House adopts Ocasio-Cortez housing bias amendments to block HUD

Blumenauer calls Trump's housing tweets racist

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., right, said on the House floor Thursday that the president's Twitter appeal to suburban voters over housing policy was racist. The House adopted two amendments designed to block changes to housing discrimination rules.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., right, said on the House floor Thursday that the president's Twitter appeal to suburban voters over housing policy was racist. The House adopted two amendments designed to block changes to housing discrimination rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 30, 2020 at 4:28pm

Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Earl Blumenauer took to the House floor Thursday to castigate President Donald Trump for his recent remarks suggesting to suburban voters that increasing racial integration would lead to lower home values and more crime.

“This is classic, textbook discrimination, and we're here to rise to say, ‘Na-uh, not on our watch,’” said Ocasio-Cortez of New York. She and Blumenauer spoke in favor of two amendments to prevent the Housing and Urban Development Department from undoing two Obama administration rules designed to end housing discrimination.

The amendments were adopted on a voice vote as part of an en bloc group of 56 amendments. The House is expected to complete work on the spending package Friday. No House Republicans spoke against the amendments. 

In online campaign events and on Twitter this week, Trump has been touting his administration’s dismantling of an obscure HUD regulation — Affirmatively Affirming Fair Housing (AFFH) — tweeting Wednesday: “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. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”

The rule, finalized in 2015, required local housing authorities to file reports to HUD showing how they were actively working to implement the Fair Housing Act that Congress passed in 1968 amid the riots after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and encourage integration of racially homogenized neighborhoods. Only a few cities had even begun to prepare those reports when HUD suspended AFFH shortly after Trump took office.

The administration officially rescinded the rule last week and replaced it with a new one that dropped the AFFH mandate on promoting racial integration, leading to Trump’s comments.

Ocasio-Cortez and Blumenauer, D-Ore., spoke in support of an amendment they co-sponsored to the $1.3 trillion spending bill that would prevent HUD from implementing the new rule. The two lawmakers also co-sponsored an amendment that 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 fair housing laws.  

The AFFH rule was intended to nudge public housing officials to take more proactive steps to reverse the lingering effects of housing discrimination and redlining, a practice in which Black residents were denied mortgages to buy homes in white neighborhoods. The impact was most pronounced in America’s post-war suburbs as whites moved out to towns developing along new highways, taking their school-supporting tax dollars with them and leaving Blacks in crumbling city centers.

Under AFFH, HUD could have, in theory, withheld federal funds from localities that weren’t doing enough, but few fair housing advocates expected stringent enforcement. 

The Obama administration rule sought to address that, Blumenauer said on the House floor.

“But the current occupant of the White House has instead rescinded the rule with his thinly veiled racist tweet suggesting individuals in suburbs will no longer have to be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in their neighborhoods," he said.

Blumenauer urged his colleagues to support the fair housing amendments "on the day we lay our friend, John Lewis, to rest." The funeral of Lewis, a civil rights icon and Georgia Democratic congressman for over 30 years, was held in Atlanta Thursday.

Trump’s decision to brag about killing a regulation that few voters have heard of comes as polls show him losing support in the suburbs, which remain 68 percent white, according to Pew Research Center data. Trump won the suburbs by 4 points in 2016, but two recent polls showed him trailing Democrat Joe Biden there by an average of 10 points.

In an appeal to white voters’ racial anxieties, Trump has suggested that the Obama administration integration rule would have led to an influx of low-income housing projects and their attendant social problems. His focus on AFFH’s theoretical impact on suburban housing prices stands in contrast to HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s justification for the replacement rule, Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.  

At a June Senate hearing, Carson said the administration’s new rule would address the “real reason for segregation” by promoting the building of more affordable housing in expensive neighborhoods.

Ocasio-Cortez’s amendments still have a long way to go before they become law. Senate Republicans will likely balk at including them in their spending measures and, under the terms of a two-year budget deal the parties struck last year, appropriations bills are supposed to be free of new policy riders.