- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2020

President Trump plans this week to reverse an Obama-era regulation designed to encourage more low-income units in the country’s mostly White suburbs, putting him squarely at odds with Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden over affordable housing.

The president is taking aim at the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, a 2015 regulation requiring communities that accept certain federal funding to identify and address housing policies that have a “discriminatory effect.”

Mr. Trump has been hammering the theme at White House events and in campaign conference calls with supporters. He told Arizona supporters in a telephone rally Saturday that the Obama regulation is “destroying suburbs.”

“People work so hard to live in a certain community. We shouldn’t be destroying that community,” the president said.

The 2015 rule required local governments that qualify for federal housing funds to follow a checklist of dozens of questions to track patterns of poverty and segregation. The Obama administration’s aim was to enforce the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

“We finalized the AFFH rule at HUD to guarantee the promise of fair housing to every American,” Julian Castro, who served as housing and urban development secretary in the Obama administration, told The Washington Times in a statement. “It was the result of decades of work, sparked by leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”

The Trump administration has been working to roll back the rule, effectively suspending its enforcement in 2018 and issuing a proposal in January to redefine some of its requirements. HUD Secretary Ben Carson said at the time that the regulations were “overly burdensome to both HUD and grantees and are ineffective in helping program participants meet their reporting obligations.”

Congress has prohibited HUD for the past four years from requiring any grant recipients from undertaking specific changes to zoning laws as called for by the AFFH rule.

Mr. Biden’s campaign platform makes clear that he would try to further Mr. Obama’s goals in housing desegregation. His campaign said Mr. Biden will “eliminate local and state housing regulations that perpetuate discrimination.”

“Exclusionary zoning has for decades been strategically used to keep people of color and low-income families out of certain communities,” the campaign’s website states. “As president, Biden will enact legislation requiring any state receiving federal dollars through the Community Development Block Grants or Surface Transportation Block Grants to develop a strategy for inclusionary zoning.”

Mr. Biden also is proposing to spend $300 million in local housing policy grants to give states and local communities “the technical assistance and planning support they need to eliminate exclusionary zoning policies and other local regulations that contribute to sprawl.”

Mr. Trump said Democrats are trying to “snuff out” the American dream by putting “far-left Washington bureaucrats in charge of local zoning decisions.”

“They are absolutely determined to eliminate single-family zoning, destroy the value of houses and communities already built, just as they have in Minneapolis and other locations,” Mr. Trump said last week at an event highlighting his deregulation agenda. “Your home will go down in value, and crime rates will rapidly rise.”

He said residents of the suburbs “have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they’re going to watch it go to hell. Not going to happen, not while I’m here.”

“My administration will continue pressing forward until we have made every last vestige of Washington fully, completely and totally accountable to the citizens of the United States,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Castro said the president, whose support in the suburbs has been eroding, especially among White women, is playing identity politics.

“While Vice President Biden has committed to reinstating the rule and fulfilling the promise of fair housing to all, Donald Trump has decided to stoke racism and further divide Americans,” Mr. Castro said.

In 2016, Mr. Trump won suburban districts by 4 percentage points nationwide, but an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday showed Mr. Biden leading the president 52% to 43% among suburban voters.

Other public polls in the past two months have shown Mr. Biden leading among suburban voters by as much as 25 percentage points. Trump campaign officials have criticized such polls in general for skewing results by undercounting Republican voters.

In making his case for getting rid of the housing rule, the president has cited the case of Westchester County, New York. The county settled a court case in 2009 with the federal government, which sued the county for falsely certifying that it was reviewing barriers to fair housing as a condition of accepting federal grants.

Westchester officials agreed to create 750 units of affordable housing in communities where Black and Hispanic residents made up less than 3% and 7%, respectively, of the county’s population.

The president said of the court case, “I’ve been watching this for years in Westchester, coming from New York. They want low-income housing built in a neighborhood. Well, I’m ending that rule. I’m taking it out.”

The president said Mr. Biden “and his bosses from the radical left want to significantly multiply what they’re doing now.”

“And what will be the end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs,” he said. “Suburbia will be no longer as we know it. So they wanted to defund and abolish your police and law enforcement while at the same time destroying our great suburbs.”

At a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in February, Rep. Fred Keller, Pennsylvania Republican, said the administration’s moves would empower local communities to increase housing affordability. He called the AFFH rule “a burdensome paperwork exercise with no enforcement that would have done nothing to produce actual affordable housing.”

But Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the action by HUD in January “reverses the 2015 policy before it had even been fully implemented.”

“No meaningful guidance existed until the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule was published in 2015,” she told lawmakers. “After several years of considerable input from a broad array of stakeholders, the 2015 AFFH rule made the strongest effort in decades to reverse harmful patterns of segregation and discriminatory practices in communities across the country. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has completely undermined this work by gutting the 2015 rule and proposing a rule that ignores the legacy of segregation and practically eliminates any accountability.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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