Trump claims to save the 'suburban lifestyle dream' — but whose dream is it?

President Donald Trump recently tweeted that he's rescinding the Obama administration's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. But what is it?
There's a long history of federally backed housing practices that discriminate against people of color.
There's a long history of federally backed housing practices that discriminate against people of color.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
By Rheana Murray

It feels like everyone is talking about fair housing these days. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted about his support from the "suburban housewife" because he's ended a program where "low-income housing would invade their neighborhoods."

It's not the first time the president has talked about saving the suburbs.

Last month he announced that he is rescinding the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision that former President Barack Obama’s administration implemented in 2015.

That announcement left many Americans scrambling to figure out what AFFH even is — and what the rule’s repeal really means.

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What is AFFH?

First, some background: Spurred by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which included what's commonly known as the Fair Housing Act.

The goal of the act was to stop housing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or other factors. It made it illegal to refuse someone a mortgage loan because they are Black or deny renting an apartment to a couple because of their sexual orientation, for example. It also required that local municipalities work to “affirmatively further fair housing” — but there was no real method to enforce the law.

"The federal government was realizing that it was just a paper obligation, that it wasn't really meaningful," Olatunde Johnson, a professor at Columbia Law School, told TMRW.

So in 2015, Obama's administration created an AFFH provision that provided a framework for local governments to take "meaningful action" against discrimination and segregation in housing — and prove that it was working — in order to receive federal dollars.

The rule didn’t last long before it was suspended, though. Even before Trump took office, Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, had been critical of the AFFH provision. And in 2018, the new administration suspended the rule. (Some local municipalities, including New York City and Los Angeles, for example, chose to continue abiding by the plans they had created under the provision, although they were no longer required by federal law to do so.)

Now, Trump has taken a more definitive step and rescinded the rule entirely.

HUD called the AFFH rule "complicated, costly and ineffective," in a press release on its website last month.

"Washington has no business dictating what is best to meet your local community's unique needs," Carson said, in part, in a statement in the release.

Civil rights and affordable housing groups have condemned the action, calling it “unjustifiable and shortsighted” and “election-year race-baiting,” and are calling for the regulation to be reinstated.

As the president pointed out in Wednesday's tweet, Joe Biden has said that he will implement the AFFH rule once again if he wins the presidential election in November.

As for Trump’s reference to the suburbs, Johnson said she believes that is an overstatement of what the provision was doing.

“I think this is more about politics than about the intricacies of affirmatively furthering fair housing,” she said. "I think it's a dramatic mischaracterization of what the AFFH had the capacity to do. ... It also mischaracterizes the suburbs and how much they've changed in a lot of communities. There is more racial integration in the suburbs than there was (52) years ago when the Fair Housing Act was instated.

"You’re talking about fairness at the heart of this," she added. "Because we all contribute to the federal government through our tax dollars, and it can’t be used to benefit some communities and not others."

Want to learn more?

There's a long history of unfair housing practices in America.

For those who want to learn more about the federal government's role in housing discrimination and segregation, Johnson recommends the following books: