Legislation Takes Aim at Fair Housing Plans and Federal Data

In the early days of the new Congress, legislation was again introduced to undo new fair housing planning regulations and limit housing data provided to local and regional planners. While the legislation is not new, the potential for undermining HUD's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH) and targeting federal data is all too real.

Issues of housing, social equity, and access to data are critical APA legislative and policy priorities, and APA will again vigorously oppose the legislation.

Introduced in January, the Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017 (HR 482, S 103) nullifies the final rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing issued on July 16, 2015, and also makes the related local "assessment tools" related to the AFFH rule ineffective.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), goes even further by prohibiting federal funds from being used for the HUD database that contains geospatial data on racial disparities and access to affordable housing. This data was designed to help communities and regions conduct the AFFH planning analysis.

APA has been a strong proponent of improving the quality and usability of federal data and opposed previous attempts to limit the use of federal data for local planning decisions. Unfortunately, the attack on federal data is likely not limited to fair housing.

A perennial target for some in Congress, the American Community Survey is also likely to be threatened this year. APA will continue to be a strong voice in Washington, D.C., for the preservation of local decision making based on sound, readily available federal data.

The requirement for communities to plan and act on "affirmatively furthering fair housing" has long been in place as a critical part of the landmark federal Fair Housing Act of 1968. The new rule, considered by many to be a signature legacy of HUD during the Obama administration, sought to improve the regional analysis of fair housing. The rule provided significant changes to the required consolidated plan. As part of the process, HUD is to provide communities with a variety of new data and support a regional approach to the planning.

The work on AFFH is still in its infancy, with the first communities subject to the new rule now moving through the process.

In addition to undermining the rule and sending a chilling message on fair housing, the measure would also create great uncertainty for communities. It would halt the investments and work communities have already committed to completing their assessments of fair housing.

Some communities were already taking advantage of support for a regional approach to their assessment and plan. Some early examples of this innovative work were noted during the development of the HUD Prosperity Playbook work in which APA was a leading partner.

Critics of the rule charged that it would allow HUD to rewrite local zoning and land use rules. Rep. Gosar was successful last year in getting the measure added as an amendment to the annual Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill. While the amendment survived in the House, the Senate did not include it in its appropriations measure.

It was widely recognized that including the amendment would cause the bill to fail — either on the floor through a filibuster or by a veto by President Obama.

Though the dynamic in Washington has shifted with the inauguration of the Trump administration and GOP majorities in the House and Senate, the challenges in Congress for this bill are still largely the same. This bill or similar amendments may pass in the House, but Senate Republicans still don't have a 60-vote majority they would need to move spending bills without the support of at least some Democrats. This means they will rely on the support of all Republicans and at least eight Democratic or Independent Senators to pass most legislation.

It's not impossible that a bill containing this legislative language will pass, but the hurdle is high. Regardless, APA will continue to oppose it.

The attitude of HUD to AFFH implementation also bears watching closely.

The presumptive HUD Secretary, Ben Carson, made disparaging remarks about AFFH during his presidential campaign but was largely silent on the issue during his confirmation hearing. Carson did note in his hearing remarks that he felt some local land use regulations were an obstacle to housing affordability and social mobility. He also suggested that one of his early actions as Secretary would be to undertake a national "listening tour" to get input from local leaders.

APA has noted the problems with the proposed legislation and urged Congress to allow implementation of AFFH. It should also be noted that APA also worked with HUD to improve the rule and make it more workable for local and regional planners.

APA has also raised opposition to efforts limiting or undermining vital federal data.

We will continue to engage lawmakers on these critical issues and urge members to become involved.

Top image: The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) web pages offer a mapping tool. Here, 2010 data on Race/Ethnicity Trends in New York City. Screen shot from https://egis.hud.gov/affht/.

About the Authors
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy. Tess Hembree is policy manager at Advocacy Associates.

February 3, 2017

By Jason Jordan, Tess Hembree