My View: A War on Fair Housing That Could Put Millions of People at Risk

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By David M. Greenwald 

Last November the League of Women Voters brought Richard Rothstein to speak in Davis about housing.  One of his more compelling themes was the failure of the civil rights movement to deal with segregation in housing, which has led to a nation that is more segregated than ever in terms of where people live.

He argued that the civil rights movement in the US addressed discrimination and segregation in schools, in voting, and for the most part “abolished segregation in buses and lunch counters and all kinds of accommodations, transportation and employment.

“Yet at the end of the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement really folded up its tent and went home,” he said.  “It left untouched the biggest segregation of all, which is that every metropolitan area is residentially segregated.”  He asked how can this be when we have come to understand that segregation and discrimination are morally wrong, and yet, “everywhere we look (are) clearly defined boundaries by race.

“How can it be that we left this untouched?” he asked … and then answered his own question.  “We’ve adopted a rationalization to excuse ourselves from addressing the most serious segregation of all.”

It is against this backdrop that we need to understand the AFFH — the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.  AFFH was an update to the federal requirement that aimed to eliminate discrimination and reduce segregation in housing.  It was originally part of the 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA) signed by President Johnson that sought to end discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability.”

As Rothstein pointed out, despite the AFFH and FHA being in effect for over 50 years, America remains more segregated in housing than ever.

That means disaffected communities of color lack access to good schools, health care and public programs.

But a stronger AFFH got rolled back by President Trump at the outset of his presidency.  He then poured gas on the fire when, in late July, he tweeted, “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…

“Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down,” he tweeted. “I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule.”

He later called the rule “hell for suburbia,” remarking that “people fight all of their lives to get into the suburbs and have a beautiful home. There will be no more affordable housing forced into the suburbs … It’s been going on for years. I’ve seen conflict for years.”

The President’s claim that the rollback of the AFFH means suburbanites will “no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood” is misleading.  The AFFH actually does not mandate low-income housing to be built in suburban areas and, even more importantly, it never really took effect.  It was updated under the Obama administration in 2015, but paused in early 2017 when Trump took office, meaning it had no meaningful impact on anything that we are observing now.

What the 2015 update did was to enact new regulations that require the cities and town that receive federal funding to “meet long-standing fair housing obligations in their use of HUD funds.”  That means they are “obligated by law to reduce barriers to fair housing.”

“As a former mayor, I know firsthand that strong communities are vital to the well-being and prosperity of families,” said former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. “Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child’s future. This important step will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity.”

What the president actually did policy-wise is fairly limited.  He basically revoked the 2015 rule, but left in place the more general obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing” written into the Fair Housing Act.

Proponents note that these rules do not just apply to suburbs and there are no provisions that would force a community to build low-income housing.

Lisa Rice, the President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, explained, “If a community says we have no affordable housing in our community, we want to build some, and we want some of that affordable housing to be built for very low-income people, a community could definitely do that.”

She said, “The President cannot say that building low-income housing fulfills all fair housing goals.”

Rice noted, “President Trump is trying cloak fair housing under this guise of keeping the suburbs safe from ‘those low income people.’  It’s almost as if he’s assuming that all black people live in low-income houses or that low-income housing is just for black people.”

In fact, Rice argued that his thinly veiled rhetoric on race actually applies to a wide range of individuals.

She said, “Are your programs in any way discriminating against families with children in an illegal way? Against people with disabilities. It’s really about building and fostering communities of opportunity.”

Other critics point out that the president has a rather dated view of suburbs as some kind of safe haven for white housewives who appear to be in constant fear of inner-city violence coming across the urban/suburban divide.

But that’s not the reality.  Moreover, as we know from our experience in California, affordable housing is not just for the poor, it is a way for middle income people to be able to afford housing in a community.

Housing figures to potentially be a big issue for November.  We are on the brink, and with the end of renter protection in our country’s response to COVID, it is believed that as many as 28 million renters could face eviction.  Even before COVID struck, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that 20.5 million families struggled to pay their rent, but only 1 in 4 eligible renter households received financial assistance.

In short, the President is messing with the housing protections at a time when more Americans than ever are housing insecure.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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29 thoughts on “My View: A War on Fair Housing That Could Put Millions of People at Risk”

  1. Keith Olsen

    Rice noted, “President Trump is trying cloak fair housing under this guise of keeping the suburbs safe from ‘those low income people’.  It’s almost as if he’s assuming that all black people live in low-income houses or that low-income housing is just for black people.”

    Where did Trump say black people?

    1. Eric Gelber

      He didn’t need to explicitly say Black people. Dog whistles are sufficient. To deny that is to ignore the long history of racial segregation in housing thinly masked by language focused on the impact of “low income” housing on suburban communities and the feared influx of people from urban communities. The “war” on fair housing is real and Trump enlisted long before becoming president.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Trump didn’t say it, Rice inferred that the low income people were black.  Also, is she implying that black people are somehow dangerous since she stated “keeping the suburbs safe from ‘those low income people”?

        1. Eric Gelber

          That’s your response? Your failure to address or or even recognize the intent and implications of Trump’s words and actions illustrates why the problem continues to exist. Sad.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Are you this naive? This is like code language going back to the 1960s and 1970s. You can’t actually say Black people because then it would be obviously racist, so you use code language so people know what you mean.

        2. Ron Glick

          Like Frank Rich does here:

          “One thing is certain: hope will not be on this convention’s agenda. Having lost the crutch of “Sleepy Joe,” Trump and his party are likely to go full white supremacist. One of the few announced bookings — an appearance by the St. Louis couple who confronted peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters with guns — is an apt preview of coming attractions. In an appearance outside Biden’s hometown of Scranton this week, Trump warned ominously that “mayhem” is “coming to your town and every single town in America.” His definition of “mayhem” of course is Black people — Black people marching or kneeling for their rights, Black people moving next door to “suburban housewives,” a Black woman running for vice-president, Black people going to the polls. The next week is going to be grotesque, but at this late date it’s the last election strategy Trump has left before his final gambit of thwartingstealing, or nullifying the election itself.”

           

          I love Frank Rich.

        3. Keith Olsen

          His definition of “mayhem” of course is Black people — Black people marching or kneeling for their rights

          I think Trump’s and most other’s definition of mayhem is the rioting, violence, looting and destruction seen at many of the protests over much of this year by people of every race.

        4. Keith Olsen

          Are you this naive? This is like code language going back to the 1960s and 1970s. You can’t actually say Black people because then it would be obviously racist, so you use code language so people know what you mean.

          From what I read here is others are saying black people, not Trump.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Of course it’s called plausible deniability. He can’t actually say stop affordable housing so Black people can’t move in – because that would be going too far. So he more subtly plays on fears or his perception of fears of certain targets using code language. All you are demonstrating is that the use of code language works for people who want to be able to deny the racial code langauge.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            No. All low income people are not Black. It says that explicitly in the article.

            Quote: ” It’s almost as if he’s assuming that all black people live in low-income houses or that low-income housing is just for black people.”

        5. Keith Olsen

          Quote: ” It’s almost as if he’s assuming that all black people live in low-income houses or that low-income housing is just for black people.”

          You proved my point, Trump isn’t assuming all black people live in low income houses because he never stated they were black, he only stated “low income people”.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            You’ve proven mine: he gets away with using this divisive code language because people look you are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

        6. Tia Will

          Keith

          Let’s pretend for a moment that you are right and there was no racial implication intended by Trump’s words, I would ask you a couple of questions.

          1. Why then are people so offended by the words “Black Lives Matter” when it is clear that violent policing is disproportionately affecting black communities? Why push back if racism is not involved?

          2. How is wanting to keep poor people from moving into desirable neighborhoods thereby enabling their children better educational opportunities any better than if it were race-based. Shouldn’t the goal be to lift up all Americans, not deliberately hold “undesirables” back?

        7. Richard McCann

          Keith O

          Black households have on average one-tenth of the wealth that White households do, and it it wealth that determines what amount and type of housing is affordable. Trump is well aware of the wealth disparities so he knows by saying “low income” he is also identifying disproportionately Black households. That’s the dog whistle that his base recognizes.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Wait until late November…

      Yet another war.  Everything is a war.

      If Trump loses, and Republicans lose the Senate… the election will be obviously ‘rigged’… and the November election will be “nullified” …  the groundwork for that argument is already “in play”… absentee ballots OK… VBM ballots are ‘frauds’… yeah, right… Florida VBM OK;  NV, CA NOT!

      We’ll see…

  2. Ron Glick

    Even though our restrictive covenants are no longer enforceable Trump’s fear and loathing appeal to the suburbs lacks salience with Davis voters. Davis has in place too many protections that result in the kind of bulwark Trump is claiming will disappear if he isn’t there to protect our moat of privilege from the unwashed hordes waiting to descend upon us.

    We have CEQA and the courts. We have our “internal needs” provisions in our planning documents. We have our open space protections. We have our Measure J/R ordinance restricting annexation that has resulted in not one bedroom being constructed in 20 years on land annexed under the provision. We have thousands of people who live on campus that can’t vote in city Measure R elections.

    All of these things combine to restrict supply and drive prices higher allowing the ultimate arbiter in a capitalist society, the marketplace, to keep out those of lesser means.

  3. Eric Gelber

    Technical clarification: Disability and familial status (families with children) were not included in the original Fair Housing Act. These were added as protected classes by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.

  4. Alan Miller

    everywhere we look (are) clearly defined boundaries by race.

    Especially in Davis.  That’s why we need District elections . . . to give fair representation to Davis’ race-defined districts:  the Black District, the Asian District, the Patwin District, the Latinx District, and Whitey Hollow.

    Thanks, Rexroad!!!

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