Housing Policy

Trump's Bizarre Twitter Attack on Obama-Era Fair Housing Regs Reveals an Administration at War With Itself

The president's criticism of the 2015 AFFH rule is an implicit attack on his own housing reforms.

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The White House appears to be at war with itself on housing policy, following a late-night tweet from President Donald Trump that echoes right-wing criticisms of his own administration's pending, free-market-themed revamp of federal fair housing regulations.

Late Tuesday, Trump tweeted out an unprompted attack on the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, a 2015 regulation that required jurisdictions receiving federal housing funding to complete lengthy "assessments" on existing obstacles to fair housing, and then prepare plans for eliminating those obstacles.

"At the request of many great Americans who live in the Suburbs, and others, I am studying the AFFH housing regulation that is having a devastating impact on these once thriving Suburban areas," said Trump on Twitter. "Corrupt Joe Biden wants to make them MUCH WORSE. Not fair to homeowners, I may END!"

That tweet set off a storm of criticism from Democrats and progressives, who denounced the president's threat to end the AFFH rule as tantamount to bringing back segregation.

The Democratic response to Trump's tweet doesn't capture the full debate happening among conservatives, who have long criticized the 2015 AFFH, or the fact that the policy is overly burdensome and needs retooling. The assessments mandated by Obama-era rule saw jurisdictions producing 800-page reports that dived into everything from access to public transportation to labor market outcomes. Some grant recipients struggled to complete these assessments at all.

Since 2018, the Trump administration has been in the process of replacing it with something that incentivizes local governments to repeal regulations on housing construction.

"I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place," U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Carson told The Wall Street Journal in 2018 when announcing the administration's plan to replace the AFFH rule. "I would incentivize people who really would like to get a nice juicy government grant" to reform their zoning codes.

In January 2020, HUD released the text of a proposed replacement rule that would require recipients of HUD funds to report on more narrow measures of housing affordability and quality, and then propose three concrete steps for improving those measures. Jurisdictions that showed improvement over time could be rewarded with additional grant money.

Progressives and housing activists have criticized the Trump administration's approach as insufficient for truly guaranteeing fair housing. Without the original AFFH's voluminous reporting requirements, they argue, both HUD and HUD grant recipients will lack the information they need to address long-standing patterns of segregation and concentrated poverty.

The Trump administration's approach has also been criticized from the right by those who've argued that trying to incentivize local jurisdictions to repeal regulations on new housing threatens suburban communities' local control.

"All the administration's proposed HUD rule does is change the AFFH requirement from a left-wing social engineering experiment to a right-wing attack on local control," wrote Jordan Bloom in The Daily Caller in February.

On Tuesday, National Review published an article by Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center which warned ominously that Joe Biden and Democrats wanted to use the AFFH to "abolish the suburbs."

"Once Biden starts to enforce AFFH the way Obama's administration originally meant it to work, it will be as if America's suburbs had been swallowed up by the cities they surround," wrote Kurtz. Suburban communities, he continues, "will even be forced to start building high-density low-income housing. The latter, of course, will require the elimination of single-family zoning. With that, the basic character of the suburbs will disappear."

Far from fighting against this dystopia, Kurtz argues Carson's HUD is embracing it.

"What Carson has developed so far is something you might call 'AFFH lite,'" writes Kurtz. "[Carson] still wants to use HUD money to gut suburban single-family zoning."

The fact that Trump's tweet attacking the AFFH closely mirrors Kurtz's rhetoric, and the fact that it came the same day as Kurtz's article, suggests something beyond coincidence, says Michael Hendrix of the Manhattan Institute.

"Someone got [the Kurtz article] into Trump's hands. Trump reads it and tweets. It's as simple as that," Hendrix tells Reason. And while Trump's tweet was explicitly going after Biden, by echoing the Kurtz article it was implicitly attacking the reforms being proposed by his own administration.

"There's a fight between different factions and different visions of housing reform," within the administration, Hendrix says, with a more free-market-inclined HUD on one side and suburban partisans on the other. This fight is now spilling out into the open.

Hendrix says that there are good policy reasons to support the reformed AFFH rule as proposed by Carson's HUD. Having localities report on a few straightforward measures of housing affordability would highlight cities where local policymakers are getting things right while sending a message to expensive, over-regulated jurisdictions.

Just getting rid of the AFFH rule—as Kurtz proposes and Trump has now threatened to do—also isn't really an option, says Hendrix. The rule is an attempt to implement the 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA) requirement that federal housing programs be administered in a way "that affirmatively furthers fair housing."

Getting rid of the Obama-era AFFH doesn't repeal the FHA's underlying requirement that the federal government has some kind of regulation on the books ensuring their grant programs are furthering fair housing. Any effort to simply gut the law would likely see the courts impose their own solution or simply reinstate the old AFFH rule unchanged, says Hendrix. Indeed, Carson's suspension of the AFFH rule without a ready replacement sparked a lawsuit from the National Fair Housing Alliance demanding the rule be reinstated.

The comment period for the new AFFH rule the Trump administration proposed in January closed back in March. Everyone is now waiting for the publication of a finalized rule.

Obviously the most libertarian solution would be to eliminate all federal housing grant programs, giving Washington regulators little to bicker about.

But given that those grant programs exist, and that federal law attaches some strings to their administration, some form of regulation is required. Carson's proposal to rewrite these rules to incentivize sensible free market reforms on the part of jurisdictions receiving federal grants is probably the best implementation limited government advocates can hope for presently.

Should Trump decide to scrap his own pending fair housing reform, as his tweet suggested he might, it would be a loss for free markets, and likely just result in the return of the old Obama-era AFFH that no one in his administration likes.

NEXT: Mary Trump Temporarily Enjoined from Publishing Memoir—But Injunction Lifted as to Her Publisher

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  1. That tweet set off a storm of criticism from Democrats and progressives, who denounced the president’s threat to end the AFFH rule as tantamount to bringing back segregation.

    Told me all I need to know.

    1. pretty much.

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  2. Just as an aside, if it were true that President Trump were willing to criticize policies his own administration enacted because of feedback from the people it impacted, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The worst thing is leaders who can’t ever admit that something they did had flaws and maybe should be changed.

    1. Admitting he did something wrong – yeah, Trump is really good at that.

      1. It’s fun how you managed to turn Ken’s observation into an opportunity to cry like a fucking bitch

      2. Actually, Trump has backed down from plans because of a public push back on a number of occasions. Even The New York Times thinks so.

        His announcement last December that he was pulling all American troops from Syria was dramatically revised after pushback from foreign allies, lawmakers and his military advisers. This June, he approved military strikes on Iran in retaliation for its downing of an American drone, then canceled them. Last month, facing market turmoil and concerns from retailers and business groups, Mr. Trump postponed imposing additional tariffs on some Chinese consumer goods until after the start of the Christmas shopping season. He also floated the idea of cutting payroll taxes to goose the economy, only to reverse himself a day later with a declaration that the economy was plenty “strong.” Responding to back-to-back gun massacres, the president vowed to push for “sensible, important background checks” — until the National Rifle Association voiced its displeasure.

        https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/08/opinion/trump-policy-reversals.html

        They interpret that in its worst possible light, but on the question of whether Trump sometimes reverses himself in reaction to public opinion, the correct answer is “yes”.

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    2. We were always at war with Afghanistan. Trump and the Republicans are cowards trying to flee the battlefield that will be ours in a few more bloody years.

  3. the best implementation limited government advocates can hope for presently.

    I can hope for more Britches. I hope Trump admin ends all federal involvement in housing. I don’t expect it though.

    1. Haha, “Britches,” haven’t heard him called that in a while.

      [pours out some two buck chuck on the floor in Citizen X’s memory]

      1. Yeah it was fun watching your boo tuck tail and flee

    2. What, follow the constitutional limits on federal actions and spending? I don’t see either major party ever doing that, or even a very large group of Americans calling for it. We went from the land of the free to the land of free stuff, and we’re never going back.

      1. We’ll go back when we run out of money and the Chinese own us.

  4. Koch brother polling must have found that war on the suburbs is polling great with independents. Quick nip it in the bud. We need to get the Republican Party back to being the Koch bros personal play toy.

  5. “Someone got [the Kurtz article] into Trump’s hands. Trump reads it and tweets.”

    We have no real indication that President Trump can read. As the President actions were in keeping with his “us against them” themed strategy, I am guessing Steven Miller read the article and suggested the action to Trump.

    1. I had the same thought. Him not reading is the excuse for not knowing about the taliban-Russian bounties now, after all.

      1. So you’re saying you were wrong when you said he was definitely briefed.

        1. Gasbag Blowhard,
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          He’ll take your vote,
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          He’ll tax your money,
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          Your pussy, He will grab,
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          1. Why are you talking to yourself?

            1. I’m talking to YOU, who everyone knows, cofensses every waking minute, to being a shit-eater! AND a maggot-gargler!

  6. Obviously the most libertarian solution would be to eliminate all federal housing grant programs, giving Washington regulators little to bicker about.

    Yes, eliminating these grants would definitely minimize political bickering.

  7. “I would incentivize people who really would like to get a nice juicy government grant” to reform their zoning codes.

    Free market Republicans at it again…

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  9. Leave it to Reason to shame any progress towards deregulation that has the most significant (seems to be) 5-letter word attached to it: “Trump”.

    “Just getting rid of the AFFH rule—as Kurtz proposes and Trump has now threatened to do” …. but Reason will pull a catch-22 excuse and make up excuses as to why deregulation is worse than not deregulating.

    So maybe it isn’t a complete abolishment of the FHA — but it’s trimming the “pork” which is one step closer to it.

  10. From the desk of “Libertarians for forced integration, federally imposed zoning, and subsidized high density housing.”

  11. >>”I am studying …”<>”Someone got [the Kurtz article] into Trump’s hands. Trump reads it and tweets. It’s as simple as that,” Hendrix tells Reason.<<

    Studying, reads?: Every day, Am. media attributes to the Pres. powers & abilities he neither has nor has ever had. So if he insists he is the Pres. for Life, it's because ALL pop media–including the evil "fake news"–endow him daily w/ miraculous powers even more than they did when he was the bumpkin biz man from NYC, squandering the old man's fortune on simple baubles & bangles.

  12. Have I missed something? I seem to remember something about giving everyone who qualified for the AFFH Program $2,000 a month for housing costs. No news reporting mentions this.

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