Biden restores, tweaks fair housing rule

Federal housing funds can be withheld from municipalities that don’t comply

President Joe Biden, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge
President Joe Biden, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge (Getty)

A federal rule to compel suburbs to diversify their housing is back, although it’s a little different from the Obama administration’s version.

In an election-year maneuver, Donald Trump scrapped the original Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required cities, counties and states that received federal housing funding to uproot racial segregation. President Joe Biden’s restoration of the rule is designed to streamline it and shift its framework, Bloomberg reported.

Under the rule, governments and public housing agencies will need to create an equity plan every five years. It will pose fewer questions to localities than before to identify what the area’s fair housing issues are and how they will be addressed.

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The administration plans to publish the equity plans and make them available for comment to increase transparency and accountability.

Failure to comply will cost local governments federal housing funding, which is doled out by the billions.

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AFFH has been around since the civil rights era, but has been difficult to enforce. The Obama administration tried changing that in 2015, issuing formal guidance and mandating detailed fair housing assessments. To help, the Department of Housing and Urban Development launched a tool to help communities create their reports.

Counties such as Westchester complained that the rule was too burdensome, but opposition from towns dominated by single-family homes was clearly motivated not by paperwork but by community sentiment against affordable housing and apartments.

Trump dialed back the Obama administration’s push in an effort to win support in the suburbs, which were seen as crucial to his re-election chances. A 2018 compliance deadline was postponed and the assessment tool was eliminated months later.

In 2020, Trump canceled the rule altogether, claiming the rule aimed to “abolish the suburbs.” Fair housing advocates and multifamily developers denounced the move as a step backward in undoing exclusionary housing policies.

When Biden took office, he quickly launched an effort to bring the rule back, signing an executive order calling on HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to study the effects of the AFFH repeal.

The proposed rule will soon be published in the Federal Register and will be subject to public comment.

— Holden Walter-Warner