displacement is an issue that needs to be addressed in the City of Boston,” Owens said.
Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants Executive Director Michael Kane said his organization is worried about HUD under Secretary Carson and said “justice delayed is justice denied.”
“People of color in particular are being displaced and the majority of cities are being gentrified. They cannot afford to wait three more years for action to combat housing discrimination,” Kane said, saying the President’s upcoming budget, which may gut other programs, is also concerning.
The loss of the fair housing tool for now, Kane said, may also stunt progress on discussions with the city about displacement, saying a lot needs to be done locally to begin turning a corner on desegregation.
“It was a process for community groups to go in to say the effects of new luxury housing is not being taken into account in the displacement of race and class,” Kane said. “And we can’t count on HUD to be an ally.”