In a move squarely aimed at courting white conservative suburban voters, the Trump administration on Thursday officially dismantled an Obama-era rule that sought to lessen the impact of decades of racial segregation in America's neighborhoods.
Housing Secretary Ben Carson said he was replacing the rule, known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, with a plan that more loosely defines the standard for fair housing as access to an affordable and safe residence.
Upon review of the Obama regulation, "we found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most,” he said in a statement released Thursday.
"The AFFH (Obama) rule was a ruse for social engineering under the guise of desegregation, essentially turning @HUDgov into a national zoning board," he tweeted.
The decision was likely to have little immediate practical impact because the agency had already suspended enforcement of the rule in 2018. Instead, the plan by the Department of Housing and Urban Development seemed aimed at stoking racial tensions in an election year.
Trump hinted at the move when he warned voters in a virtual town hall that Democratic candidate Joe Biden wants to "abolish" the suburbs and eliminate single family zoning, "bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.”
A White House fact sheet distributed to reporters that described the move as, "SAVING OUR SUBURBS: This action ends the Federal encroachment on local communities that threatened our nation’s suburbs."
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said Carson's rationale for dismantling the rule was "nonsense."
"The Fair Housing Act sought to undo decades of social engineering via racist housing policies that created segregated communities," she tweeted. "Shameful for a HUD Sec to be so willfully ignorant of (housing) history and so disdainful of his obligation to uphold law."
Thomas Silverstein, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called it a "full-frontal assault on the rule of law and an insult" to the organizations and others who spoke out against the move.
"The civil rights movement will fight this tooth and nail," he said in a statement.
President Barack Obama’s 2015 fair housing rule was aimed at trying to encourage local communities to address deeply ingrained patterns of housing segregation that determine where Americans shop, go to school and access to health care.
Under Obama, federal money was contingent upon the community proactively considering how to reduce inequality and provide fair housing in regulations and permitting decisions.
New Orleans' plan, for example, proposed expanding affordable housing options in areas with lots of economic opportunities and investing in public transit, schools, and parks in underserved communities.
But critics said the rule was confusing and the computer tool used to submit reports and measure progress was too difficult to use. HUD under Carson suspended implementation of the rule soon after Trump took office. The new proposal, released last January, focused on the idea of housing choice rather than reducing discrimination, Carson has said previously.
Yentel said the push to advance the plan now isn't surprising because the Obama rule wasn't enforced under Trump.
"But it’s abhorrent to use a critical fair housing tool for election year race-baiting, particularly during a time of reckoning for racial injustice," she tweeted Thursday in response to the announcement.
This report was featured in the Thursday, July 30, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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