The federal government has a key role to play in ensuring fair housing.
April 11, 2018
Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act. Bending to the pressure of a mass movement for economic and racial justice and the national crisis set off by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the federal government finally recognized that it had a legal responsibility to address how state-sanctioned housing discrimination had divided our nation.
Now five decades later, what has the federal government done to deliver on its promise to all of its citizens that it would end housing discrimination? What concrete steps has the federal government taken to break apart rigid patterns of segregation that deprive people of equal opportunity? The hard truth is that the federal government has done very little on both fronts.
As established under the Fair Housing Act and related civil rights laws, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and recipients of federal housing funds (state and local governments, as well as public housing authorities) are required not only to combat discrimination, but also to actively root out segregation and promote diverse, inclusive communities. At the same time, HUD and the funding recipients it is responsible for must take active steps to invest in communities starved of opportunity through years of redlining, disinvestment, and structural racism. This obligation to affirmatively further fair housing is crucial to undoing the decades of government sanctioned discrimination.
But segregation and discrimination have stubbornly persisted, resulting in harmful consequences for people of color, who end up in neighborhoods with poorly funded schools, fewer well-paying jobs, and less opportunities at upward mobility.
Recognizing this, the Obama Administration issued a rule in 2015 to improve implementation of the affirmatively furthering duty. The rule equips and requires jurisdictions to analyze and report their progress on reducing racial segregation.
As a New York Times investigation recently showed, under Secretary Carson’s leadership, HUD has begun scaling back various efforts to enforce fair housing laws, including the administration’s move to delay enforcement of the affirmatively furthering rule. HUD has also frozen a number of investigations and even taken anti-discrimination language out of its mission statement.
Segregation and discrimination must be undone with the same level of vigor as was used to create them. One of the many important lessons we should remember from the Civil Rights Movement is that change isn’t achieved without tireless advocacy. If the Trump Administration is not willing to take its responsibility seriously, we stand ready to fight alongside the communities most affected to achieve racial justice.