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Lawsuit urges HUD to enforce Fair Housing rule

Charlene Crowell OW Contributor  | 5/24/2018, midnight

A permanent rule reversal could also signal a return to the kinds of actions that necessitated the rule.

For example, a 2007 False Claims Act case was brought against Westchester County, New York. Thanks to a whistleblower organization, it was disclosed that the county defrauded the federal government in its use of $50 million in HUD revenues over several years. This county regularly certified HUD compliance with the Fair Housing Act even though the local jurisdiction was deliberately concentrating affordable housing in a small number of Black and Latino cities. The county also shared its CDBG funds with overwhelmingly white suburbs that refused to allow affordable housing.

In a 2010 report to Congress, the General Accounting Office found many jurisdictions lacked any oversight or accountability with HUD funds. Nearly one-third of local jurisdictions failed to make a minimal effort to write a report known as “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice”; in housing parlance the report is known as an AI. The GAO found that 29 percent of jurisdictions did not complete this report over a five- year period. Another 11 percent had not done so in a decade. Others could not identify a date of completion or had no AI at all. 

In short, HUD did not meaningfully oversee its grantees in this process. However, after the rule took effect, communities responded with forward strides.

In Philadelphia where widespread evictions in communities of color were cited as a serious barrier to fair housing, the city began an Eviction Prevention Project that included legal assistance for consumers facing unjust evictions.

In other examples, Paramount, California began an initiative to increase access to group home housing for people with disabilities. New Orleans promised to create 140 units of affordable rental housing by 2021.

These and other positive housing developments are now on hold with the rule suspension.

“For Secretary Ben Carson and HUD to wipe away the rule just as it was beginning to take effect is shameful and contradicts what has been a fundamental principle of HUD’s mission,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense Fund President and Director-Counsel. 

For Michael Allen, a partner in the civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, the suspension crossed an important line.

“Flouting the rule of law,” noted Allen, “HUD’s action signals to every jurisdiction in the country that there will be no consequence for civil rights violations, and that HUD has no interest in helping cities, counties and states to expand housing opportunities for their residents.”

Charlene Crowell is deputy communications director for the Center for Responsible Lending.