Monday, May 14, 2018
"The contempt of the housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, for the Fair Housing Act of 1968 has blinded him to policies that are in the nation’s best interest, and made him a prime target for lawsuits and court intervention. Last year, for example, the Federal District Court in Washington stopped the Department of Housing and Urban Development from derailing an Obama-era program that helps low-income families receiving federal assistance to find homes in middle-class communities with good schools, transportation and jobs. Now, the court would be wise to bar HUD from shelving another set of rules — those that require communities to analyze segregation and submit plans for remedying it as a condition for drawing down billions of dollars in federal aid.
A new lawsuit filed by fair housing groups shows that HUD’s decision last January to suspend the segregation rule — in the absence of notice, public consultation or even plausible explanation — violates federal law. If the suspension is allowed to stand, it will essentially vacate federal oversight of as much as $5.5 billion a year in development money that is being parceled out to nearly 1,000 jurisdictions around the country. Freed from federal scrutiny, jurisdictions with proven histories of using federal money to confine low-income families in impoverished, racially isolated areas would be free to carry on business as usual.
The Fair Housing Act, which turned 50 last month, was meant to solve America’s segregation problem by requiring state and local governments that accepted federal aid to “affirmatively further” fair housing goals — which meant making credible efforts to roll back segregation, which the federal government itself had fostered through discriminatory mortgage policies. But elected officials from both parties sold out that promise, allowing state and local officials to continue policies that sustained even egregious forms of segregation without fear of losing access to federal dollars. Governments that received federal aid were required only to produce vague, nonbinding analyses of “impediments” to fair housing. These were essentially filed away and had no real impact on housing development decisions.
The Obama administration wrestled with this issue in a legally prescribed rule-making process that lasted several years and involved extensive consultation with stakeholders. The rule, which became effective in 2015, defined compliance with the “affirmatively furthering” provision of the Fair Housing Act as “replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws.”
The new rules are more explicit, but can hardly be described as onerous. Under this system, HUD agreed to furnish localities with data on segregation and concentrations of poverty that was to be taken into account in federally supported housing and community development decisions. The rules make the process through which federal money is spent more transparent — giving fair-housing groups an opportunity to challenge discriminatory policies.
Congress would have been within its rights to overturn the new rules. That it refrained from doing so reflected a growing awareness among members of both parties that it was smart policy to end reflexive ghettoization of the poor by giving low-income families access to areas that offered better job and educational opportunities. That conviction was strengthened by a widely cited study from Harvard University showing that the children of families that used housing vouchers to move to higher opportunity neighborhoods were more likely to attend college and had higher incomes as adults than children whose families had not received the vouchers.
A draft bill making its way through the House would turn those findings into federal policy by lowering the barriers that often prevent families from moving to higher opportunity communities. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are understandably excited about the Harvard data, which showed that changing where and how families live can short-circuit the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
Mr. Carson showed his ignorance of these matters before he took office by accusing HUD of “social engineering” for trying to remedy the destructive effects of segregation that the federal government itself was instrumental in creating. The rules that he is illegally trying to sweep aside are fully consistent with the Fair Housing Act. The court should force HUD to reinstate and fully enforce those rules."
Opinion | Ben Carson vs. the Fair Housing Act - The New York Times