On May 14, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State would be the first state to join a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for failing to enforce the Fair Housing Act, a measure that provides equal housing opportunities and access for all Americans, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability or familial status.
In January of this year, HUD said it planed to suspend the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) mandate by Oct. 31, 2020. The mandate requires state and local governments to correct segregated housing patterns and conduct fair housing assessments to receive HUD block grants, which can be used to fund residential and non-residential building projects.
“As a former HUD Secretary, it is unconscionable to me that the agency entrusted to protect against housing discrimination is abdicating its responsibility, and New York will not stand by and allow the federal government to undo decades of progress in housing rights,” Gov. Cuomo said in a press release.
“The right to rent or buy housing free from discrimination is fundamental under the law, and we must do everything in our power to protect those rights and fight segregation in our communities.”
Three civil rights groups, The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Texas Appleseed and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (Texas Housers), filed the lawsuit in early May and claimed “unlawfully suspended the requirement in January 2018, effectively removing civil rights oversight of as much as $5.5 billion per year until 2024 or later for almost 1,000 jurisdictions.”
“The Fair Housing Act is a commitment this country made to dismantle a legacy of government-sponsored segregation and inequality,” said Texas Housers communications director Christina Rosales in a conference call with reporters. “[AFFH] makes steps towards fulfilling that promise tangible.”
“For almost 50 years, HUD looked the other way,” she added. “And because of HUD’s decision to delay implementation of the rule, that’s what we’re getting back to. Cities and states will continue to breaking the law and HUD, which is supposed to be the defender and promoter of integrated communities will continue to condone that.”
In the face of possibly losing AFFH, New York State and New York City have created programs to ensure fair housing for its residents.
Last month, Gov. Cuomo proposed “Program Bill 23,” which offers protection for tenants who pay their rent with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Veterans Benefits or other non-wage income sources. The bill also addresses discrimination against minorities, domestic violence survivors, female-headed households, veterans, the elderly and those with disabilities.
“The right to rent or buy housing free from discrimination is fundamental under the law, and we must do everything in our power to protect those rights and fight segregation in our communities,” the governor said.
New York City also launched “Where We Live NYC,” a program that will focus on analyzing segregation throughout the city and planning ways to create inclusive communities.