The federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has withdrawn its controversial regulation subjecting landlords to invasive local reviews of their rental properties to see whether there are “any barriers to fair housing, housing patterns or practices that promote bias.”

 Suspension of the regulation, dubbed the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, will also free localities from laborious analyses of “patterns of racial bias in their neighborhoods” – a welcome change. 

“After reviewing thousands of comments on the proposed changes to the AFFH regulation, we found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most,” said HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson.”

Under the old, Obama-era rule local governments receiving funds from HUD – which is virtually all of them – were required to report the results of their reviews every three to five years.  Localities were also obligated to identify the goals they have set for reducing segregation in housing and report those and the progress they were making to achieve them.  Now, they don’t.

Not surprisingly the withdrawal was hailed by practitioners as welcome news.  “Attempts to develop workable AFFH regulations have been unsuccessful and local governments’ (efforts toward) compliance did little to advance fair housing,” said Chuck Fowke, Chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).  “There now is a great opportunity to truly advance the goals of the 1968 Fair Housing Act and we look forward to the Trump administration and HUD working with the many stakeholders to achieve those goals.”

No further action is required for the regulation – the AFFH rule has been replaced by a friendlier, more sensible one entitled “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice”, which simply asks localities to certify that they practice non-discriminatory housing policies.  The new regulation appears in the Federal Register as a final rule – no more public comments will be accepted.  

The rule change is part of President Trump’s government-wide initiative to reduce federal regulations and ranks as one of his best.  For one thing, the action stunts the growth of the federal government – it ends the imperative for establishing a brand new division at HUD or the Justice Department to read a bunch of reports and send arcane directives up and down the chain of command.  

Secondly, stunting government growth extends to the locals, as well, reducing upward pressure on local budgets.  In fact, under the Obama rule many if not all communities from coast to coast would have to set up taxing units of governance to handle the new workload.  Now, they won’t.  Indeed, if successful Trump’s action should lead to lower development fees – reducing the cost of new housing.  

Thirdly, the rule change erases profound ambiguities, lack of clarity with regard to enforcing fair housing.  It ends complications and confusion that was vexing program applicants.  For example, many program participants found it difficult to navigate the language used in the regulation and complete analyses required to “identify impediments to fair housing”.  These same participants also found the term “segregation” confusing and, therefore, difficult to mitigate the condition.

Fourthly, the withdrawal eliminates redundancies.  Localities have been for more than 60 years obligated under federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, age, sex and other factors.  Local governments should be tasked with adopting safeguards for ensuring against a violation rather than writing frivolous reports.  Likewise, these localities ought to be able to certify that the safeguards have been put in place – as the new regulation requires.  

Finally, the new rule stops the temptation to “socially engineer” behavior and policies to guarantee certain outcomes.  Under the previous rule some localities mistakenly thought that racial integration was its goal and, therefore, set policies designed to accomplish preferred results – forcing specific living arrangements.  HUD’s recent action reaffirms the regulation’s true objective – to eliminate barriers that may exist to achieving a free and open market to all ethnicities.  

The sentiments of the Obama administration in advancing the old AFFH regulation were honorable.  As Americans, we all favor a color-blind way of life and should do everything in our power to remove impediments to that way of life.  However, Obama’s rule didn’t do that.  It just meant more civil servants further nosing around in the affairs of localities and handling thousands of reports.  Secretary Carson was probably right when he called it “an overreach of unelected Washington bureaucrats into local communities.”

Here’s a thought.  The best form of non-discrimination is to expand housing choices.  A better message to locals:  start building!