HUD Secretary Ben Carson

The Trump administration, having slammed the brakes on an Obama-era rule intended to align federal resources with long-held fair-housing goals, is calling for public comment on a new–and, federal housing officials now contend, a better–version of the rule.

“HUD’s [earlier] rule often dictated unworkable requirements and actually impeded the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing,” Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Monday in a statement. “It’s ironic that the current AFFH rule, which was designed to expand affordable housing choices, is actually suffocating investment in some of our most distressed neighborhoods that need our investment the most.”

Carson suspended the Affirmatively Furthering Fair-Housing rule, first imposed in 2015, in January 2018. Not everyone agreed with his critique of the rule: Several civil rights organizations sued HUD over the suspension.

City Limits’ Abigail Savitch-Lew explained the rule this way in January:

The 2015 rule requires jurisdictions to assess whether they are “affirmatively furthering fair housing” through a new assessment process that must take place at least every five years. The new assessment process replaces an older process that many advocates viewed as flawed and unstandardized. …

The AFFH rule aims to improve the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which was passed amidst the civil unrest that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior. The Act prohibited discrimination in housing and also required the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to “administer the programs and activities relating to housing and urban development in a manner affirmatively to further the policies of this section [of the Act].” For decades, civil rights advocates and conservative politicians have disagreed on how to interpret the Fair Housing Act and in particular whether to define as discriminatory only those policies that are intentionally, explicitly racist or those that produce structural inequalities that disproportionately harm people of color and other vulnerable populations.

Following a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2015 that in some ways affirmed the latter view, the Obama administration issued its AFFH rule to ensure HUD was indeed “affirmatively” promoting the Federal Housing Act’s implementation.

AFFH requires local governments to complete an involved community engagement process and then, with the help of maps and data provided by HUD and potentially supplemented by other data sources, complete a questionnaire regarding the fair housing issues in their jurisdiction, what factors contribute to those patterns, and what policies could be used to reverse them. Jurisdictions are then supposed to incorporate the strategies listed in the assessment into other planning efforts, such as the required Consolidated Plans that detail how a city makes use of HUD funds.

New York City earlier this year launched its own, separate fair-housing assessment process. (This was the focus of a City Limits panel event this spring.)

HUD says the new rule it seeks will, “(1) minimize regulatory burden while more effectively aiding program participants to meet their statutory obligations, (2) create a process focused primarily on accomplishing positive results, rather than on analysis, (3) provide for greater local control and innovation, (4) seek to encourage actions that increase housing choice, including through greater housing supply, and (5) more efficiently utilize HUD resources.”

The full announcement, and some details about commenting, are here.