#68 – Evaluation of Fair Housing: HUD AFFHR and Supreme Court Decision


#68 – Fair Housing: Evaluation of Recent Developments.

[The 5 blogs in this set take up the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas vs. Inclusive Communities and HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Regulation (AFFHR) (Blogs #68 and #69), posting today) and the broader questions they raise about some elusive general principles dealing with the meaning of social change and the efforts to accomplish it(Blogs #70, 71, 72) posting in the next few days..

This Blog #68 – Evaluation of Recent Developments, examines the reception the Court’s decision and the AFFHR have received and their respective roles in dealing with housing discrimination.

Blog #69 – Fair Housing: Limitations of Supreme Court decision and AFFHR, takes up the limited scope of the AFFHR, the weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the problems of implementation for both.

Then:

Blog #70 – The Causes of Discrimination, opens an analysis of the current causes of discrimination, and the attribution of causes to the legacy of slavery and to present actors—the thoughtless, the perpetrators, the collaborators, and the victims, the structural context in which they operate.

Blog #71 – Fair Housing – Remedies and Solutions, then proposes some immediate remedies and some principles for real solutions.

Blog #72 – Social Change: Some Elusive Principles for Societal Change, goes beyond Fair Housing to take up some elusive issues raised by the preceding four blogs.]

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#68 – Fair Housing: Evaluation of Recent Developments.

There is an element of unrestrained welcome in the responses to two recent major Federal actions on fair housing, one the Supreme Court’s Decision in Texas vs. Integrated Community Policies, the other is the Regulation Concerning Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   The New York Times, for instance, editorially says “The new rule …provides a clear, forceful definition of the law… which means replacing segregated Living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patters.”[1] The National Resources Defense Council Staff blog speaks of it as an historic and overdue final rule. [2]

The reaction on the other side has been more than just the opposite: The conservative National Review, for instance, went so far as to call the new Regulation “easily one of President Obama’s most radical initiatives.” [3] And “AFFH could spell the end of the local democracy that Alexis de Tocqueville rightly saw as the foundation of America’s liberty and distinctiveness.[4]

But both reactions are overdone. And this aspect, fulsome praise of the AFFH, can seriously detract from efforts to remedy the very serious problems of discrimination that we still face in this country.
Seen in perspective, the advance since Ferguson, Charlestown,, the flag lowering and the AFFH Regulation is limited,[5] and in the AFFH case has within it possible seeds of serious steps backwards in the route to full justice for minorities (an increasingly dubious term) and for racial justice (likewise a term still to be used with caution (African-American justice doesn’t quite cut it either).

To begin with, the existence of a serious problem is indisputable. About 25% of African—Americans live in poor census tracts (where more than 30% have incomes under the poverty level), only about 16% of white households do. A non-poor African-American is more likely to live in a poverty census tract than a poor white household. For the first time in 2014 non-white students are a majority of students in public schools in the United States, and “black students are just as segregated today as they were in the late 1960s, when serious enforcement of desegregation plans first began.”[6] Infant mortality rates are almost two and a half times higher for African-Americans in the U.S than they are for whites, and not just because of poverty in the southern states. In Massachusetts, the rate of infant deaths per thousand for white is the lowest the country, 3.8 per 1,000, but for African-Americans it is 9.2 per thousand, almost 3 times higher. [7]

But there are several limitations to the progress represented by these most recent two actions, the Supreme Court decision and the HUD regulation.

The two events, a Supreme Court decision in a Texas case, and the issuance of a Final Rule by HUD dealing with Affirmative Action to Further Fair Housing, are closely linked, and treated essentially as one in much of the discussion, and in the blogs that follow. Taken together, they have impact in two ways: first on the on-the-ground ability to enforce the established negative goals of the Fair Housing Act, specifically the prevention and remediation of discriminatory acts in housing, acts defined in general terms unchanged since its adoption in 1968, and second, on the impact of such positive provision of housing as there now is on racial patterns of segregation, thus provoking re-examination of the goals of that law, and the public policies relating to race and space of which it is a part.

The first of these impacts, on the negative prevention of acts of discrimination by others, e.g. realtors may not show some houses just to whites, not to blacks. The second is providing that the government does not itself discriminate in such positive provision of housing as it undertakes, e.g. it may not locate subsidized affordable housing only in areas segregated by race. The language of “affirmative” action could be more broadly interpreted to require government to in fact provide housing, in a manner aimed at integration, but neither the Supreme Court decision nor the AFFH program confront that possibility. There is a brief interchange in the Federal Register[8] on the final rule that goes as follows:

Commenters stated that even if the [zoning] ordinance does not violate the nondiscrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act the jurisdiction may need to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance because such a policy would be the most effective means of addressing the identified contributing factors under the circumstances…

HUD Response: The proposed rule provided that program participants would take meaningful actions to further the goals identified in an AFH conducted in accordance with the requirements of this rule and would take no action materially inconsistent with their obligation to affirmatively further fair

They would “take meaningful actions” and “take no actions.” Prohibiting exclusionary zoning is “a meaningful action,” but it falls short of being “the most effective means,” which might be mandating[9] inclusionary zoning. Zoning is never elsewhere mentioned by HUD. There is little in the history of HUD’s use of the Act to suggest it holds to such a broader use of “affirmative.” So there is really nothing new in either the Supreme Court’s decision or HUD’s AFFH rule to suggest that HUD would go beyond “take no actions” to enforce anything as meaningful” as inclusionary zoning.[10]

So the real contribution of the AFFH is its facilitation of the application of the disparate impact standard that the Supreme Court’s decision has legitimized.

The contribution that the decision and the rule make in fact lies in the implementation of the negative prohibitions of the Fair Housing Act, not expanding the meaning of “affirmative.” On the negative side the issue has been what proof is necessary to invoke the Act’s prohibition of housing discrimination. The Act has two definitions of prohibited conduct: acts of “intentional” discrimination, and acts having an “adverse disparate effect” on minorities.

That proof on an “intent” to discriminate” is hard to come by. That is universally recognized, including by the courts, but defendants charged with violation of the FHA have long stoutly maintained it is necessary under the law. The Supreme Court has now validated the use of the disparate impact standard instead, and HUD, through the AFFH Rule, had made it easier for local governments to come up with evidence that there has in fact been an adverse disparate impact.

On the reach of affirmative action neither the Supreme Court’s opinion nor HUD’s AFFH rule provide anything that is really new. What they do do is raise in the minds of many what the ultimate goal of broad and effective affirmative action should be, and specifically what the desirable nature of integration of minorities is and how it is best accomplished. The blogs that follow argue that both the Court’s opinion and the impact of the AFFH will make resolving that issue even harder.

And both the Court’s holding and the AFFH rule have severe limits. Blog #69 now turns to a detailed examination of the specific weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the AFFHR. Blog #70 explores the causes of those weaknesses, suggested to lie in their avoidance of the underlying causes of discrimination in housing and planning.

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[1] It goes on: “[the Regulation means] transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws. ”The End of Federally Financed Ghettos,” The New York Times, July 12, 2015, p. Sunday Review, p. 10.

[2] Deron Lovaas’s Blog. “Taking the First Big Step Toward Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” Posted July 8, 2015. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a historic and overdue final rule requiring its grantees to leap forward by “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.” http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/dlovaas/taking_the_first_big_step forward.htm. l Natural Defense Council Staff Blog.

[3] It goes on: “AFFH gives the federal government a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood — imposing a preferred racial and ethnic composition, densifying housing, transportation, and business development in suburb and city alike, and weakening or casting aside the authority of local governments over core responsibilities, from zoning to transportation to education. Not only the policy but the political implications are immense — at the presidential, congressional, state, and local levels.” National Review, July 8, 2015. Available at http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/420896/massive-government-overreach-obamas-affh-rule-out-stanley-kurtz.

[4] Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/420896/massive-government-overreach-obamas-affh-rule-out-stanley-kurtz

[5] On the present state of racism, see my Blog #   , Racism After Ferguson – A Turning Point? at pmarcuse.wordpress.com.

[6] Reed Jordan, “America’s public schools remain highly segregated.” Urban Wire, http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/americas-public-schools-remain-highly-segregated August 24, 2014.

[7] Kaiser Family Foundation, Infant Mortality Rate (Deaths per 1,000 Live Births) by Race/Ethnicity, available at              http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/infant-mortality-rate-by-race-ethnicity/

[9] Zoning is indeed typically a local government activity over which the Federal government has no general jurisdiction, but the final rule is clear that the basis of the Final Rule is HUD’s threat to withhold funding, a threat generally considered adequate to achieve compliance with HUD’s requirements. HUD could if it would.

[10] A Westchester case is a notable exception, and in fact was settled including an agreement that the County provide 450 units of new affordable housing within five years o when the suit was first brought, and its implementation has been tied up in litigation over almost 5 years and the results to date have been not been large, and whether it could have been mandated by HUD under the FHA was never tested in court. See http://homes.westchestergov.com/housingsettlement and http://www.propublica.org/article/westchester-county-could-lose-millions-for-fair-housing-failures.

Blog #69 now turns to a detailed examination of the specific weaknesses in the Court’s decision and the AFFHR

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