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Federal Housing Policy

The Election of President Trump and a Republican controlled Congress will result in big changes in housing policy
Right now there's a lot of "what ifs" and not too many facts, RHINO will be trying to concentrate on actual proposals that will affect housing and renters in the coming years.

Fair Housing challenges in the Trump era


In the midst of all the jokes about Ben Carson becoming HUD Secretary, keep in mind that you really don't need to know much about housing to be HUD Secretary. Inexperienced HUD Secretaries have often been appointed to be a "token" in the cabinet ( example: Carla A. Hills ) or appointed as a stepping stone to other political positions (examples: Andrew Cuomo and Julian Castro). 

The most ominous noises coming from the Carson camp are his statements about fair housing, but he is scarcely a leader in this field. The HUD position will give him a "bully pulpit" to argue against affirmatively furthering fair housing. His ethnicity and background somewhat inoculate his positions from being labeled "racist." But the real war against fair housing will be waged in Congress and the State House where legislators have been preparing for years to roll back fair housing protections.

Congress has, for the past couple of sessions, sought to attach amendments to the HUD appropriations bill which would prevent HUD from spending funds to "affirmatively further fair housing" and would block guidance on "disparate impact" discrimination. This coming year, both provisions will most likely pass along with funding and regulatory restrictions on the activities of private fair housing enforcement organizations. 

In the State House this past week, Ohio legislators with one foot out the door added some of the Un-Fair Housing provisions to a bill on foreclosure procedures. That sleight of hand is probably just the first shot in efforts to weaken Ohio's enforcement of Fair Housing Laws. Anticipating more restrictive legislation (maybe tucked away in the omnibus budget bill), advocates could offer a "Commonsense Fair Housing" bill with broad support from the real estate community, the governor's office and a wide range of advocates. The theory here is that you can't beat something with nothing.

There are two reasons to hope that this is not a rollback to pre-1968 era when segregation was de facto legal. 
  • The first reason to hope is the influence of "moderate" Republicans support for anti-discrimination protections, particularly in the Real Estate Industry. For four decades, real estate professionals have been schooled to the notion that "Fair Housing is the Law." They can be helpful in resisting provisions which limit the scope of protections...at least for the traditional protected classes. However, don't look to moderate Republicans to support efforts to promote geographic mobility, to fight restrictions on reasonable accommodations or to promote new protected classes like LGBT or Source of Income (SOI) households. The next four years will be a "holding" action.
  • A second reason for cautious optimism is the courts. Despite resistance from the Congress, many Obama appointees are in lower court positions where they will be able to rule favorably on fair housing cases. Today is not exactly like the 1990's when a long stretch of conservative presidential appointments tipped the court system to the right. Even the conservative dominated Supreme Court upheld the principle of "disparate impact" in Texas v. Inclusive Communities. If nothing else, the court system can slow down conservative efforts to roll back fair housing protections. 
The bad news is that Fair Housing advocates will be hamstrung by funding cuts and legislative restrictions on their activities. Private fair housing agencies have traditionally had two core funding sources: Federal enforcement grants and settlements in successful court cases. Each of those sources will be under attack during the Trump era. Finding alternative funding sources in private philanthropy will be critical to the mere survival of private fair housing organizations, but there's going to be a traffic jam at the doors of progressive policy advocates the doors of progressive foundations. There's just not enough charity dollars to go around and increasingly foundations will be called upon to address basic health and safety needs of low income people. Housing and social justice advocates which are not beholden to Federal funds for survival will have to step up to provide cover for private fair housing enforcement agencies. 
posted December 11, 2016
 
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