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By Sean Keenan

When President Donald Trump dispatched an arguably racist series of tweets that he seemed to think summed up a recent change to national public housing rules, industry leaders and constituents alike expelled a collective groan. 

Trump, who had just killed an Obama-era Fair Housing Act (FHA) policy that essentially prevented discrimination in housing and development practices at the federal level, tweeted that Americans enjoying the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream … will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in your neighborhood.”

Having dismantled the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, a 2015 extension of civil rights laws enacted in 1968, the president promised boosted property values and said, “crime will go down.” 

Trump replaced the measure with the so-called Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice (PCNH) rule, which, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA), “requires [Housing and Urban Development] grantees to certify they will use HUD funds to take active steps to promote fair housing.”

HUD will deem sufficient a grantee’s certification so long as the grantee proposes to take any action above what is required by statute to promote the attributes of fair housing,” according to NCSHA. “The rule defines fair housing as ‘housing that, among other attributes is affordable, safe, decent, free of unlawful discrimination and accessible under civil rights laws.’ The final rule is not subject to public notice or comments and will be effective 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.”

In short, as a Politco report put it, the replacement policy “essentially leaves localities to self-certify that housing is affordable and free of discrimination — a significant scale-down of the Obama-era rule.” The Trump administration’s new rule seems to (abstractly) outline protections against — or, more accurately, wags a finger at — housing discrimination, but it fails to explicitly outline how low-income housing couldn’t be, as the president put it, “forced into the suburbs.”

Experts have pointed out to SaportaReport that the move seems to allow local governments to let developers concentrate low-income housing projects in pockets of poverty and keep them clear of uninviting wealthy suburbs, clashing with the conventional wisdom that says spreading out affordable housing in areas with varying income levels is crucial to combating income inequality, eliminating food deserts and diversifying communities. 

Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck told SaportaReport that “Trump’s slashing of the AFFH rule has strong implications for metro Atlanta and other cities.”

“Directly, it means that local governments — for a while at least — can effectively discard any efforts to eliminate barriers to fair housing in their communities, including their own policies and practices,” he said. “Exclusionary, predominantly white localities in places like [Atlanta’s] northern suburbs won’t have to examine their current exclusionary zoning practices, for example.”

Immergluck worries the effects of Trump’s recent action, though, won’t end there.

“The Trump administration is trumpeting its disdain for fair housing and thereby is sending a sort of ‘wink-wink’ signal that it will not enforce fair housing and fair lending laws against those violating the Fair Housing Act in other ways, such as real estate agents steering Black homebuyers to Black neighborhoods and white homebuyers to white neighborhoods — or banks marketing more heavily in some communities than others, or closing bank branches in Black communities,” he said.

Frank Fernandez, the CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and a member of advocacy group HouseATL, said replacing the AFFH with the PCNH rule was “a step in the wrong direction” which “could be seen as an opening for some officials in metro Atlanta.”

Fernandez, though, said he’s not so worried about the effects the change could have in Atlanta proper, since he’s confident intown leaders, such as those at Atlanta Housing, will champion affordability efforts with or without federal guidance. 

Still, he said, “Not supporting and lifting up fair housing policies is problematic” and something that could lead to an uptick in “redlining,” a practice of discriminating against people applying for loans because of where they live or their socioeconomic status. 

As for Trump’s comments on Twitter, Fernandez said, “I think it’s a particularly challenging statement, especially in the moment we’re in now, with all these issues of race and equity being discussed. This decision and how it was promoted by the president was antithetical to the historic moment we’re in right now.”

(Header image, via weforum.org: The president makes a speech at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting)

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