Democrats demand action from Biden on affordable housing

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The Biden administration is under growing pressure to finalize a policy hailed by progressive Democrats as essential to ensuring people of color have access to affordable housing.

A group of 28 House Democrats is demanding the Biden administration quickly issue the long-pending policy amid growing anxiety that it won’t be released or would be released late enough in the president’s term that it could be subject to rollback by a potential Donald Trump administration.

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which is designed to close gaps in the Fair Housing Act, has sat in regulatory limbo since it was proposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development more than a year ago.

“Until the AFFH rule is released, the Fair Housing Act’s promises to prevent discrimination and affirmatively further fair housing will remain unrealized, even 56 years after its enactment,” the group of 28 Democrats, led by Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) and Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden first obtained by POLITICO.

Last week, the leaders of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus made a similar request to Biden.

An administration spokesman declined to comment on a pending regulation. A HUD spokesperson said the rule is going through the interagency process.

A chief concern of the AFFH rule supporters is that the clock is ticking for the Biden administration to release regulations that cannot easily be rolled back if Trump is reelected, along with GOP majorities in both chambers. Regulations finalized within the last 60 legislative days of the term are subject to such rollback. When that will hit in 2024 is not yet clear because legislative days can change.

“Renters face unacceptable discriminatory barriers when accessing quality and affordable housing, and fair housing laws on the books aren’t being properly enforced since this critical rule was eliminated by the Trump administration,” Gomez said in a statement. That’s why Democrats are “urging the Biden administration to right this historic wrong, properly regulate fair housing laws and allow them to actually be enforced.”

The AFFH rule implements the Fair Housing Act’s requirement that HUD and groups that receive HUD funding don’t just pledge to avoid discrimination in housing policy, but also take affirmative steps to avoid it and to make up for decades of discriminatory actions in housing.

The Obama administration wrote the policy, which was undone in the Trump administration, when officials argued it placed too much of a burden on localities and represented federal overreach. The Biden administration rewrote the rules in a way that are similar to the Obama administration’s policy.

“The No. 1 thing I hear from my constituents is that housing is increasingly and consistently unaffordable,” Jayapal said in a statement, calling the AFFH rule “a step in the right direction.”