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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is attempting to scale back federal efforts to enforce fair housing laws, freezing enforcement actions against local governments and businesses, including Facebook, while sidelining officials who have aggressively pursued civil rights cases.
The policy shift, detailed in interviews with 20 current and former Department of Housing and Urban Development officials and in internal agency emails, is meant to roll back the Obama administration’s attempts to reverse decades of racial, ethnic and income segregation in federally subsidized housing and development projects. The move coincides with the decision this month by Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, to strike the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement.
But Mr. Carson dismissed the idea he was abandoning the agency’s fair housing mission as “nonsense” in a memo to the department’s staff earlier this year, and reiterated that point during recent congressional hearings. A spokesman for the agency, Jereon Brown, said any programmatic changes are part of the routine recalibration undertaken from administration to administration, rather than a philosophical shift.
Advocates for the poor and career HUD officials say that Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and his political appointees have begun weakening the department’s fair housing division at a critical moment. The agency now has its greatest leverage to right past wrongs thanks to the $28 billion in disaster recovery Community Development Block Grants that Congress has appropriated to rebuild the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
In an email in November, a top HUD official relayed the news that the head of the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity division, Anna Maria Farías, had ordered a hold on about a half-dozen fair housing investigations given the highest priority under Mr. Carson’s most recent predecessor, Julián Castro. The freeze would be in effect “until further notice,” the official wrote.
The investigations, known as “secretary-initiated cases” to indicate their importance, had been used in the past to set precedent and to put other localities and developers on notice.
One of the delayed investigations looked at an ordinance in Hesperia, Calif., that prevented the siting of neighborhood group homes for parolees and former offenders throughout the city’s neighborhoods. HUD investigators saw the case as an important test of the federal resolve to rehabilitate low-level offenders, who often face housing and job discrimination when they are released, leaving them in need of government assistance.
Other cases that were held up involved questions about the accessibility to the disabled of new dwellings built by a pair of large residential construction companies, Toll Brothers and Epcon Communities, in New York City and Ohio, according to a department official.
One high-profile case never made it to that stage.
HUD had opened a case in late 2016 in response to a ProPublica article that said Facebook gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls “ethnic affinities” from seeing their ads when their social media habits identified them as black, Hispanic or Asian-American.
But even before Ms. Farías was appointed, Mr. Carson’s aides ordered fair housing division officials to cancel a planned negotiating session with Facebook executives, leaving HUD to take Facebook at its word that the company’s “policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate.”
Then, after taking office, Ms. Farías sent a one-page letter to Facebook ordering, without explanation, the termination of a preliminary investigation into the company’s advertising practices.
Fair housing groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan saying that Facebook continues to discriminate against certain groups — including women, veterans with disabilities and single mothers — in the way that it allows advertisers to target audiences for their ads.
Ms. Farías, an official at HUD in the George W. Bush administration, has not initiated any high-priority cases of her own, according to agency officials. And she has made it clear that she does not intend to aggressively pursue cases that are not instituted “by my secretary,” meaning Mr. Carson, according to an official who spoke with her last year.
“For all intents and purposes, this administration is stopping the enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws at the worst possible time,” said Gustavo Velasquez, who served as assistant secretary for fair housing during the last three years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“It’s not just the lack of an agenda, which is what I thought we were dealing with for the first year or so, but an attempt to reverse all the advances we made through regulations and enforcement actions,” said Mr. Velasquez, who now works for the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan progressive think tank in Washington.
This is not the first time critics have accused Mr. Carson, the only African-American man in President Trump’s cabinet, of trying to stymie civil rights enforcement. Shortly after he was confirmed last year, Mr. Carson tried to reverse an Obama-era program that would make it easier for recipients of housing vouchers to use them in affluent neighborhoods.
The move was struck down by the courts, and Mr. Carson abandoned the effort.
Last week, Mr. Carson told members of the Senate Banking Committee that he planned to delay another Obama-era rule that would have required local governments to create detailed plans to integrate racially divided neighborhoods.
And a provision barring localities from using federal funding to undertake such programs was stealthily inserted into the 2018 spending plan passed last week by Congress.
Despite these moves, Mr. Brown, the HUD spokesman, said the department was merely “looking to streamline” its enforcement efforts and to focus on new, neglected areas of discrimination.
“There is no mission shift. We are, in fact, putting more emphasis in sexual harassment” complaints, Mr. Brown wrote in an email. “In addition, 60 percent of the fair housing complaints we receive are disability related, and the majority of those have to do with service animals.”
The most significant fight over fair housing under Mr. Trump is taking place in Houston, a sprawling metropolis ranked in numerous studies as one of the United States’ most segregated cities, where overt opposition to a housing development based on race and income has drawn the attention of career HUD investigators.
In January 2017, before Mr. Obama left office, HUD lawyers accusedHouston officials of violating fair housing requirements cited in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, had killed a 233-unit mixed-income, mixed-race housing development slated for an affluent white area known for its high-end shopping and excellent schools.
HUD told the city to undertake specific remedies as a condition of continued funding, including the approval of the development, known as the Fountain View Project, and the adoption of tough new zoning laws.
In a scathing letter, HUD officials accused Mr. Turner, who is African-American, of succumbing to “racially motivated local opposition,” claiming that he caved to protests by white business owners and residents.
Mr. Turner has denied the accusation, arguing that he opposed the development because only 23 apartments were set aside for low-income families. He also objected to the idea of forced integration, putting him in agreement with Mr. Carson.
“I have chosen to stay in the neighborhood where I grew up, and I will not tell children in similar communities they must live somewhere else,” said Mr. Turner, who grew up in an all-black development.
But he might have had other reasons for opposing the project. In one meeting, Mr. Turner privately admitted that he hoped his position on the project would coax white Republican state legislators to support a bill needed to restructure Houston’s ailing pension system, according to a former federal official who attended the meeting.
The mayor denied that account.
“He never told anyone he opposed the Fountain View Project to win votes for his pension overhaul,” said Mary Benton, a spokeswoman for Mr. Turner.
Still, few Democrats have done quite so well in negotiating with the Trump administration as Mr. Turner, who began pressing Mr. Carson to release the city from the order shortly after Mr. Carson was confirmed.
Ms. Farías, with Mr. Carson’s blessing, began negotiating directly with Mr. Turner and other city officials. She largely excluded the career lawyers who had already begun drafting a tougher order — one that required the city to pay the Houston Housing Authority, Fountain View’s developer, as much as $14 million if it insisted on blocking the deal, according to an official in Houston.
But Mr. Turner, who believes the case to be a distraction from his city’s rebuilding effort, prevailed.
This month, Ms. Farías signed a new, less stringent agreement that other Houston officials eager to get federal money flowing into hard-hit neighborhoods — including Representative Al Green, a Democrat and harsh Carson critic — hailed as a victory.
But a coalition of local advocacy groups and national organizations are suing to block the disbursement of $5 billion in HUD recovery money unless the city abides by civil rights-era fair housing laws.
“If this isn’t a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, then damn it, I don’t know what is,” said John Henneberger, a director of Texas Housers, an advocacy group that filed a lawsuit last week in Federal District Court to enforce the original HUD letter.
“Fountain View was kind of the last stand,” he said. “We spent eight or nine years documenting systematic and pervasive racial discrimination in Houston — it is an open-and-shut case.”
Mr. Brown, the HUD spokesman, said the agreement required the city to “put in place new procedures for the building of affordable housing” and a study on how to increase affordable housing in the city’s Galleria district, where Fountain View was to be built.
There are other signs of change within HUD that could make it far less likely that similar cases would ever be pursued.
Ms. Farías, according to six current department officials, has told HUD managers that she intends to replace her top subordinate, Timothy Smyth, who played a central role in the Houston case. Bryan Greene, another senior manager, will be reassigned as part of the shake-up, the officials said.
Mr. Brown, in an email, said no one had been reassigned yet — but he added that it was “well within the assistant secretary’s authority after 120 days to reassign senior-level personnel.”
Morale at the division is sinking. At a meeting this month of HUD regional housing directors in Atlanta, Ms. Farías — a former vice chairwoman of the Bexar County, Tex., Republicans and a Trump campaign supporter — told one of the directors that she preferred older HUD employees because they were more likely to have had experience working for Republican administrations.
Earlier, according to two aides who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, she had told her staff that it was her intention to root out people she viewed as “Obama plants.”
Ms. Farías, through a spokesman, denied making those statements.
Courtesy of The New York Times
By EMILY BADGER and JOHN ELIGON JAN. 4, 2018
Undermining another Obama-era initiative, the Trump administration plans to delay enforcement of a federal housing rule that requires communities to address patterns of racial residential segregation.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, in a notice to be published Friday in the Federal Register, says it will suspend until 2020 the requirement that communities analyze their housing segregation and submit plans to reverse it, as a condition of receiving billions of federal dollars in block grants and housing aid. The notice tells cities already at work on the detailed plans required by the rule that they no longer need to submit them, and the department says it will stop reviewing plans that have already been filed.
The move does not repeal the 2015 rule, a product of years of pressure from civil rights groups and review by the Obama administration. HUD argues that it is trying to respond to cities that have struggled with the rule’s requirements, delaying it for several years while the agency further invests in the tools communities use to assess their housing patterns.
“Early in this administration, HUD embarked upon a top-to-bottom review of the department’s rules and regulations,” the agency said in a statement. “As part of this regulatory review, HUD asked the public to offer comment on those rules that might be excessively burdensome or unclear. What we heard convinced us that the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn’t working well.”
But advocates say the notice effectively strangles the federal government’s first major commitment in decades to address racial inequality in housing, burying it in calls for more analysis and preparation. Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the move misguided and shortsighted.
“It’s terrible news,” said Gustavo Velasquez, who was the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD during the final three years of the Obama administration. “I am concerned, though, that this is not actually the worst news.”
During the delay, he fears that the Trump administration will entirely undo the rule, which has been a goal of many Republicans in Congress ever since it was adopted. Critics of the rule — including Ben Carson, before he became HUD secretary — argue that it amounts to an aggressive intrusion by the federal government into some of the most intimate decisions local citizens and communities make: about where to live, who lives next door and how to design their neighborhoods. Since joining the agency, Mr. Carson has said that he wants to “reinterpret” the rule.
HUD’s notice argues that a delay is necessary because local communities need more technical assistance from the agency and have struggled to figure out how to measure their progress toward affirming fair housing. The agency notes that among the first 49 assessments submitted, about a third were initially returned by HUD as unacceptable. But the system was designed to include that kind of back and forth, former HUD officials said.
Sara Pratt, a former deputy assistant secretary for fair housing at the agency, said HUD had provided consultants and a hotline that jurisdictions could call for help. Many of the communities that fell short on their assessments had simply failed to follow HUD’s road map, said Ms. Pratt, who left the department in November 2015 and now works as a civil rights lawyer in private practice.
“It’s like having a teacher in a classroom saying, ‘Too many people aren’t passing the test, so I’m just going to change the test,’ ” she said.
What worries her most, she said, is that HUD will allow cities to revert to prior standards for assessing fair housing. Under the old system, many cities submitted assessments that were of poor quality and lacked basic data, she said.
Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, said the 2015 rule had spurred local and statement governments to understand their housing patterns and make smarter policy decisions around them.
Some cities, like Philadelphia, have already finished their assessments.
Paul Chrystie, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s Division of Housing and Community Development, said the process was critical in getting comments from the community and from a range of sectors — like education, transportation and banking. One important thing they learned was that residents did not want to move from their distressed neighborhoods, but wanted to see them improved, he said. That led to programs to expand pre-K and to improve libraries, parks and recreation centers, he said.
New York City is scheduled to begin the community outreach for its review this year. “We’re confident in the approach New York City is taking,” Leila Bozorg, the deputy commissioner of neighborhood strategies for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said in a statement. “This will include working closely with a diverse group of experts, practitioners and advocates and hearing directly from New Yorkers about their housing needs and how where they live impacts their life.”
The Obama rule was devised to address unfinished business of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which forbids discrimination in the housing market based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The original language of the law also required communities to “affirmatively further” fair housing — to, in effect, promote desegregation in addition to prohibiting discrimination.
The federal government never fully enforced that element of the law, however. And 50 years after the Fair Housing Act was passed, many communities have made little progress toward desegregation, while some programs funded with federal support have had the effect of reinforcing segregation.
The 2015 rule — the “affirmatively furthering fair housing rule” — required communities to analyze policies that contribute to segregation. These might include locating low-income housing projects only in black neighborhoods, or barring multifamily housing from neighborhoods with good schools. The rule broadly required analysis of housing opportunities available not just to minorities, but also to the disabled, the poor and other disadvantaged groups.
The new HUD notice reiterates that local communities still have a legal obligation to further fair housing, and to pledge that they’re doing so. But a reversion to the policies in place before the 2015 rule makes critics fear that the government will go back to a time when it turned a blind eye to segregation, giving taxpayer dollars to communities actively thwarting a central goal of the Fair Housing Act.
“It says ‘segregate as usual,’ ” said Myron Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
The 2015 rule was imperfect, he said, but it also amounted to the federal government’s first major effort to strengthen civil rights around housing since the Lyndon Johnson era.
“Residential segregation is at the heart of racial inequality in the country,” Mr. Orfield said. “All of the disparities in the U.S. — in education, in income, wealth, employment, health — between the races are all fundamentally linked to residential segregation. There’s no real way to deal with disparities between black and white people without dealing with this.”
Citizens Bank announced recently that its Community Development Group has provided $9 million in financing in the form of a tax-exempt bond to Pawtucket Development Group, LLC for the acquisition and renovation of a vacant historic mill, known as Lippitt Mill, located in West Warwick, into 65 residential housing units.
Twenty-eight of the units will be available to tenants at or below 60 percent of Area Median Income and 37 units will be market-rate units. The project is financed with low-income housing tax credits, federal and state historic tax credits and Rebuild RI Tax Credits.
“We greatly value our partnership with Citizens Bank and appreciate the Community Development Group’s market knowledge and excellent execution,” said Kris Shaw, president of Pawtucket Development Group, LLC. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Citizens team as this project reaches its potential.”
The team behind New York-based Pawtucket Development Group has extensive experience with complicated real estate projects like the Lippitt Mill project, converting several other mills in Rhode Island and New York into residential and mixed-use buildings.
“This project meets an important need in the community and Citizens’ leadership is another sign of our strong commitment to supporting affordable housing for Rhode Island residents,” said Keith Kelly, president, Rhode Island, Citizens Bank.
Since 2013, Citizens’ Community Development Group has committed nearly $2 billion in loans and investments to support the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing units and economic revitalization activities in our communities. These efforts have resulted in more than 15,000 new or rehabilitated housing units and the development of more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space in low and moderate income communities served by Citizens.
Citizens is a trusted strategic and financial adviser, consistently delivering clear and objective advice. The Citizens Commercial Banking approach puts clients first by offering great ideas combined with thorough market knowledge and excellent execution to help our clients enhance their business and reach their potential.
Courtesy of Warwick Beacon
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Washington, DC – A diverse range of organizations from various sectors announced a new campaign today to increase affordable housing for America’s most vulnerable communities.
The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign launched today at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC’s) Housing Policy Forum in Washington, DC. With financial support from the Funders for Housing and Opportunity, NLIHC launched this new multi-sector affordable homes campaign together with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s HealthWatch, Make Room, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and with a steering committee that includes Catholic Charities USA, Children’s Defense Fund, Community Catalyst, Food Research and Action Center, NAACP, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Education Association, and UnidosUS.
Stakeholders from multiple sectors are increasingly recognizing the importance of affordable housing to their own priorities and goals. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign seeks to mobilize powerful new constituencies beyond housing to ensure that people with the lowest incomes have access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.
Recent NLIHC research shows the U.S. has a shortage of 7.2 million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income (ELI) renters, and 11 million ELI renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. There are only 35 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 ELI households nationwide, and no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest income renters. Just one out of four eligible low income households receives federal housing assistance.
The consequences of America’s affordable housing crisis are spilling over into many other areas like the education, health care, civil rights, anti-hunger, homelessness, and anti-poverty sectors. By combining voices and expertise, leading organizations from these sectors seek to build a broad national movement that promotes federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
The long-term goals of the campaign are to promote federal policies that:
The campaign will also act to defend against funding cuts and harmful policy changes in existing low income housing programs.
Opportunity Starts at Home is also working to strengthen the capacities of multi-sector state coalitions that share the campaign’s goals. The campaign has already issued capacity-building grants to partners in seven states: California, Idaho, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.
“The time to act is now,” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO. “The housing affordability problem has reached historic heights. Federal housing assistance is chronically underfunded and faces increasing threats. It’s time for those who believe that everyone in America deserves a safe and affordable home to join in a movement that will ensure fundamental opportunities for people most in need.”
“UnidosUS is dedicated to improving opportunities for Latinos and we’re especially proud of our work over the past 50 years to empower Latinos to contribute and to share in the nation’s economic opportunities,” said Eric Rodriguez, UnidosUS vice president for policy and advocacy. “A good home is the foundation for many of those opportunities: a better education for our children, enhanced employment opportunities, and a safe and stable place for families to live. We joined Opportunity Starts at Home because too many hardworking families struggle to keep a roof over their heads and it will take all sectors of society to make progress and ensure that more Americans, including Latinos, have a place to call home.”
“The United States cannot say we cherish our children when millions of extremely poor children each year suffer through homelessness or are denied access to safe and affordable housing,” said Richard Hooks Wayman, national executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Research shows that half of our intelligence potential is developed by age four. Positive child development is linked to a sense of safety, predictability, and routines. We must do our part to ensure that children have housing stability during a critical stage of development. We must do our part to ensure that housing in this nation is affordable and accessible. And we must do our part to ensure that investments in affordable housing production that keep children safe and secure is continued.”
“NAMI is proud to be a part of this multi-sector housing campaign because access to decent, safe and affordable housing is a critical need for people living with a mental illness,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative and policy advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It is simply not possible to achieve recovery and a full life in the community without stable housing. Given the current threats to rental assistance programs it is critical that NAMI joins with our partners across so many diverse sectors to fight for policies and future investments in affordable rental housing programs.”
“NEA is committed to the three million members and the 50 million students we serve and are pleased to support programs, campaigns and initiatives that are in support of students, educators and families,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “We understand and know firsthand the impacts affordable and stable housing have on student success. We also know that given the wages and income of some of our members, it impacts where they work as well as their own families.”
“The NAACP is proud to join this multi-sector housing campaign as it aligns with our goal of economic equality in housing,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “The research is increasingly clear that housing affects all aspects of a quality life; therefore, federal housing policy is very important for the people we serve. We find that threats to federal housing assistance are unprecedented and this campaign will indeed shed a brighter light on the needs of all people.”
“Housing affordability is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. It limits economic mobility, reinforces racial inequities, reduces health and education outcomes, and is a primary driver of homelessness in the United States,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign brings together an unprecedented multi-sector coalition, focused on increasing critically needed federal investments in affordable housing. We are honored to be part of this important effort.”
“No one should be without a safe and stable home, which is why the Opportunity Starts at Homecampaign is so critical, especially now,” said Ali Solis, president and CEO of Make Room Inc. “By partnering with organizations from the healthcare, housing and education sectors who share our mission, Make Room hopes to accelerate our goal of creating a country where everyone has a home that they can afford. We are honored to be part of this important campaign.”
“Too often, the issues of housing, health, education and income security are considered in silos, separate from one another,” said Doug Rice, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But a home is much more than just four walls and a roof; it’s the pathway to a healthier, more prosperous, and more secure life, and something that far too many Americans cannot attain. We are excited to join forces with leaders in so many fields to advance effective solutions to help our nation’s most vulnerable.”
“A stable, affordable home is a prescription for good health,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, principal investigator with Children’s HealthWatch. “Children’s HealthWatch is excited to join our colleagues on the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign to identify solutions that provide access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.”
Learn more about the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign at: www.OpportunityHome.org
Opportunity Starts at Home is a new national multi-sector campaign to generate widespread support for federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
Established in 1974 by Cushing N. Dolbeare, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest income in the United States have affordable and decent homes.
Courtesy of Opportunity Starts at Home, NLIHC
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