WASHINGTON — Three fair housing groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration Tuesday, arguing it illegally suspended a program requiring state and local governments to take steps to desegregate communities or risk losing billions of dollars in federal funds.
The nonprofit groups filed the 60-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and HUD Secretary Ben Carson.
The suit centers on HUD’s suspending — until at least 2024 — a 2015 Obama administration requirement that state and local governments receiving HUD funds must assess housing segregation and its causes and devise detailed plans to overcome them.
HUD’s move, the suit says, removed from civil rights oversight as much as $5.5 billion in federal funds to almost 1,000 jurisdictions.
The obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing” lies at the heart of the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968. But the groups that filed the suit said the first effective federal regulations toward that end came 47 years later, with the Obama administration requirement.
“HUD’s suspension of the [Obama-era requirement] is causing irreparable harm to Plaintiffs and to others in communities across the country,” lawyers for the fair housing groups wrote in the suit. The plaintiffs argue HUD’s move would lead to more housing discrimination, and the plaintiffs said they have been forced to “divert scarce resources” from other anti-housing segregation efforts in response to HUD’s action.
In the suit, the housing advocates said HUD violated federal law on revising federal rules.
“Basically, this action, I would say is best described as lawless,” Sasha Samberg-Champion, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.
“Each day HUD holds up requiring jurisdictions to fully comply with the law is another day that millions of people are being denied fair housing opportunities,” said Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Fair Housing Alliance, the lead plaintiff in the suit. “HUD’s action is a clear example of ‘justice delayed, justice denied.’”
Under the Obama-era rule, most jurisdictions had to submit plans to counter housing discrimination every five years, starting in 2016. Those that failed to receive HUD approval were cut off from further federal housing funds.
But in January, HUD, led by Carson — who has called his own agency’s housing desegregation efforts failed “socialist experiments” – said the requirement created too much red tape for jurisdictions and that the agency had to spend too much money revamping plans.
At the time, HUD told jurisdictions to stop submitting the anti-segregation plans.
Explaining its decision in January, HUD released a statement saying: “The Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn’t working well. HUD stands by the Fair Housing Act’s requirement to affirmatively furthering fair housing, but we must make certain that the tools we provide to our grantees work in the real world.”
A HUD spokesman declined comment Tuesday.
Joining the National Fair Housing Alliance as plaintiffs in the suit were Texas Appleseed and the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service.