Following the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in April 1968 Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. It was as much a tribute to Dr. King’s legacy of fighting for equality and civil rights as it was a critically needed piece of legislation to help end rampant housing discrimination in renting and purchasing.
While the measure was a critically important tool in combating racial discrimination against potential black homeowners there remained major holes in the law that needed fixing. And in 2015 the Obama Administration initiated the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), which is a legal requirement that federal agencies and federal grantees further the purposes of the Fair Housing Act. The legislation provided communities with more effective and up-to-date directions, strategies, and enforcement and compliance measures for holding businesses and individuals more accountable if found guilty of discrimination.
But last month, while the nation was celebrating the memory of Dr. King on the occasion of his birthday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development under the leadership of Detroit’s own Dr. Ben Carson announced it would follow up on a threat it made two years ago and suspend the more rigorous housing anti-discrimination regulations put in place by the Obama administration.
The announcement by HUD of its intent to cut back on enforcement of regulations aimed at protecting minorities from housing discrimination, including practices that disproportionately reject applicants of color for renting or purchasing a home outraged fair housing and civil rights advocates.
The outrage was compounded when Carson also announced another proposed change that eliminates a rule that withholds federal funding from cities and municipalities as punishment for failing to confront segregation.
“It makes things a lot worse,” said Dr. Karl Gregory, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics at Oakland University and expert in black economics.”
“We now no longer have the limited protection of the law we seemed to of had and even that wasn’t very good protection. But at least it was something.”
According to the National Fair Housing Alliance website, all across Michigan, there is a shortage of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income households whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income. It notes that many of these households spend more than half of their income on housing. And are more likely than other renters to sacrifice other necessities like healthy food and healthcare to pay the rent, as well as experience unstable housing situations and evictions.
Kenneth L. Harris, Ph.D. President/CEO of the Detroit-based National Business League, Inc. stressed for African Americans homeownership is the most common and easiest way to pass on generational wealth. And the loss of so many black homes during the Great Recession was devastating to the black community by sucking billions of dollars out of it.
“The black-white homeownership gap is about 30 points,” he said, “And it’s the widest it’s been since the 1960s.”
Given Detroit’s homeowners’ over-taxation crisis and how it adversely impacted so many residents, the last thing the region now needs is for the federal government to pull away from enforcing housing anti-discrimination laws, he said.
In a joint statement to the media, the fair housing and civil rights advocates pointed out it was yet again another example of the Trump administration’s racism and determination to turn the clock back on hard-fought civil rights.
“HUD’s decision to suspend a critical rule that has helped promote fair housing across the country is a firm demonstration of Secretary Ben Carson’s hostility to fair enforcement and implementation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We will not stand by idly as HUD works to roll back the important gains that have been made to promote fair housing opportunities across the country.”
Her sentiments were echoed by leaders from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
“The obligation of local governments to ‘affirmatively further fair housing’ is essential to fulfilling the promises of the Fair Housing Act …” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President, and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “HUD’s proposed suspension would roll back one of the law’s most critical tools to correct structural inequality and racial segregation and represents yet another attack by this Administration on communities of color across the country.”
Carson however, said such tight rules restricting housing discrimination was “suffocating investment” in poor neighborhoods. And he called federal efforts to desegregate segregated neighborhoods a “failed socialist experiment.”
Gregory, the economics professor, noted the absurdity of Carson’s remarks but said the Trump administration was being very intentional in its action.
“The motivation is quite clear,” he said. “The president is positioning himself for reelection and is expecting a lot of votes from people who would like to see anything that prevents the increase of nonwhites in the population.”
By Whitney Gresham