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Why the Obama administration's new fair housing rules are a big deal for racial equality

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On Wednesday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced aggressive new rules designed to fight racial housing discrimination.

Civil rights advocates consider this development an enormous victory.

That's because the regulations are designed to further the goals of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits intentional discrimination (like refusing to show homes to African-American families or using race as a basis to withhold a loan). As the Hill explained, they give HUD the tools to address the effects of subtler forms of discrimination that can come in the shape of government policies that unintentionally harm minority communities.

As a result, two main things change for cities and towns that receive federal funds:

  1. They'll have to analyze their housing patterns for racial bias and report the patterns they find to HUD.
  2. They'll have to set goals to reduce housing segregation and propose remedies for how to achieve these goals.

HUD will provide jurisdictions and housing authorities with data on patterns – of racial segregation and poverty, for example – so that they can get a clearer picture of how these things overlap. Implementing the new rules will cost communities $25 million yearly, and HUD will spend $9 million overseeing them, according to the Hill.

Obama administration officials say they want to work with communities rather than punish them, but the rules do let HUD withhold its funding from areas that don't comply. That's part of the reason some Republicans don't like the new rules and have threatened to block funding for them. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) told the Hill they represented "President Obama's most aggressive attempt yet to force his utopian ideology on American communities disguised under the banner of ‘fairness,'" and accused HUD of "punishing neighborhoods that don't fall in line with [Obama's] liberal agenda."

Why the rules are such a big deal for racial equality

The new rules are a big deal for a couple of reasons. First, as the intense pushback against them indicates, they represent a significant change to housing policy that requires cities to actively work to eliminate segregation.

As Rob Breymaier, the executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, told the New York Times, "This rule makes it clear that the fair housing obligation isn't just being able to say, ‘I didn't discriminate,' it's also saying, ‘I'm doing something proactively to promote an integrated or inclusive community.'"

And of course, the whole point is that these actions by municipalities will eventually decrease housing segregation, which will ameliorate the kind of inequality that goes hand in hand with it. "It’s also fundamentally about people having opportunity in their lives," HUD Secretary Julian Castro said. " And where you live, in many ways, dictates the level of opportunity that you have."

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