By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released a new rule to assist the department’s grantees in meeting their anti-segregation and anti-discrimination mandates.
Under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, HUD and its program participants are not only barred from discrimination based on race, color,national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status, but are also required to affirmatively undertake actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice and opportunity, and achieve truly integrated, inclusive communities that are free from discrimination. But HUD participants have not always been as successful in fostering fair housing as they should have been.
“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. This important step will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity.”
Through the new regulation, entitled “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” HUD clarifies existing fair housing obligations and provides clear standards and transparency for the process. The department will also provide improved, publicly open data on housing, demographics, and other local conditions to help communities establish and meet fair housing priorities and goals, and also offer tools that can be customized to suit each jurisdiction.
Black leaders are praising the new regulation.
“For far too long, we have unfairly deprived under-served communities of the educational and economic investments necessary for equitable success,” U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said in a statement. “[This] announcement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is a critical step in addressing the harmful effects of housing segregation and inequality across our nation, and I applaud Secretary Castro and the Obama Administration for releasing a final rule that seeks to redress such a harmful cycle of inequality.”
Johnson’s Congressional Black Caucus colleague, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, also praised the new policy.
“I am particularly pleased that HUD has addressed a concern I raised by making several changes in the final rule to make clear that investment in areas of racially and ethnically concentrated poverty is a strategy that falls within the purpose and definition of [the new rule],” the California Democrat said. “In doing so, HUD has explicitly recognized the importance of place-based strategies in local efforts to expand housing opportunities, as well as the need for balanced consideration when it comes to strategic investment.”
HUD’s new rule comes just two weeks after the Supreme Court upheld a critical tool that helps prevent housing discrimination. The Court in a 5-4 decision allowed disparate-impact claims to be filed under the Fair Housing Act. Those claims allege that practices such as zoning laws are discriminatory if they have a disproportionately adverse impact against any group of people based on race, religion or other factors.
“Recognition of disparate-impact claims is consistent with the central purpose of the FHA,” Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion. “Recognition of disparate-impact liability under the FHA plays an important role in uncovering discriminatory intent: it permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification as disparate treatment.”