President Donald Trump sought to stoke racial divisions Wednesday as he touted an administrative rule change on housing that he hopes will appeal to White suburbanites who have been abandoning him amid his handling of coronavirus and his views on race.
Trumpeting his rollback of an Obama-era rule meant to combat segregation, Trump informed “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,” Trump went on in his message posted to Twitter. “I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”
Speaking in Texas later, Trump underscored his view that affordable housing has no place in American suburbs.
“You know, the suburbs, people fight all of their lives to get into the suburbs and have a beautiful home. There will be no more affordable housing forced in to the suburbs,” he said. “It’s been going on for years. I’ve seen conflict for years. It’s been hell for suburbia. We rescinded the rule three days ago so enjoy your life, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy your life.”
He was referring to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, a mandate enacted in 2015 as a way to bolster the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which outlawed restrictions on selling or renting homes to people based on race (and which Trump and his father were accused in a federal civil rights case of violating in 1973).
Despite the Fair Housing Act being in effect for decades, many neighborhoods still remained segregated, with communities of color less likely to have access to good schools, health care and public programs necessary to help citizens rise out of poverty. AFFH was considered essential to further level the playing field for underprivileged populations.
In its official definition of the rule, the Department of Housing and Urban Development says AFFH is designed “to take meaningful actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination.”
But Trump and his advisers have characterized the rule as overly burdensome and moved to reverse it starting in 2018.
Trump has taken to proclaiming the move now in an attempt to reverse his slide among White suburban voters, who helped propel him to the White House in 2016 but are now souring on his performance.
Linking to an article about the rule last week, Trump instructed, “The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article.”
The President’s political advisers have watched with concern as polls show support for him softening particularly among suburban women, including those without college degrees – due both to his handling of the pandemic and his divisive views on race – according to people familiar with the matter.
Yet Trump’s appeals to the suburbs have largely ignored their increasing diversity. Whites now compose only about half or less of the population in some of the largest suburban counties around America, including around cities such as Atlanta, Orlando, Phoenix, Denver, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas and Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, which are emerging as critical election battlegrounds in 2020 and beyond.
Last week, the Trump administration announced it was dismantling the rules that required local governments to demonstrate progress against housing discrimination in exchange for grants in what the President cast as a win for suburbs.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s new plan, announced last Thursday, requires localities to self-certify that they are doing something – rather than nothing – to promote housing fairness. The rule says applicants for HUD grants “generally … must take an active role rather than be passive.”
Gone is the 92-question assessment the Obama administration instituted in 2015 to determine compliance, as well as Clinton-era requirements that local authorities analyze “impediments to fair housing choice within its jurisdiction” and take action to remedy them.
The new rule does not require a period for public comment, HUD said in announcing the change. It previously proposed changes to the Obama-era rule in January, but said “when the President reviewed the proposed rule, he expressed concern that the HUD approach did not go far enough.”
Critics said the rollback removes racial protections. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said it will “eviscerate all oversight of state and local government compliance with fair housing laws.”
But HUD said its new rule “gives local communities maximum flexibility in designing and implementing sound policies responsive to unique local needs, and eliminates overly burdensome, intrusive and inconsistent reporting and monitoring requirements.”
Trump posted online last month that he believes the Obama-era rule “is having a devastating impact on these once thriving Suburban areas.”
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s housing plan calls for reinstating the 2015 rule.
CNN’s Ron Brownstein contributed to this report.