The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently replaced an old fair housing rule with something resembling less a rule and more a suggestion.

The old rule, Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH), was put in place in 2015 to encourage HUD recipients to meaningfully address housing discrimination and segregation. It did this by making guidance for identifying impediments to fair housing and by requiring recipients of HUD funds to submit plans that incorporated steps to reducing or eliminating these impediments.

In January 2020, HUD released a new plan for public comment that rolled back some of the AFFH. The January plan would have required recipients to submit at least some certification that they were furthering fair housing. While many of the public comments said HUD was rolling the AFFH back too far, HUD decided to go in the opposite direction and roll it back even further.

The final rule was released in July 2020 with no option for public comment and took effect on September 8, 2020.

Now, HUD recipients are merely required to submit that they “took affirmative steps to further fair housing policy during the relevant period.”

HUD’s decision to eliminate the AFFH rule was due to its “federalism,” or overstepping of the federal government on local housing decisions. In its place, HUD has introduced the Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice rule, which, like the name, leaves the implementation of fair housing law basically in the hands of individual communities.

What is fair housing, anyway?

Fair housing organizations across the nation cried foul when the AFFH was rescinded and replaced by a gutted rule, without even allowing public comment. The new rule leaves the term fair housing up to individuals to decide. However, by eliminating all prior guidance, how is anyone to evaluate the level or quality of recipients’ fair housing steps? With no data required to be reported, how will anyone know whether fair housing goals are being met?

No one will know!

Real estate professionals may not think this new hands-off approach to fair housing regulation is necessarily a big deal. After all, focusing on home sales, they don’t often get involved with affordable housing struggles, which most often impact renters.

But fair housing is an integral part of the system that makes up our housing market.

Here in California, only 68 low-income units exist for every 100 low-income households, according to the Low Income Housing Coalition. The statistic worsens for very-low-income households, with only 32 affordable units available per 100 very-low-income households.

Everywhere across the state, but especially in our major coastal cities, we have seen the impact the low-income housing shortage has had on homelessness, which has skyrocketed over the past decade. Aside from the enormous social issue this has caused, rising homelessness is bad for home values and the broader community’s quality of life.

Further, there are plenty of lower-income households that could qualify to become homeowners — if the units existed and if they had access to rents that didn’t require them to spend half their income on housing, leaving nothing leftover to save for down payments. Think of the teachers, first responders and public service providers across the nation unable but willing and eager to buy who will be negatively impacted by this rule.

Fortunately for Californians, we have many, many more rules that encourage more housing for low- and moderate-income households. But our state’s progressive policies will not completely isolate us from federal rollbacks. After all, HUD still operates the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), public housing, Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) and various Community Development and Planning Block Grants.

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