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NAR: Setting the Record Straight on Fair Housing

HUD recently weakened a rule to affirmatively promote fair housing goals, and NAR objected to the decision. NAR’s director of fair housing policy says the policy was “baked into the original Fair Housing Act of 1968,” and nixing it is “a step backward in the drive toward equal housing opportunity.”

WASHINGTON – In recent weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of news reports and social media posts on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). Unfortunately, misinformation has circulated about actions taken by the current and former administrations to alter the rules. As a leader in expanding homeownership and housing choice, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has been working to inform members and the public about where this regulation comes from, what it means, and how it would affect Realtors®.

The “affirmatively furthering” provision of the federal Fair Housing Act is not new. It comes from the original text of civil rights legislation passed by Congress in 1968 in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The provision directed the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to ensure that neither the agency itself, nor the cities, counties or states it funds, to make decisions that further entrench patterns of segregation.

In passing that landmark law, the 90th Congress directed HUD and the recipients of federal funds to take active steps to promote equal housing opportunity and to erase the racial dividing lines that the government itself had helped to draw.

At the time of the Fair Housing Act’s passage, lawmakers were keenly aware of the federal government’s extensive role in creating and perpetuating America’s racially divided communities. Through early- and mid-20th century policies – which included denying federally backed loans in “redlined” neighborhoods, funding construction of suburban developments where restrictive covenants barred non-whites from buying homes, and denying the full benefits of the GI Bill to Black service members returning from WWII – the federal government provided support for white Americans to transition from renting to homeownership while locking Black Americans out of these opportunities.

By the time the Fair Housing Act passed, the homeownership gap and the resulting wealth gap were cemented into place, affecting the wealth and prospects of families for generations, up to and including today.

Behind the 2015 rule

Unfortunately, many jurisdictions accepted HUD funds but failed to fulfill their obligation to actively promote fair housing. For example, one community used HUD funds to build a water system that served only white neighborhoods. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized HUD’s implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s AFFH requirement. A regulation was enacted in 2015 to address these concerns.

When the 2015 AFFH rule was introduced, NAR offered public comments. While we believed that the regulation was more complex than necessary and cumbersome for some communities, we supported the underlying objectives and substance. We believed then, and do now, that Realtors and communities thrive when state and local governments take active steps to expand homeownership, invest in all communities and eliminate discrimination in the housing market.

The 2015 AFFH rule provided HUD fund recipients tools to allow them to examine local patterns of segregation and discrimination, and to propose a locally driven plan for addressing those problems

It did not prescribe federal policies for local governments to adopt. It was up to the funding recipient to engage in a community process to uncover its own problems and propose its own solutions. While, in theory, a recipient’s failure to submit such a plan could result in HUD withholding funds, this never happened in practice.

2018 and 2020: A weakening of fair housing

Implementation of the 2015 rule was halted in 2018 by the new administration. HUD sought input on what the department should consider in a new AFFH rule. At that time, NAR commented on the importance of allowing communities to determine for themselves what fair housing problems they face and how best to address them, while urging HUD to ensure that communities continue to reflect on and assess how current patterns of segregation can be traced to past public and private policies.

Then, in 2020, HUD issued a proposed rule that eliminated any obligation for recipients of its funds to examine and address segregation; instead, it emphasized housing production. Months later, HUD issued a final rule, “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice,” that scarcely resembled the proposed rule and required even less of recipients.

NAR expressed disappointment that HUD chose to weaken this critical provision of the Fair Housing Act.

Over the past 100 years, NAR has evolved from an organization that prohibited integration in its Code of Ethics to a leading advocate for fair housing rights. Our members benefit from strong, inclusive communities and expanding homeownership. NAR is committed to ensuring that Realtors work actively to fight discrimination in their communities and to provide every potential homeowner access to the home of their choice in the neighborhood of their choice.

Source: National Association of Realtors®. Before joining NAR, Bryan Greene served for 10 years as the highest-ranking career official in the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

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