Housing Saves Lives
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
HOUSING SAVES LIVES: Affordable and fair housing was dealt another blow after it was reported last month that the Trump administration had rescinded the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. Dating back to the Obama administration, the AFFH rule sought to reduce fair housing obstacles by holding cities that receive federal money for housing accountable for any housing barriers or biases.
In a statement made by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, the AFFH rule was dubbed “unworkable” and “a waste of time.”
“After reviewing thousands of comments on the proposed changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) regulation, we found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most,” Carson noted in a press release.
The federal housing agency also announced a new rule that would drastically undermine protections for transgender and gender nonconforming people served by HUD programs. As proposed, this regulation equips emergency shelters with a list of ways to turn away members of marginalized communities, especially transgender people.
The proposed rule changes drew rebuke from organizations that support fair and open housing security, including the Bellingham-based Opportunity Council.
“Opportunity Council believes that everyone should have access to shelter in their time of need, as well as the opportunity to live in fair and desegregated communities. That’s why we stand strongly against the Trump administration’s recent actions to significantly weaken fair housing regulations and gut protections for transgender people who are homeless and seeking shelter,” Greg Winter, executive director of the Opportunity Council, said in a statement.
“First, we condemn the recently announced rollback of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act,” he said.
“Under the original AFFH rule, cities receiving federal subsidies were required to analyze and make plans to reverse racial segregation in housing. The administration’s latest actions nullify this rule and its intent by removing the original rule’s analysis and planning requirements. Instead, the new rule allows local governments to simply self-certify that they are meeting their fair housing obligations.
“We strongly oppose the administration’s dismantling of this critical rule,” Winter said.
“Our governments should confront the legacy of discriminatory housing policies as intended in the Fair Housing Act of 1968. At such a critical moment for addressing racial inequity, it’s clear we need to do more, not less, to provide equitable opportunity to all Americans, especially for a basic human need such as shelter.
“Second, we stand strongly against a proposed HUD rule change that guts protections for transgender people, leaving them vulnerable to being denied shelter and forced out onto the streets,” Winter said.
“HUD proposes that shelter staff would be able to determine a person’s gender based on their own visual observation and opinion; staff could then restrict access for a single-sex shelter program to match their opinion.”
Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate are moving to undo the new rule that could require transgender women to stay in men’s homeless shelters, saying it violates the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming federal protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people.
“This anti-transgender proposal directly targets a group that has historically and disproportionately suffered from the hardships of homelessness,” congressional representatives noted in a letter to the Trump administration. “Transgender individuals are far more likely than the general population to experience homelessness and discrimination while seeking emergency sheltering services. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one-third of transgender people experience homelessness at some point in their life and 70 percent reported mistreatment in shelter due to their gender identity.”
“We oppose such policies or laws that permit or encourage discrimination against transgender individuals,” Winter agreed.
“Especially during this global pandemic, access to safety and services that shelter guests receive—including connection to housing assistance—is even more critical. There could not be a worse time to scale back protections to our vulnerable neighbors who are experiencing homelessness and severe discrimination as transgender Americans,” he said.
“In rolling back these protections, HUD claims—with little to no evidence—that this action is based on safety concerns of other shelter guests.”
More than 300 domestic violence and sexual assault service organizations and coalitions signed onto a national consensus letter opposing all attempts to discriminate against transgender people, and they refuted that their programs were any less safe as a result of sheltering transgender women.
“In fact,” Winter said, “failing to shelter individuals according to their gender identity, which this proposed rule change would allow, does cause harm. A 2015 study that showed that more than 50 percent of transgender individuals were verbally harassed, physically attacked or sexually assaulted because of their gender identity.
“As allies, we stand with oppressed people. Their fight is our fight. We honor the leadership of transgender individuals and organizations that have told HUD ‘no’ to scaling back provisions of the Equal Access Rule.”
HUD will continue to accept public comments on the proposed rules through Sept. 22: http://www.housinsaveslives.org.