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Ocasio-Cortez tries to stop housing rule as Trump plays to race

Trump tweets ahead of House debate on amendments

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.,  has proposed amendments to the spending bill that would stop administration changes to housing discrimination rules.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has proposed amendments to the spending bill that would stop administration changes to housing discrimination rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump implied that having Black neighbors leads to lower house prices and increased crime in a pair of tweets Wednesday boasting about killing an Obama-administration fair housing rule and replacing it with one that a group of House Democrats led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hope to block this week.

Trump is trying to use ending the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which forced localities to track and address racial bias in housing, to win over white suburban voters. That Obama administration rule putting conditions on federal funding was in place less than a year when Trump suspended it. HUD finalized its rescission last week, replacing it with one that dropped the previous rule’s mandate on promoting racial integration.

Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and 16 Democratic co-sponsors are trying to block HUD’s change with an amendment to the fiscal 2021 House Transportation-HUD spending bill. The amendment, which would scrap the new Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice rule, is scheduled for House floor debate this week. It is among hundreds of proposed amendments to the spending package. 

In a pair of tweets ahead of the House debate, Trump bragged about ending the anti-segregation rule, suggesting it would lead to lower house values and higher crime.

“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood…,” he wrote. “…Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”

Fair housing advocates and real estate trade groups both decried the Trump administration change. “The National Association of Realtors is disappointed that HUD has taken this step, which significantly weakens the federal government’s commitment to the goals of the Fair Housing Act,” NAR President Vince Malta said in a press release.

The Democrats’ amendment isn’t guaranteed to become law even if the House adopts it. Senate Republicans would likely object, and, under the terms of a two-year budget deal the parties struck last year, appropriations bills are supposed to be free of such policy riders. Even if the amendment becomes law, it would only block the new rule’s implementation, not reinstate the old AFFH rule.

Trump’s poll numbers have slipped considerably over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, particularly among suburban voters. A recent Fox News poll showed Trump trailing Democratic candidate Joe Biden by 11 points in the suburbs, and an ABC News/Washington Post poll had him down nine points. Trump carried the suburbs by 4 points in 2016.

On the campaign trail, Trump has begun using the AFFH as part of an appeal to white suburban voters’ racial anxieties.

“They [Democrats] want to abolish, and really hurt, the suburbs, because under their plan — they will, under a plan that’s very much agreed to by them — they want to make it worse,” Trump said at a tele-rally with Iowa voters Tuesday. “People have gone to the suburbs, they want the beautiful homes, they don’t have to have low-income housing development built in their community, which is going to reduce — which has reduced — the prices of their homes and also increased crime substantially.”

HUD Secretary Ben Carson defended the rule change at a Senate hearing in June, saying the changes would address the “real reason for segregation” by promoting the building of more affordable housing in expensive neighborhoods.

“The real reason isn’t because there is a bunch of George Wallaces standing in the doorway,” he said, referring to Alabama’s segregationist former governor. “It’s because people can only afford to live in certain places. Therefore, we are moving toward a model where we encourage affordable and decent housing.”

The Obama administration’s AFFH rule itself found critics among housing advocates who said it merely required local housing authorities to justify existing fair housing policies, rather than improve them. Few cities finished AFFH reports by the time HUD suspended the rule, and critics doubted the agency would have ever withheld funds, given the political criticism that would’ve engendered.

Another Ocasio-Cortez amendment to the Transportation-HUD spending bill would block HUD’s proposed changes to the disparate impact rule, an Obama-administration regulation that codified a long-recognized legal theory that housing policies that hurt minorities without explicitly discriminating against them still violate the Fair Housing Act, which Congress passed amid the riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.

The HUD proposal would make it harder to prove disparate impact generally, and give a carve-out for algorithm-based decisions that disproportionately prevent protected classes like racial minorities from getting an apartment or home.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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