Tuesday, April 24, 2018

HUD Sued Over Affordable Housing Rule

By on October 23, 2017

SAN JUAN – Several civil rights organizations sued the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Monday, challenging its decision to suspend a rule that would have assisted low-income families in securing affordable housing.

HUD’s decision impacts not only needy families in the mainland U.S., but also thousands of Section 8 beneficiaries in Puerto Rico, whose options for subsidized housing will be limited.

According to a statement, five organizations—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. (LDF); Relman, Dane & Colfax law firm; Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC); Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Public Citizen Litigation Group—represent the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A screenshot of www.avp.pr.gov showing a Public Housing Administration map of Puerto Rico’s municipalities.

The federal government’s Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program—formerly known as the Section 8 voucher program—subsidizes the housing costs of more than two million low-income households in the U.S., according to a statement.

HUD’s Small Area Fair Market Rent (Small Area FMR) rule would have improved the way the value of housing vouchers is calculated by allowing low-income families access to a broader market of rental properties. The lawsuit challenges HUD’s delay of the rule’s implementation.

“The new rule gives families the purchasing power to move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods instead of being confined to segregated and impoverished ones,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF president & director-counsel, in a statement. “But the rule doesn’t just open the door to a wider variety of housing choices. Families would also be able to choose better schools, jobs, healthcare, and even better grocery stores. HUD’s delay will needlessly deprive families of access to these staples of stable communities.”

The HCV program is intended to enable families to secure affordable, modest housing in the private market. Too often, however, the vouchers’ allowable rent value does not provide participating families a meaningful housing choice.

The current formula calculates the value of housing vouchers based on entire metropolitan areas without regard to differences in housing costs from neighborhood to neighborhood. Using this formula, the value of a housing voucher is often too low for families to move to better neighborhoods, reinforcing residential poverty.

The new HUD rule helps cure this problem by changing how housing voucher amounts are calculated.

In 2016, HUD issued the Small Area FMR rule, changing the housing voucher formula for 24 metropolitan areas. In each metro area, the rule would require voucher amounts be based on the average rent values by zip code. The new formula, in effect, raises the allowable rent amount for thousands of participating families and gives them more choices. The department’s decision, however, delays enforcement of the new rule—scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2018—until January 2020, in 23 of the 24 jurisdictions.

“Time and time again, this administration has acted to pull back public benefits and public protections provided by law,” said Allison Zieve, director of Public Citizen Litigation Group, in a statement. “Here again, it has done without following well-established legal requirements that exist to protect Americans from unreasonable and unlawful agency action.”

As explained in the complaint, the suspension of the Small Area FMR rule is unlawful because HUD failed to follow appropriate administrative procedure rules requiring an opportunity for public comment and failed to provide sufficient justifications for the change. The lawsuit also alleges HUD’s action violates its duty under the Fair Housing Act to spend federal funds in a way that affirmatively furthers fair housing, rather than increasing racial segregation and concentrated poverty. The plaintiffs seek a court order requiring HUD to implement the new Small Area FMR rule on schedule.

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