Donald Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department didn’t start when he decided to enter the political arena. In 1973 when he was just 27 years old and fresh out of business school, he held a press conference (yes, he used to do those) outside a hotel in Manhattan and referred to what he called the government’s “outrageous lies”.
These comments were in response to a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division against Trump Management Company run by Trump’s father, Fred. The organization was being charged with racial discrimination in renting and managing some 39 buildings it owned, thus violating the Fair Housing Act.
One former employee alleged that Fred Trump told him not to rent to blacks, and that Trump clearly knew this was against the law. The same employee claimed that the elder Trump wanted to “get rid of blacks” who were in his building by telling them they could get cheaper housing elsewhere and offered to pay the down payments himself. Another allegation by the anonymous employee was that codes were used on rental applications to distinguish between blacks and whites. The employee was eventually fired.
In true Trumpian style the Trump Management Co. countersued the government for $100 million in damages. (The lawyer representing the Trump’s was none other than Roy Cohn.) The suit never went to court with both parties entering into a consent decree. The Trump’s admitted no wrong-doing but from that point on were required to advertise that they offered equal opportunity in housing.
Let’s take a brief look at the history of the Fair Housing Act the Trump’s were accused of violating, because it’s relevant to some recent activity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under Secretary Ben Carson.
The Fair Housing Act, formally known as The Civil Rights Act of 1968, was intended to provide for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion, or national origin. The Act, which saw serious pushback for years (It was the most filibustered legislation in U.S. history up to that point.) was finally signed into law by President Johnson just one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The following forms of discrimination are banned by the law:
In 2012 HUD’s office of Fair Housing and Opportunity prohibited LGBT discrimination in federally assisted housing programs. In regard to non-federal housing, sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t protected under the Fair Housing Act, but 22 states have passed such legislation. Pennsylvania isn’t one of them. (Numerous municipalities in PA have signed their own non-discrimination ordinances. See our post from September, “Location, Location, Location”.)
Although the Fair Housing Act made significant strides in combating discrimination, there were aspects of the legislation that were underdeveloped. The Obama administration sought to make several improvements that would advance the law further.
Then 2016 happened. Julian Castro was out as HUD Secretary and Ben Carson was in, and he decided it was time to rearrange the furniture.
Carson attempted to delay for two years implementation of the Small Area Fair Market Rent (SAFM), which is designed to give Section 8 housing voucher recipients more choice in where to live. In yet another reminder of why the courts are so important, the district court of Washington, D.C. ruled last month that HUD must enforce the Obama-era anti-segregation measure beginning January 1st, 2018 as originally scheduled.
Not only would the SAFM rule give recipients more choice, they would also be protected from price gouging. HUD calculates “fair market rent” by averaging rents across a metro area. The subsidy is capped at the fair market rent value. The vouchers often fall short of the amount needed to cover the rent unless the recipient lives in a low-income or impoverished area. Because many voucher recipients are people of color, one could argue that the program was actually reinforcing segregation. The Obama-era SAFM rule made a small but important change-fair market rent would be calculated by averaging a nearby zip code rather than across an entire are, allowing the value of the voucher to rise.
SAFM was vetted for a number of years, and Carson gave little explanation for wanting to delay it. It is yet to be seen whether Carson will appeal the district court’s ruling.
But there’s more than one way to breach the castle walls. If starving the inhabitants doesn’t succeed, this administration will surely man the catapults. On Friday, HUD announced it will delay enforcement of a second Obama-era rule, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule that would have required communities to address patterns of racial segregation.
Under AFFH communities must review their housing policies in regard to segregation and submit a plan known as an Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) to address any abuses. Failure to submit a plan could cause communities to lose block grants and aid from the government. Carson didn’t repeal the rule outright, but again is trying to delay further implementation.
Based on his history, Carson’s delaying tactics are likely intended to undermine anti-segregation efforts and HUD itself. In 2015, he wrote an op-ed calling the AFFH rule “an experiment in failed socialism. Carson’s activity at HUD is part of a broader pattern by the Trump administration to undo anything Obama accomplished. And Trump’s actions in general certainly give credence to the old adage-Like father, like son.
posted by Amy Levengood