The Obama administration announced Wednesday a new rule aimed at promoting fair housing, nearly 50 years after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed to combat segregation and wide-spread discrimination in neighborhoods across the country.
Despite the decades old law requiring communities that receive federal funds to increase access to quality, affordable housing, many communities in the U.S. – in cities like Chicago and Baltimore – remain segregated by race and income. Often these majority-minority communities lack access to good schools, grocery stores and to the kinds of opportunities necessary to help residents rise out of poverty.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development said the regulations will provide communities that receive HUD funding with data and tools that will help them meet fair housing obligations and goals for affordable housing and community development.
“As a former mayor, I know firsthand that strong communities are vital to the well-being and prosperity of families,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement. “Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child’s future.”
Castro later Wednesday morning tweeted “Ensuring that American families can live where they choose isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue — it’s an American issue” with the hashtag “#Fairhousing” at the end.
The Fair Housing Act requires HUD and its program recipients to promote fair housing and equal opportunity to ensure that all people have the right to fair housing regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. The new rule aims to provide program participants with clear guidelines and data – including searchable geo-spatial maps that incorporate data sets about income, race, disability status and other measures – they can use to reach those goals. The rule clarifies and simplifies existing fair housing obligations and creates a streamlined process for evaluating fair housing, the HUD statement said.
“HUD will provide open data to grantees and the public on patterns of integration and segregation, racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, disproportionate housing needs, and disparities in access to opportunity,” the agency said.
The new rule has been in the works since July 2013.
Affected HUD programs include the Community Development Block Grant program – a popular, flexible federal funding stream for communities – and the HOME Investment Partnership program, which provides grants to states and communities use to fund building, buying, and rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or sale and providing rental assistance to low-income people among other activities.
HUD’s announcement was not welcomed by everyone. Conservative critics like Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, argue communities know what is best for their them and local leaders are held accountable by voters for the decisions they make. He said the federal government’s 100,000-foot approach tends to try to shove all communities into a one-size-fits-all model that may not work for them.
“Local government is designed so people can have an input on those things that matter most to them,” Manning told CNN. “The federal government is ill-equipped to superimpose their vision of what local communities should look like, because they don’t have their fingers on the pulse of those communities.”
The new HUD rule follows a Supreme Court decision last month, hailed by civil rights advocates, that re-affirmed that the Fair House Act allows not only claims for intentional discrimination but also claims that cover practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if they were not motivated by an intent to discriminate.
Advocates say these “disparate impact” claims are key to fighting subtle instances of discrimination. Some companies, developers and housing authorities had argued that disparate impact claimsforce states or private entities to engage in race-conscious decision-making to avoid legal liability and that they cost them time and money to investigate actions made with good intentions.