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In Charlotte, U.S. Housing Chief Unveils Plan To Roll Back Fair Housing Rule

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson discusses proposed fair housing rules changes Tuesday at Renaissance West.
David Boraks
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson discusses proposed fair housing rules changes Tuesday at Renaissance West.

Federal housing secretary Ben Carson unveiled plans Tuesday in Charlotte to roll back an Obama-era rule aimed at preventing racial segregation in housing. Carson announced a new rule that he says would increase housing choices for families. 

The Trump administration already has suspended parts of the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, or AFFH. It required the more than 1,200 local governments that get federal housing funds to report how they're addressing housing segregation and discrimination.

But Carson said it has discouraged affordable housing development.  

“The old 2015 AFFH rule created a veritable ABC of unacceptable harms, including adverse outcomes, burdensome obligations, and cookie-cutter solutions,” he said.

Carson announced the proposed rule change after joining local officials on a tour of the federally subsidized Renaissance West Community Initiative off West Boulevard. That mixed-income development was completed in 2016 on the site of neglected Boulevard Homes. It includes a school, a day care, and social services for residents. 


Housing and civil rights advocates had previously sued HUD unsuccessfully to halt the rule's suspension. Some now say they're concerned the new rule would water down fair housing protections.  

The changes include eliminating the current 92-part fair housing survey and instead asking local officials to identify at least three major obstacles to affordable housing. The new rule also would relax where subsidized housing can be built.

Carson used the phrase "red-lining," a term normally used to describe discriminatory housing practices, to argue for more affordable housing in low-income areas.  

"Cities like Charlotte, low-income areas were actually red-lined out of affordable housing development plans and federal resources were redirected to high-income areas," he said. 

Charlotte formerly had rules that discouraged affordable housing in areas that already had it -- a policy designed to expand affordable housing throughout the city. Those rules have since been revised to promote housing near jobs, transit and shopping. 


A spokesman said Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat, was not familiar with the proposed rule change and not available for comment. She was not at Tuesday's event, and the spokesman was not sure if the mayor had been invited. 

City housing director Pamela Wideman also was missing and was not available for comment. Last year, the city completed a more than 100-page assessment that outlined factors that contribute to housing discrimination in Charlotte, from discriminatory lending practices to a lack of housing in areas with higher economic opportunity.   

Democratic City Council member Malcolm Graham, who chairs the council committee that oversees housing, said he was not invited. He expressed concern about the proposed rule, saying it's another example of the Trump Administration's efforts to undo the work of President Obama.  

"We need more help from D.C. versus less help," Graham said. "And as it relates to anti-discrimination protections for families, we need to make sure those statutes are staying in place."

Officials at Inlivian, formerly the Charlotte Housing Authority, agreed. Spokeswoman Cheron Porter, who did attend the event, said they're reviewing the changes, and hope they do not jeopardize anti-discrimination efforts.

"We are supportive of any efforts that encourage the creation and preservation of quality affordable housing while not jeopardizing essential anti-discriminatory protections for the families we serve —households that are most vulnerable to these challenges," she said.

The proposed rule still must be published in the Federal Register. The public then would have 60 days to comment. 


Jan. 7, 2020, HUD.gov press release, "HUD Issues Improved Fair Housing Rule"

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.