California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of 22 attorneys general in filing a comment letter slamming the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule rolling back critical fair housing protections. The proposed rule would gut the current Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule and replace it with a drastically scaled back rule that lacks meaningful guidance for local jurisdictions, public housing authorities, and states working to address segregation and promote integration in their communities and also reduces the federal government’s oversight of those groups.

“There’s no place for housing policies that turn back the clock to the days of segregation,” said Attorney General Becerra. “If the Trump Administration has its way, communities across the country will lose out on critical resources that help bring us together and promote equal access to opportunity. In California, we’re taking action to end housing discrimination and foster diverse communities – we’re asking that HUD do the same.”

Under the Fair Housing Act, HUD is required to take affirmative steps to further fair housing, including tackling the legacy of segregation and historic disparities in access to integrated housing. To that end, HUD promulgated a rule in 2015 to address those goals. The 2015 rule created a process under which state and local jurisdictions are required to examine the barriers to fair housing specific to their communities and demonstrate how federal housing dollars will be used to promote balanced and integrated communities. The Trump Administration announced that it was suspending the rule in 2018 without adequate explanation.

The Trump Administration’s proposed rule would backtrack on the 2015 rule’s critical efforts and remove mechanisms for accountability. In fact, the proposed rule’s amended definition of AFFH largely avoids mention of protected classes, segregation, or integration, calling into question HUD’s commitment to its statutory duty to end racial segregation resulting from discriminatory housing practices and promote integration. Moreover, the new processes for applying for funding rely on arbitrary metrics that may penalize jurisdictions that would otherwise likely stand to benefit the most from HUD assistance. While the 2015 rule requires jurisdictions provide a comprehensive assessment of current housing patterns using HUD-provided data, HUD’s new proposal would not require any data or research to support jurisdictions’ proposed goals for the funding. Instead, HUD appears to be incentivizing program participants to focus on issues that are unrelated to fair housing, and some that are even hostile to protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. In fact, only three of HUD’s 16 proposed “inherent barriers” to fair housing choice are actually squarely related to fair housing goals. In the comment letter, the coalition argues that the proposed rule does not provide meaningful oversight of local jurisdictions, fails to require these jurisdictions to confront urgent barriers to fair housing, appears designed to penalize urban areas, and would violate the Administrative Procedure Act.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to fighting discriminatory housing policies and upholding protections for those living in California and throughout the country. In March and October of 2018, the California Department of Justice submitted comments opposing the Trump Administration’s revocation of key tools under the 2015 rule and its advance notice to amend the 2015 rule. In October of 2019, Attorney General Becerra opposed HUD’s proposed rule to make it more difficult to bring disparate impact claims, making many communities more vulnerable to structural and systemic housing discrimination. In September of 2019, the Attorney General highlighted the harmful effects of discriminatory lending practices in an amicus brief supporting the City of Oakland in a case against Wells Fargo. In July of 2019, Attorney General Becerra urged HUD to withdraw a proposed rule on housing assistance eligibility, which would leave tens of thousands of Californians at risk of eviction. Attorney General Becerra also joined a coalition of attorneys general seeking to protect federal rules allowing equal and consistent access to shelters for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. In 2018, Attorney General Becerra urged the Trump Administration to maintain rules under the Community Reinvestment Act that require banks to take steps to serve low- and moderate-income communities and protect against lending discrimination.

In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.