Trump tweet about fair housing law enrages advocates

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On the night of June 30, President Trump tweeted that he may terminate the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule.

Presumably, the tweet references the 2015 regulation and not the rollback proposed by the Trump administration, which guts the measure by omitting race entirely.

The AFFH was a part of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. While written into the law 52 years ago, it was difficult to interpret or enforce until the Obama administration created the 2015 regulation. That legislation added steps for enforcing accountability at local levels to break up segregated housing patterns and overcome past redlining practices.

However, the president can't unilaterally remove or rewrite the AFFH regulation. It would have to go through and pass the policymaking process the Department of Housing and Urban Development is currently undertaking, according to Solomon Greene, senior fellow at the Urban Institute and former HUD senior adviser who worked on the 2015 version of the AFFH rule.

"The agency cannot eliminate the AFFH requirement, the president cannot eliminate the AFFH requirement. It is in the statute," Greene said in an interview. "One of the criticisms levied against the tweet was it didn't sound like [Trump] realized his own agency had been in the process of rewriting this rule. There are major issues with HUD's proposed rewrite. The problem is it simply erases race and ignores all the evidence of racially concentrated poverty and discrimination in housing markets."

Since coming into office, President Trump declared the rule "too prescriptive" and shelved it. Many expect Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the 2020 democratic presidential nominee, to revive the Obama-era version if he wins the election.

"Scrapping the rule would completely remove an incentive for state and local entities getting federal money from HUD to engage in equitable housing practices," David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, said in an interview.

Fair housing advocates called out the racist overtones they saw in the president's tweet.

"Americans are in the streets protesting police brutality and what it represents: systemic racism, profound inequality and the brutality of poverty that began with slavery," said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. "And now the president tweets a threat to end one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation, and one of the few tools we have to rectify the horrors and massive injustices of past, legalized housing discrimination and segregation. Trump's threat is a dog whistle to people who want segregation and racial injustices to go on forever."

Lisa Rice, the president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, called the tweet appalling. She said, "Because of residential segregation and structural inequality, where you live impacts everything about you — your chances of graduating from high school or attending college, your chances of being arrested, your net worth, your credit score, your income, your chances of becoming a homeowner, and even how long you will live. Because of persistent residential segregation and structural inequality, your ZIP code is a better determinant of your health than your genetic code."

The substance of the tweet, suggesting the enforcement of fair housing devastates suburbs is fundamentally false, Greene said. That sentiment isn't supported by evidence or experience. In fact, studies debunked it and conclusively show diverse areas benefit all who live in them.

"At the neighborhood level, kids who study in more diverse schools perform better," Greene said. "We've also done research across regions. When they are racially segregated, it hurts the regional economy and prevents upward mobility, even for white kids. Integration and diversity leads to better outcomes across the board."

Bonnie Sinnock contributed to this story.

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