Posted on August 14, 2018

Ben Carson Ends Obama-Era Efforts to Reduce Housing Segregation

Henry Grabar, Slate, August 13, 2018

In a press release on Monday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development made its firmest commitment yet to tear down the Obama-era framework for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.

In a public notice dated Thursday, Aug. 9, HUD outlined its reasons for quashing the 2015 “affirmatively furthering fair housing” rule (AFFH), which had been the strongest effort in decades to crack down on segregation and discriminatory practices in and by American cities and suburbs. HUD Secretary Ben Carson cited the Obama administration’s “unworkable requirements” in a statement, saying the rule “actually impeded the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing.” Under AFFH, Carson said, cities and other HUD grantees had “inadequate autonomy” according to his understanding of federalism.


In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Monday, Carson framed the change as a way to bolster housing production across the board. “I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place,” he told the paper. {snip}

That comment does not mesh with Carson’s established philosophy. In his only published commentary on housing policy before his appointment to HUD, he called the 2015 AFFH rule “social engineering” that would “fundamentally change the nature of some communities from primarily single-family to largely apartment-based areas.” {snip}

A quick glance at the notice reveals that while the secretary contradicts himself, the outlines of a policy — to the extent they can be read that way — hew closely to conservative orthodoxy on housing, which is to reject federal efforts to demolish the walls that wealthy white suburbs have built. HUD’s new approach does not appear likely to increase production or decrease segregation. {snip}


One of HUD’s new goals is to “provide for greater local control,” a phrase understood to conjure the strict, racially-motivated land use laws that were developed by American suburbs to keep out minority populations.

In January, HUD told jurisdictions to abandon the Obama protocol and return to a previous self-evaluation called “analysis of impediments,” or AI. Those analyses were cursory and devoid of specific goals, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a 2010 report that led HUD to develop the new AFFH rule. {snip}

Supporters said that jurisdictions that participated in AFFH had committed to concrete reforms. Under AFFH, Chester County, Pennsylvania, a cluster of wealthy Philadelphia suburbs, committed to decreasing the number of Section 8 recipients living in high-poverty tracts from 44 to 39 percent, and outlined how that would be accomplished.


{snip} Carson’s HUD argues that the benefits of deconcentrating poverty “are likely limited to certain age and demographic groups and difficult to implement at scale without disrupting local decision making [sic].”


{snip} As evidence that the Local Government Assessment Tool was “unworkable,” Carson’s HUD noted that 31 of the 49 assessments submitted before January 2018 were initially rejected.