White House Hesitates To Bring Back Fair Housing Rule

WASHINGTON — The White House is hesitating to finalize a government policy meant to reduce housing segregation out of fear it would cause a conservative backlash, according to a senior official.

The Biden administration’s new proposal is a redo of a fair housing rule that Donald Trump rescinded in 2020. He’d claimed it would “destroy” the suburbs, in a signature display of the white identity politics that fueled his political rise.

In one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden issued a memorandum ordering the Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring back the fair housing rule as a way to make up for decades of federal housing policies responsible for boosting racial segregation.

The department first rolled out the revamped housing regulation last February as part of a formal rulemaking process that invites comments from the public. But because the White House is being “chickenshit,” a senior HUD official with knowledge of the process told HuffPost, the new rules still haven’t been finalized.

“It’s sitting at the White House while advisors play politics and now dangle the possibility of a rule in January 2025,” the official said. “The administration made a promise, and now it’s time to make good. Black and brown communities have waited long enough.”

A spokesperson for HUD said it’s “not accurate” to say there’s been some political holdup: “We are currently working on the rule” with a sub-agency under the Office of Management and Budget, which determines how much agency policies will cost, the spokesperson told HuffPost, adding that the rule is still “going through the interagency process.”

Spokespeople for the White House and OMB declined to comment.

Sara Pratt, who worked on the previous version of the rule as HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for fair housing, said she had no “inside information” from the White House but did not believe the rule needed more work.

“The amount of time that has passed that allows all the internal consideration, thoughtfulness about the comments and so forth, has happened, undoubtedly, and the rule should be ready to publish,” Pratt, now a lawyer with the civil rights firm Relman Colfax, said in an interview. “And there are a lot of jurisdictions that are waiting for the guidance to get them helping local communities to do what they know they should be doing.”

The pending regulation stems from the 1968 Fair Housing Act’s requirement that executive branch agencies administer housing programs in a way that “affirmatively furthers fair housing.”

The rule would require recipients of federal housing grants, such as state or city governments and public housing agencies, to gather input from local residents and groups about how a given project would help redress inequities for populations protected by civil rights laws, such as Black Americans and people with disabilities. Those grants are used for housing as well as other public developments like recreation centers, sidewalks and street lights.

As the the Department of Housing and Urban Development explained in its public notice last year: “The proposed rule empowers broader segments of the community by, for example, requiring program participants to engage with a broad cross-section of the community, which could include advocates, clergy, community organizations, local universities, resident advisory boards, healthcare professionals and other service providers, and fair housing groups.”

Republicans railed against a previous version of the rule, first introduced in 2015 during the Obama administration. The Trump administration rescinded it in 2020, describing the policy as “a vehicle to force states and localities to change zoning and other land use laws” in order to benefit historically marginalized communities.

The Trump administration pointed to Westchester County — a wealthy New York suburb from which HUD withheld federal construction funding for several years starting in 2011, on the grounds that the county’s affordable housing plans were insufficient — as an example of why the fair housing rule was harmful.

“Joe Biden and his bosses from the radical left want to significantly multiply what they’re doing now,” Trump said at the White House in July 2020. “And what will be the end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs. Suburbia will be no longer as we know it.”