On May 8, a group of civil rights and fair housing groups sued the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its secretary Ben Carson, alleging that the department had illegally suspended a 2015 rule requiring cities to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH) in their housing plans.
The AFFH rule requires local governments to take active steps to assess and address racial housing segregation in their communities in their housing plans. Prior to this rule, cities were required to certify that they were addressing segregation in their plans, but there was no requirement for specific action and no process for review by HUD to ensure compliance.
In their complaint, housing advocates claim that by suspending the implementation of this rule, HUD and Carson are allowing local jurisdictions to receive federal funding without taking any concrete steps to further fair housing. They review several positive steps cities have already taken to further fair housing in the two years since AFFH was implemented. The plaintiffs claim that HUD’s abrupt change has already adversely affected fair housing organizations across the country.
In its January announcement suspending the rule, HUD claimed (with little support) that the process created by the AFFH was too burdensome to local municipalities and to the HUD. It instructed those communities who were in the process of revising their fair housing plans not to submit them, and said it would cease its review of local fair housing plans’ compliance with AFFH.
In support of the lawsuit, Law Center staff attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg submitted an affidavit, describing the process that the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the City of Philadelphia followed to create Philadelphia’s 2016 Assessment of Fair Housing. He notes that the AFFH rule’s requirements for broader community engagement led to a much higher level of participation from community-based organizations and the general public during the process when compared to the drafting of past assessments. This included a survey with over 5,000 respondents and a series of community meetings with participants from 40 neighborhoods across the city.
The significant positive impact of the AFFH rule became more apparent after the draft Assessment of Fair Housing was issued. Mr. Urevick-Ackelsberg, along with other community partners, demanded the report make commitments to a more concrete set of goals to further fair housing. And to its credit, the City of Philadelphia responded. Additional public input led to significant changes to the initial draft, addressing many community concerns and including an expanded number of specific strategies to further fair housing in Philadelphia. For example, the final report included concrete actions to address the eviction crisis. The City has since started to follow through, commissioning an eviction task force to make policy recommendations and appropriating $500,000 in funds for anti-eviction work, most of which was used for tenant representation in eviction court.
In the affidavit, Mr. Urevick-Ackelsberg describes how the city took into account the AFFH rule’s requirement for HUD review of submitted Assessments of Fair Housing. “City officials stressed the importance of achieving a measure of consensus within the community, avoiding community objections, ensuring the that Assessment of Fair Housing would be complete and acceptable to HUD, and avoiding the possibility of a ‘passback’ by HUD,” he wrote.