Donald Trump’s usual racist dog whistles have given way to full-throated, shameless racist TRAIN whistles as the election of 2020 approaches. Nowhere is this more evident than in his appeal to “white suburban housewives” (his words) when he speaks of Joe Biden who, Trump alleges, “will destroy your neighborhood and your American dream.” He amplifies and underscores this hateful message by saying “[Senator] Cory Booker will be in charge of forcing low income housing into our beautiful suburbs, bringing with it drugs and crime.”
Why is Donald Trump using such alarmist language, even forecasting “an invasion of low-income people into our suburbs”? He is railing against language included in the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Obama Administration regulations implementing that language, which the Trump Administration has now canceled.
Here are the facts on this crucially important issue. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 for the first time prohibited racial discrimination in all forms of housing transactions, from rentals to mortgage transactions and everything in between. We are all familiar with those prohibitions, and even though discrimination still exists, fair housing enforcement is carried out in various ways. What you may not be aware of is that the Act also requires governmental entities receiving federal funding to “affirmatively further fair housing” through meaningful actions to overcome the Jim Crow legacy of segregation, both de facto and de jure, unequaltreatment, and the historic lack of access to opportunity in housing.
The Obama regulations to implement this part of the Fair Housing Act were put forth in 2015 after extensive consultation and negotiation with all affected parties. Many localities resisted what they felt were burdensome paperwork requirements and less than clearly stated goals and targets to satisfy the requirements of the regulations. When the final rule was announced there was widely held support for the regulations, including local government organizations such as the US Conference of Mayors and real estate organizations such as the National Association of Realtors.
In July of this year the Trump Administration replaced the regulations with a weak set of guidelines and set of best practices, but with no enforcement mechanism. Localities who receive federal funding for community and economic development will continue to be free to thwart the goals of the Fair Housing Act, by prohibiting affordable housing development except in less than desirable locations in their jurisdiction or even blocking the development of affordable housing altogether.
Perhaps even worse than the effect of weakening the opportunity for affordable housing for the millions in need is the undisguised racism that Trump’s use of this issue is unleashing in the campaign unfolding before us. He who claims to have done more for minority Americans than anyone is now boldly using the specter of a “low income invasion of the suburbs” to scare and further divide Americans in a year in which the state of race relations is front and center on the national stage. This is surely “leadership” of the worst kind, and we can and must do better.
Joe Biden is strongly committed to enforcing the statutory requirement to affirmatively further fair housing. What’s more, Joe Biden is committed to ensuring federal housing aid for all those in need. Currently, through Section 8 and public housing programs we serve about one in four families or individuals who are eligible for such aid under federal law. Joe Biden is the first national candidate I am aware of who would make housing assistance an entitlement just like food stamps. Housing is a basic human need and it should be free of racial discrimination and economic barriers for all Americans.