Trump’s Racist Attack On Fair Housing Has Consequences

Trump's rollback of the Obama-era Fair Housing rule is not only a racist ploy that echoes his approach to business, it will have real-world impacts.
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In the chaos created by Donald Trump, things vanish almost within hours from our collective memories. Trump’s blatant racism should not be among them.

On July 29, 2020, Donald Trump tweeted, with not a dog whistle, but a train whistle, that he secured the “Suburban lifestyle dream:”

It’s not subtle. The tweet refers to his recent action to end a fair housing rule requiring local governments to create affordable, racially integrated housing to receive federal funding. Originally enacted under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to end segregation, in 2015 the Obama Administration gave Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) enforcement power, creating firm criteria local governments had to meet to get grants. Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden calls for implementing the rule within his affordable housing plan.

Like a child seeking attention, Trump made sure his bigotry could not escape his pro-racism demographic in a town hall, charging Democrats:

“[W]ant to eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.”

Trump falsely accused Democrats of wanting to “abolish the suburbs” and police.

He warned “suburban housewives” that Joe Biden was coming to “destroy your neighborhoods and your American dream.” Apparently these housewives live in a fictional version of the 1950s, though the racial segregation remains very real.

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth sums it up:

On its surface, this line from Trump is offensive and ludicrous, but it also has real-world consequences, as Trump ended fair housing rules even as the new economic numbers define grim: the US gross domestic product (GDP) plunged by a record-setting 32% in the span from April to June. From CNBC:

“Neither the Great Depression nor the Great Recession nor any other slump over the past two centuries have ever caused such a sharp drain on the economy.”

We are off into the economic abyss with Trump gleefully hacking away at the housing safety harness. While the COVID-19 relief bill, the CARES Act, placed a moratorium on evictions, the provision expired, and evictions are expected to soar.

Meanwhile, jobless claims are on the rise again. Add in the discrimination allowed by Trump, that Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are most likely to be homeless, with Black people, multiracial people, and Latinx people all experiencing homelessness at higher rates than white people, and we are on the precipice of a grave disaster.

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Affordable Housing Facts

Affordable housing looks at the cost of a place to live versus the percentage of income required to cover rent. In 2016, 44 percent of households spent more than 30% of their income on rent, the threshold the government uses to call housing “affordable.” For Millennials, that number goes up to nearly half of income.

And like most subjects in the US, this one has a history of racism. From the Center for American Progress’ excellent report on systemic discrimination in housing:

“…American lawmakers have long sought to secure land for, reduce barriers to, and expand the wealth-building capacity of property ownership and affordable rental housing. But these efforts have almost exclusively benefited white households; often, they have removed people of color from their homes, denied them access to wealth-building opportunities, and relocated them to isolated communities. Across the country, historic and ongoing displacement, exclusion, and segregation continue to prevent people of color from obtaining and retaining their own homes and accessing safe, affordable housing.”

While AFFH was intended to address these disparities, in practice, even the extra safeguards did not prevent discrimination. The Urban Institute utilizes “paired testing,” where two people get fictional backgrounds and both apply for housing, to measure housing discrimination against protected groups. In a 2012 joint study with Housing and Urban Development (HUD), conducted prior to President Obama giving AFFH “teeth,” paired testers found:

  • “Black renters who contact agents about recently advertised housing units learn about 11.4 percent fewer available units than equally qualified whites and are shown 4.2 percent fewer units. “
  • “Hispanic renters learn about 12.5 percent fewer available units than equally qualified whites and are shown 7.5 percent fewer units.”
  • “Asian renters learn about 9.8 percent fewer available units than equally qualified whites and are shown 6.6 percent fewer units.”

The Urban Institute also used paired testing to measure discrimination against LGBTQ+ home seekers, people with disabilities, and people with children, all groups formerly protected under AFFH.

It’s not an issue of the past, either, and without enforcement of the AFFH, it’s unlikely to improve. The Boston Globe reports on a study released on July 1, 2020:

“In subtle and overt ways, Black renters experienced discrimination by real estate brokers and landlords in 71 percent of the cases tested in the study by Suffolk University Law School.”

Affordable Housing, “Crime,” And Segregation

The narrative Trump pushes about affordable housing and crime is an old tune, with a melody of racism. Trump’s alleged “American dream” is more commonly known as “white flight,” or the exodus of white people from diverse areas to avoid living in diversity.

A phenomenon we generally consider in the past, researchers found in 2015 though “suburbs”, as a whole became more diverse, entire suburbs themselves were segregated. From The Atlantic:

“…[M]uch of that research looked at entire metropolitan areas, and found more minorities in suburbs, which led researchers to conclude that the nation was no longer divided into black cities and white suburbs. Lichter and his colleagues looked at smaller communities, and found that while black residents don’t just live in inner cities anymore, the suburbs they’ve moved to are majority black, while other suburbs are majority white.”

Trump trades on racist stereotypes to try to create fear in suburbanites. And a Harvard study bears out that there is a perception of greater crime when young Black men are present:

“Our research uses attitude indicators merged with neighborhood data from the census and official statistics to investigate how racial and nonracial neighborhood characteristics influence perceptions of neighborhood crime. Our results indicate that the percentage of young black men in a neighborhood is positively associated with perceived crime among neighborhood residents. This association remains strong even when we statistically control for many other neighborhood characteristics, including two measures of crime rates and measures of neighborhood disorder. In all three surveys, the standardized effect of percentage young black men is one of the best predictors of the perceived severity of neighborhood crime.”

The perceived crime rate was not based on actual crime rates. In fact, putting affordable housing in affluent neighborhoods or “high opportunity” areas through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program (LIHTC) has no effect on crime rates. Housing prices take a small dip, but: “[O]nly within one-tenth of a mile and if the high-opportunity neighborhood also lacks racial diversity.”

In “distressed neighborhoods,” the LIHTC housing increases property values and decreases crime rates. Poverty is a greater factor in the risk of crime victimization than race.

Trump Family History Of Housing Discrimination

Trump’s own family business, including his father, Fred Trump and Trump Management, was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in housing in 1973. In a typical Trump move, Trump tried to sue the government for “false statements.” The court dismissed his countersuit.

Exposed essentially by pairs testing, the New York City Human Rights Division sent in a white applicant after a Black applicant was told there were no units available. The white tester, Sheila Morse, said she received a warm welcome in contrast to the treatment given Black applicants. The Trump family business eventually settled.

And Jared Kushner’s company, glossy-faced husband of Ivanka Trump, faced lawsuits from tenants in Baltimore and in New York relating to affordable housing. As a result, Kushner is supposed to recuse himself from any policy regarding federally-assisted housing, as he accepts government subsidies at his properties.

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The Rantt Rundown

Betting on open racism, Trump tried to stoke fear in white suburbanites that “they” are coming to get them, killing an anti-discrimination affordable housing rule as the economy historically plunges. Trump ended the enforcement protections of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) on July 23, 2020, with little fanfare; he used his racism to justify and draw attention.

Trump, his father, and his company settled a housing discrimination suit by the DOJ and his son-in-law profits from government-subsidized housing. Like all things relating to Trump, the AFFH move looks like one motivated in part by racism, in part by resentment, and in part by money. None of that detracts, however, from the potential consequences of rescinding the rule.

With the economy gutted by Trump, with evictions resuming, with unemployment skyrocketing despite already being at the worst levels since the Great Depression, Trump has a clear intent to shift the consequences of his economic disaster onto people of color in general, and Black people specifically. Studies as recent as July prove that discrimination in housing remains a devasting issue. All people of color are more likely than white people to experience homelessness even without the added strain of Trump’s massive failures.

We can marvel at the brazenness of Trump’s racist tweets and statements, but more important are the actual consequences of his policies. Ending AFFH as a housing catastrophe looms is a whole new level of cruelty, even for Trump.

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News // Barack Obama / Donald Trump / Government / Housing / Racism