The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is moving forward aggressively with the departments new “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” campaign to desegregate the country’s primarily white neighborhoods. Rockford, IL will be an early test for HUD’s ability to impose its will on localities relative to the integration of all zip codes.
HUD notified the City of Rockford and the Rockford Housing Authority on August 3, 2015 that rejection of a 65-unit affordable housing development in a white area must be reconsidered. This notice comes just after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling allowing the use of “disparate impact” to determine racial, ethnic and social discrimination. The permits challenges to what are deemed unfair housing practices – even if the practice was not intended to be discriminatory.
In it’s notice, HUD warned the city and Housing Authority that they have an obligation to affirmatively further fair housing, meaning that it is not enough not to discriminate; the City must work to integrate its neighborhoods. HUD indicated that the withdrawal of the housing proposal could have an adverse impact against African-American public housing residents who would have been eligible to relocate to the new units in the a neighborhood that is 78% white. The city had planned to relocate approximately 70 residents from the public housing to the new development, but local officials gave into community opposition and killed the project – even though the project had already been awarded low-income housing tax credits.
HUD is requiring that city officials submit a new plan by October 1. While the letter to the city made no specific threat relative to federal funding, the implication was clear. Failure to approve the project in an area that will further integrate the community may lead to removal of federal funding to the city.
Actions such as this are very unpopular with Republican members of Congress, as indicated by the introduction of S. 1909, “Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has introduced this bill, and if signed into law would gut the HUD desegregation efforts. The measure would ban the use of federal money to “implement, administer or enforce” HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. The bill has been sent to the Senate Banking Committee and should be considered after the August recess. The bill has five co-sponsors, and if approved would have strong Republican backing in the House. The bill also includes language that would eliminate HUD’s new database on racial disparities in each zip code. Despite clear Republican support, action on the bill is unlikely. Senate Democrats will almost certainly block its advance and even if passed by the Senate and adopted by the House, the President would veto it.
At this point, it is clear that HUD intends to move forward with its mission of integrating every ZIP Code in a way that matches a community at large. Court challenges are likely, and this is going to be a long and potentially expensive process for cities.