Image: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT; background) and Marco Rubio (R-FL; foreground) are co-sponsoring legislation to end AFFH
Using language that hearkens back to desegregation fights of the Civil Rights era, Congressional Republicans last month introduced legislation to combat the “federally mandated demographics” of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) desegregation efforts.
These legislators take issue with HUD’s work on affirmatively furthering fair housing, a subject that requires a brief history lesson and bit of jargon to understand.
The language of “affirmatively furthering” fair housing refers to government efforts to go beyond simply outlawing racist housing practices, to actively promoting integration in their jurisdictions. Affirmatively furthering fair housing is one of the key requirements of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
In the 1970s, George Romney (Mitt’s father) tried to do just that as Nixon’s HUD Secretary, using HUD funds to pressure localities into building more affordable housing and integrating neighborhoods. The strength of segregationists’ opposition, however, proved formidable. Nixon ordered the program shuttered, and administrations both Democratic and Republican ignored the Fair Housing Act’s “affirmatively furthering” provision for another thirty years.
George Romney with son Mitt
This brings us to recent history. In 2015, the Obama administration introduced its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, something we wrote about last year.
Obama’s AFFH functions similarly to Romney’s vision. Under the rule, localities are required to report on their jurisdiction’s residential segregation and how that relates to pockets of poverty and areas lacking quality services like schools, libraries, and hospitals. They then need to form a plan for how to address any disparities they find and submit that plan in order to receive their HUD funding—often a large chunk of money.
Now Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have joined Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in introducing legislation to gut AFFH. Reasons for this opposition have been a bit scattered. Some, like Sen. Rubio, say it is an issue of states’ and localities’ rights. His office issued a statement decrying “Top-down, one-size-fits-all regulations by Washington bureaucrats” in explaining his support for the legislation.
In an interview with CityLab, Solomon Greene, a former HUD employee who is now a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, expressed skepticism about this explanation. Because AFFH allows localities to use whatever tools they wish to address segregation and unfair housing practices, it actually gives considerable power to local jurisdictions. Greene says AFFH reflects the belief that “there’s no clear answer as to what is the best use of a federal dollar. It is the opposite of a one-size-fits-all model, which is how it’s been rebranded.”
Others take a different approach in explaining their opposition. Sen. Lee, who tried to defund AFFH last year, has found his biggest supporter in Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government. In explaining his support for Lee’s defunding maneuver last year, Manning railed against “race hustlers who seek to put low income high rise apartments into middle class neighborhoods.”
Switching seamlessly from a racial argument to one of neighborhood preservation is a common tactic in AFFH arguments. In this way, Manning and other opponents work to tie these issues together in peoples’ minds while avoiding the public backlash of explicitly segregationist appeals.
Similarly, Paul Sperry, a right wing columnist for the New York Post, has criticized AFFH and parallel initiatives for attempting to “forcibly desegregate inner cities and integrate outer suburbs.” His writing none-too-subtly ties together race, crime, and drug usage in an age-old attempt to create a black boogeyman invading white neighborhoods.
Rep. Gosar’s bill goes a step further than the Senate version. If passed, his bill would require that HUD deactivate its newly released tool that allows localities and private citizens to assess the problems their city faces. An example of the kind of information this tool can provide is shown below.
Job proximity in DC
1 dot = 100 people. Green dots are African-Americans, while orange dots show whites. The darker the grey background, the more easily accessible jobs are in that census tract. This map, created by the author with the new HUD tool, shows that literally no experience is required to find issues for AFFH consideration.
Rep. Gosar does not seem to have offered any public reasoning for his actions. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what reasoning he could offer. This tool is invaluable to local lawmakers, community groups, and private citizens who are trying to assess the challenges that their communities face.
Either of these bills, if passed, represent a serious challenge to HUD’s work and the implementation of the Fair Housing Act. Vague language about states’ rights should be discounted. The dog whistle segregationist language of “race hustlers” and “federally mandated demographics” cannot be.