WASHINGTON | Judge upholds delay of anti-segregation housing rule

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has upheld a decision by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to delay an Obama-era anti-discrimination rule.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday threw out a lawsuit filed by a group of civil rights organizations challenging HUD’s delay of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.

Finalized in 2015, the rule for the first time required more than 1,200 jurisdictions receiving HUD block grants and housing aid to analyze housing stock and come up with a plan for addressing patterns of segregation and discrimination. If HUD determined that the plan, called a Fair Housing Assessment, wasn’t sufficient, the city or county would have to rework it or risk losing funding.

HUD said in January that it would immediately stop reviewing plans that had been submitted but not yet accepted, and jurisdictions won’t have to comply with the rule until after 2020. The agency said the postponement was in response to complaints from communities that had struggled to complete assessments and produce plans meeting HUD’s standards; of the 49 submissions HUD received in 2017, roughly a third were sent back. In delaying the rule, HUD reverted to its previous process for evaluating discrimination in housing.

“What we heard convinced us that the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn’t working well,” HUD said in the statement. “In fact, more than a third of our early submitters failed to produce an acceptable assessment — not for lack of trying but because the tool designed to help them to succeed wasn’t helpful.”

Civil rights organizations including National Fair Housing Alliance, Texas Appleseed and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service sued HUD and Secretary Ben Carson earlier this year. The suit argued that Carson didn’t follow the procedures necessary to suspend such a rule, and that the delay violates the Fair Housing Act, which requires jurisdictions to take active steps to combat segregation.

Howell rejected the groups’ request for a preliminary injunction and blocked the state of New York from joining suit. She wrote in her order the delay of the AFFH rule hasn’t caused harm to the groups or impeded their ability to do their jobs.

Howell wrote that because “portions of the rule are still in effect, such as the new definitions of furthering fair housing and community engagement requirements,” the fact that other pieces of the rule, such as the assessment tool “are presently dormant does not translate to the dismantling and suspension of the AFFH Rule in a way that affects the plaintiffs’ mission-driven activities.”

“The extent to which the challenged HUD notices directly conflict or perceptibly impede the plaintiffs’ mission-oriented activities seems difficult to measure, or, in other words, are imperceptible,” she wrote.

“We are deeply disappointed that the court did not recognize the importance of immediately and fully reinstating the mechanisms needed to implement the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule,” the National Fair Housing Alliance said in a statement.

Last week HUD proposed changes to the rule and solicited public comments on possible amendments.

By JULIET LINDERMAN , Associated Press