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Cullen Ryan is the executive director of Community Housing of Maine.
On Aug. 7, the Trump Administration through the Department of Housing and Urban Development abruptly published its final Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice Rule in the Federal Register. The rule went into effect on Sept. 8. This is a rule that propels negative stereotypes, removes housing discrimination safeguards and seriously weakens the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
The new Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice final rule implements fair housing less prescriptively, removing Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing certifications. This will undermine community efforts to help people (specifically people of color, people with low incomes, and people experiencing homelessness) to secure housing — without facing discrimination.
HUD published a proposed rule in January 2020 to alter the AFFH rule; this final rule repeals it altogether. This final rule could potentially restrict people of color, seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, LGBTQ people, victims of domestic violence and others from accessing housing.
The 1968 Fair Housing Act was a monumental, bipartisan, milestone civil rights bill protecting access to housing and preventing housing discrimination. The AFFH rule was a key method by which the tenets of the Fair Housing Act were upheld; its repeal with this new final rule could result in various vulnerable populations losing access to housing, putting them at imminent risk of homelessness. Meanwhile, reduced access to housing will create more barriers for people already experiencing homelessness.
Discrimination and barriers to housing are root causes of homelessness, and people of color are overly represented in homelessness (as they are with COVID-19) in Maine. Maine’s shelters are stretched thin, and shocking numbers of people are homeless outside, especially now amid the pandemic.
This rule could further exacerbate the current homelessness crisis, which no community in Maine is equipped to face. It helps none of us to make people homeless, or to allow people to languish in homelessness. And it has been proven redundantly through numerous cost studies that housing is far less expensive than keeping people homeless.
As we told HUD in January, federal rules that increase hardships and restrict access to housing for people experiencing poverty are not helpful to anyone.
The final rule gives local governments control of administering local housing policies (including zoning and development policies) and removes HUD oversight from the equation, with HUD citing “federalism” as its primary rationale. We have seen non-uniform approaches in other safety-net programs in Maine and they tend to exacerbate poverty and jumpstart homelessness. Disparity ultimately forces people from their home communities into service center communities like Bangor, Lewiston and Portland. We do not need to exaggerate these trends.
HUD grantees previously had to certify they would affirmatively further fair housing, per the AFFH rule. This was used primarily as a way in which HUD could enforce fair housing and civil rights statutes uniformly across the country. HUD used it as a tool to push for improving zoning and land use laws; changes that would allow for the development of housing (specifically affordable housing) in areas it would otherwise not be built. This granted people of color, people with low incomes, and people experiencing homelessness greater access to housing opportunities in all communities across the country.
We have had to fight many battles to see people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, people with other disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and even members of the workforce in important community service roles such as police, education, healthcare, food service, social work, and many other professions not be boxed out by NIMBYism. We do not need HUD to abandon the fight to make communities inclusive and non-discriminatory.
This rule will dismantle important civil rights legislation that protects access to housing for everyone. Congress ought to take immediate action to reverse this. Especially now, we should be working to end racial and economic disparity, not moving backwards.