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Putting Fair Housing Investigations on Back-Burner, Trump's HUD Abandons Core Mission

"For all intents and purposes, this administration is stopping the enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws at the worst possible time."

The Housing and Urban Development Department—tasked with ensuring that fair housing practices are followed—has all but abandoned its mission, critics say, by halting investigations into housing discrimination. (Photo: Culture:Subculture Photography/Flickr/cc)

The Trump administration's Housing and Urban Development (HUD) appears for the second time this month to be abandoning its core mission of ensuring that all Americans have the right to fair housing, according to reporting by the New York Times.

At least six major investigations into housing discrimination have been frozen since Ben Carson was confirmed as HUD Secretary last year, the Times found.

Earlier this month, civil rights groups condemned Carson for removing anti-discrimination language from the agency's mission statement.

"For all intents and purposes, this administration is stopping the enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws at the worst possible time," Gustavo Velasquez of the Urban Institute told the Times. "It's not just the lack of an agenda, which is what I thought we were dealing with for the first year or so, but an attempt to reverse all the advances we made through regulations and enforcement actions."

Velasquez served as assistant secretary for fair housing during President Barack Obama's administration, when former Secretary Julian Castro opened multiple investigations into unjust housing practices.

One probe was opened after the California city of Hesperia introduced a "Crime Free Rental Housing Program," which prohibited the creation of group homes for parolees and former offenders in various neighborhoods. The investigation has been delayed since Anna Maria Farías, head of HUD's Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity division, ordered a hold on it in November.

Farías also closed a preliminary investigation into Facebook, which has been accused of allowing housing advertisers from excluding users from seeing their content based on the users' race, ethnicity, and other identifying characteristics.

"Facebook's platform is the virtual equivalent of posting a for-rent sign that says 'No families with young kids' or 'No women'," Fred Freiberg, the executive director of Fair Housing Justice Center, told the Guardian this week as his organization filed a lawsuit against the company this week. "But it does so in an insidious and stealth manner so that people have no clue they have been excluded on the basis of family status or sex."

HUD has also stopped investigating Houston mayor Sylvester Turner's decision to end development of Fountain View, a mixed-income apartment complex in an affluent, mostly-white neighborhood. Critics, including the Obama administration's HUD, have said Turner killed the plan in order to win Republican lawmakers' support for an overhaul of the city's pension system, and to appease white residents who had protested the complex.

"Fountain View was kind of the last stand. We spent eight or nine years documenting systematic and pervasive racial discrimination in Houston—it is an open-and-shut case," John Henneberger, a director of Texas Housers, told the Times.

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