One of President Trump’s most repeated talking points in the closing days of his campaign is that he’s saving the suburbs from incursions of undesirables (a transparent reference to low-income people of color), and in return he’s been begging suburban women – whom he assumes are all white – to “please like him.” What Trump says he’s saving them from is low-income housing, and the possibility that families living in urban areas could use their federal Section 8 vouchers to move into majority white neighborhoods with higher incomes and better schools.
A coalition of state and national civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in federal court on Oct. 22, claiming that a new Trump administration rule will make it much more difficult to challenge unfair housing practices in Connecticut and Rhode Island. The rule went into effect on Oct. 26.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Erin Boggs, executive director of Open Communities Alliance in CT, which is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. The lawsuit charges that the new Trump rule will make it much harder to overturn laws and policies that seem race neutral, but have a disparate impact on historically disadvantaged populations.
ERIN BOGGS: Open Communities Alliance is focused on the fact that Connecticut is one of the most segregated states in the country that’s racially, ethnically and economically segregated. And that level of segregation has all kinds of effects for racial disparity in many different arenas. So it can run from educational segregation, disparities in health outcomes, disparities in interaction with the criminal justice system and on and on. So we’re focused both on creating access to opportunities and housing that have been off limits for many black and Latino families in particular, and also supporting investments in communities that have been disinvested for generations.
MELINDA TUHUS: Your lawsuit talks about the damage that accrues to injured parties from disparate impact. Can you explain what that means?
ERIN BOGGS: You know, the notion of “disparate impact” — this is the idea that there are things that are beyond just intentional efforts to discriminate that need the protections of the Fair Housing Act. And those kinds of actions are actions that really come into in two forms. One is where you see statistically significant negative impact on one particular group. And the kind of work that we’re doing is really focused on when that negative impact is on lower income, black and Latino families. Or two, when a policy perpetuates segregation. So putting aside the negative impact, just the very notion that those lines of segregation are continued and hardened is a problem under the current law. The rule would have changed both of those things, made it very hard to prove that there’s disparate impact and really offered no way at all to make claims based on perpetuation of segregation. And our underlying claim here, the way that we became part of this effort was because we had an administrative claim before HUD, which asserted that the state of Connecticut had a law that both had a disparate impact and perpetuated segregation.
And that law is a law that says that all housing authorities in the state can only operate within their own towns. And when you have the largest housing authorities in the state established in towns with large populations of color and high levels of poverty, and then restrict them only to working within their own town borders, you perpetuate segregation and you have a disparate impact on black and Latino families. And so that’s the underlying cause of action or the underlying complaint for us — it’s just an administrative effort. And we filed that and the old rules were in effect. And then while our complaint was pending, the Trump administration tried to put these new rules into effect, changing the rules of a game in the middle of the game. So we had standing to assert that this was counter to the Fair Housing law, arbitrary and capricious and a real problem for the issue that we were raising.
MELINDA TUHUS: Erin Boggs, housing discrimination, despite the Fair Housing Act occurs all over the country. What difference do you think a Joe Biden presidency would have as opposed to four more years of Trump?
ERIN BOGGS: You know, we’ve seen how President Trump has made the notion of integration a boogeyman across suburbs in the country, or has tried, and based on my conversations with people around Connecticut over the last 20 years, and especially over the last six months, there is a greater understanding that we can do the right thing on integration and affordable housing and still have strong, sustainable, wonderful suburban communities. And there’s a recognition that what the Trump administration is doing is creating a false fear. And I’m hoping that people just don’t fall for that. You know, if Biden wins, the presidency will be in an excellent position to have either the original rule the pre-Trump rule back in place, or who knows, maybe even something better than that.