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Sue Dorfman, Lawyers Committee, (202) 662-8317, email@example.com, Jessica Aiwuyor, NFHA, (202)898-1661, firstname.lastname@example.org, Kelli Johnson, Texas Appleseed, (512)473-2800 x103, email@example.com, Christina Rosales, Texas Housers, (512)477-8910, firstname.lastname@example.org
A coalition of national fair housing groups today asked a federal court in Washington, D.C., to order the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reinstate a federal requirement that local and state governments address segregated housing patterns as a condition of receiving HUD funding. The complaint, filed on behalf of The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Texas Appleseed, and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (Texas Housers), alleges that HUD unlawfully suspended the requirement in January 2018, effectively removing civil rights oversight of as much as $5.5 billion per year until 2024 or later for almost 1,000 jurisdictions. In its place, HUD proposes that funding recipients revert to a fair housing planning process that HUD itself and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have found is ineffective.
"With this lawsuit, the civil rights community is standing up to Secretary Ben Carson and fighting back against an egregious attempt to roll back a hard fought victory," said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule is a critical part of ongoing work to address structural racism and inequality today. Through this lawsuit, we are taking action to hold HUD accountable and ensure that HUD fulfills its mission of addressing ongoing racial segregation and housing discrimination which persist across the country today."
The obligation to "affirmatively further fair housing" (AFFH) has applied to all HUD funding since the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. But it was not until July 2015 (47 years later) that HUD adopted the first effective set of federal regulations--known as the AFFH Rule--to guide the compliance efforts of local and state recipients of HUD's block grant funds. The AFFH Rule was adopted after years of study and consultation with stakeholders; HUD considered more than 1,000 formal comments before finalizing the Rule. Before HUD's unlawful suspension of the AFFH Rule, advocates around the country had convinced many local governments to adopt strategies to eliminate housing discrimination and promote residential integration.
For some municipalities, the AFFH Rule would be delayed until at least 2024, affecting the lives and opportunities of millions of people. By suspending implementation of the Rule, local municipalities will receive government funds with no accountability.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that HUD's attempt to delay and dilute the AFFH Rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which sets out procedural and substantive requirements for the adoption and modification of federal regulations. HUD failed to provide advance notice or opportunity to comment on the suspension and failed to articulate any plausible reason for the suspension. Plaintiffs also allege that HUD's action violates HUD's own AFFH duty. The plaintiffs seek a court order requiring HUD to restart the implementation of the AFFH Rule immediately.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the law firm of Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), and Public Citizen Litigation Group.
Under HUD's pre-2015 process, jurisdictions throughout the country routinely ignored problems of segregation and discrimination while continuing to collect HUD funds. For instance, Muskegon County, Ohio, overlooked complaints over several decades from a predominately African-American neighborhood that was denied access to public water service, even as surrounding white neighborhoods were served. Westchester County, New York, repeatedly certified its compliance with AFFH requirements even as it steered affordable housing developments into the most segregated neighborhoods in the county and permitted many white jurisdictions to resist affordable housing altogether. And Houston, Texas, has repeatedly closed its eyes to unequal municipal drainage systems in which predominantly white communities are protected from storm surges with engineered drainage while communities of color are relegated to open ditches that predictably overflow into adjoining homes.
The AFFH Rule created a greatly improved system for HUD grantees, including local governments, states, territories, and public housing authorities, to fulfill their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. The Rule's required Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) is an in-depth, holistic planning process that leverages data and robust community participation to inform the selection and prioritization of measures to overcome entrenched barriers to housing discrimination, residential integration, and access to opportunity.
Under the Rule, HUD grantees must conduct AFHs on a regular schedule by using a HUD-approved tool. HUD reviews the AFHs and either approves or rejects them. In stark contrast, the pre-2015 process did not require jurisdictions to submit their fair housing plans to HUD. In fact, the GAO's analysis found that many jurisdictions did not even complete them. These jurisdictions were falsely certifying to HUD that they were fulfilling their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing when they were not doing so.
"For thirty years, NFHA has promoted the affirmatively furthering fair housing requirement of the Fair Housing Act. We have advocated to HUD to release an effective AFFH Rule, educated jurisdictions, fair housing groups and community-based organizations about the AFFH requirements, and implemented programs designed to further fair housing," said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of NFHA. "Each day HUD holds up requiring jurisdictions to fully comply with the law is another day that millions of people are being denied fair housing opportunities. HUD's action is a clear example of 'justice delayed, justice denied'."
The need for vigorous HUD oversight of its grantees' compliance with fair housing laws is especially apparent in Texas. Plaintiffs Texas Appleseed and Texas Housers have a long track record of working to ensure the equitable use of federal housing and community development funds in the communities they serve, particularly in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes. The AFFH Rule is needed now more than ever as a bulwark against an unequal rebuilding process in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
"We have spent over a decade working with state and local governments to provide understanding that segregation is not an accident--it is the product of decades of intentional government policy," said Madison Sloan, Director of Texas Appleseed's Disaster Recovery & Fair Housing Project. "Reversing segregation is critical--and not just for the communities that have been denied access to safe, decent neighborhoods through exclusion and disinvestment. It is research-based policy that benefits everyone. HUD's unlawful suspension of the AFFH rule is a huge step backward in the movement to create equitable, inclusive communities."
"Today, we challenge HUD's outrageous disregard of a landmark civil rights law. Fifty years after our nation made a commitment to end housing discrimination, too many cities and states still use government funds in ways that deprive people of housing choices and maintain residential segregation," said Christina Rosales, Communications Director of Texas Housers. "HUD painstakingly engaged in a multi-year public process to create a rule to put a stop to these illegal actions. Then in January, without due process and in violation of HUD's sacred obligation, Secretary Carson suspended that rule and has forsaken civil rights enforcement. Since Secretary Carson has refused to do his job, we ask the courts to direct him to do so."
"It took HUD almost 50 years to create an effective way to 'affirmatively further' fair housing--one that would actually eliminate the barriers that keep people of color trapped in segregated, low-opportunity neighborhoods," said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel. "For Secretary Ben Carson and HUD to wipe away the rule just as it was beginning to take effect is shameful and contradicts what has been a fundamental principle of HUD's mission. The court must order HUD to reinstate this critical rule and ensure that the agency does not take any arbitrary or illegal actions that threaten access to safe and affordable housing."
"The communities we work with have looked to the AFFH Rule to realize the legacy of the civil rights movement, and to help fulfill their modern-day dreams of equality and racial inclusion. This administration has chosen to obstruct that progress. With the rule suspended, our tax dollars will continue to be used, in effect, to underwrite continuing segregation, lack of housing choice, and unequal opportunity throughout our country. We must restore the AFFH Rule and together move forward again," said Megan Haberle, Deputy Director of PRRAC.
"What HUD has done in suspending the AFFH Rule can only be described as dereliction of its solemn duty to ensure that federal housing funds are distributed only to jurisdictions that comply with their civil rights obligations," said Michael Allen, partner in the civil rights firm Relman, Dane & Colfax. "Flouting the rule of law, HUD's action signals to every jurisdiction in the country that there will be no consequence for civil rights violations, and that HUD has no interest in helping cities, counties and states to expand housing opportunities for their residents."
"Domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness for women and children. The AFFH rule played a crucial role in prompting communities to address the fair housing needs of domestic violence survivors, families with children, and others who have long been ignored. It needs to be reinstated," said Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU's Women's Rights Project.
Read the full complaint, here.
The Lawyers' Committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to enlist the private bar's leadership and resources in combating racial discrimination and the resulting inequality of opportunity - work that continues to be vital today.(202) 662-8600
"This is great news for the forest, the salmon, the wildlife, and the people who depend on intact ecosystems to support their ways of life and livelihoods," said one advocate.
Indigenous and green groups on Wednesday applauded the Biden administration for reinstating protections for millions of acres of wilderness in Alaska's Tongass National Forest that were lifted during a Trump-era regulatory rollback spree.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Wednesday that it has finalized protections for the Tongass National Forest by restoring "longstanding roadless protections to 9.37 million acres of roadless areas that support the ecological, economic, and cultural values of Southeastern Alaska."
The Roadless Rule was established in 2001 to protect wilderness areas in U.S. national forests from roads and logging. The administration of former President Donald Trump rescinded the rule in 2020 amid a flurry of regulatory rollbacks, prompting a lawsuit from a coalition of Indigenous, conservation, and business organizations. The Biden administration subsequently committed to reviving the Roadless Rule in 2021.
"As our nation's largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Wednesday. "Restoring roadless protections listens to the voices of tribal nations and the people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region's economy."
\u201cThe moment we\u2019ve been waiting for! \ud83c\udf32\ud83c\udf89 Roadless Rule protections have OFFICIALLY been reinstated in Tongass National Forest! This will restore federal protection to just over 9 million undeveloped acres in America\u2019s largest national forest.\u201d— The Wilderness Society \ud83c\udf33 (@The Wilderness Society \ud83c\udf33) 1674680022
According to the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife:
The Tongass contains rare expanses of pristine old-growth forest and as many as 17,000 miles of creeks, rivers, and lakes. These waters abound with all five species of Pacific salmon, which anchor the economy of Southeast Alaska. Approximately 1 million visitors come from all over the U.S. and internationally each year to see its glaciers, old-growth forests, and abundant wildlife.
The Tongass supports an incredible array of biodiversity and is home to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, brown bears, bald eagles, northern goshawks, and Pacific marten, among others. The Tongass is also one of the world's largest carbon reservoirs, storing the equivalent of about 8% of the carbon stored in all the U.S. forests combined. In addition, a broad coalition of tribal leaders, outdoor recreation businesses, and conservationists in Southeast Alaska have fought to preserve the region's remaining cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees.
"The restoration of National Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest is a great first step in honoring the voices of the many tribal governments and tribal citizens who spoke out in favor of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass," said Naawéiyaa Tagaban, the environmental justice strategy lead at Native Movement. "We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this first step toward long-term protections for the Tongass. We hope that going forward true long-term protections will be established that do not rely on a rule which can be changed at the whim of a presidential administration."
"The administration must look to tribal sovereignty and Indigenous stewardship as the true long-term solution for protections in the Tongass," Tagaban added. "Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people have lived in and managed the Tongass national forest for generations; true protections will look like the restoration of lands into Indigenous ownership."
\u201cBREAKING: The Biden administration has finalized the Roadless Rule on the Tongass! This is thanks to years of hard work by Tribes, small businesses, conservation groups, and Tongass supporters like yourself! \n\nFor more information, see https://t.co/pORem4DCcM \n\n#ProtectTheTongass\u201d— SEACC (@SEACC) 1674679664
Kate Glover, senior attorney at EarthJustice, said her group applauds the Forest Service "for making good on its commitment to tribes and to the climate by restoring the Roadless Rule across the Tongass. This is great news for the forest, the salmon, the wildlife, and the people who depend on intact ecosystems to support their ways of life and livelihoods."
Teague Whalen, who owns Tongass Teague, asserted that "there are two uncompromising realities for the survival of life on this planet: clean air and clean water."
"My hiking tours into the Tongass begin at the literal end of our road, where the Roadless Rule reinstatement will ensure that the Tongass can continue to be a lasting carbon sink," Whalen added.
"DeSantis decided to deny the potentially life-changing class and effectively censor the freedom of our education and shield us from the truths of our ancestors," said prospective plaintiff Elijah Edwards.
Three high school students represented by attorney Benjamin Crump are planning to sue Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for rejecting a new high school Advanced Placement African-American studies course, the prominent civil rights lawyer said Wednesday.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, DeSantis rejected the pilot course in AP African-American studies being tested by the College Board—the organization behind the SAT exam—as he believes it "lacks educational value" and violates the state's Stop WOKE Act by promoting critical race theory (CRT). There is little to no evidence that CRT—a graduate-level academic discipline examining systemic racism—is being taught in any K-12 school in Florida, or anywhere in the United States.
"Are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America's students across the country about Black history?"
"We are here to give notice to Gov. DeSantis that if he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African-American studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida, that these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit," Crump said during a Wednesday press conference at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, referring to students Elijah Edwards, Victoria McQueen, and Juliette Heckman.
Victoria McQueen, a junior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, said that "there are many gaps in American history regarding the African-American population. The implementation of an AP African-American history class will fill in those gaps."
"Stealing the right for students to gather knowledge on a history that many want to know about because it's a political agenda goes to show that some don't want... the horrors this country has done to African-Americans to finally come to light," she added.
\u201cLIVE NOW: A \u2018Stop the Black Attack\u2019 rally is being held in response to FL Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to block an Advanced Placement course on African American studies https://t.co/wDRhWv433m\u201d— NowThis (@NowThis) 1674668042
In Florida, those "horrors" include the centuries-long experiences of slavery and Jim Crow, including 20th-century atrocities like the Ocoee and Rosewood massacres and lynchings like the Newberry Six —events that shaped the state's modern history.
Another one of the students, high school sophomore Elijah Edwards, said that "Gov. DeSantis decided to deny the potentially life-changing class and effectively censor the freedom of our education and shield us from the truths of our ancestors."
"I thought here in this country, we believe in the free exchange of ideas, not the suppression of it," he added.
Also present at the press conference were Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-63), Florida Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Dianne Hart (D-61), state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-35), American Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer Fedrick Ingram, and National Black Justice Coalition executive director David Johns.
"By rejecting the African-American history pilot program, Ron DeSantis clearly demonstrated he wants to dictate whose story does and doesn't belong," said Driskell.
He wants to control what our kids can learn based on politics, not on sound policy. He repeatedly attacks the First Amendment rights of Floridians with books being banned from libraries and classrooms and now throwing his weight against this AP African-American history course. He is undermining the rights of parents and students to make the best decisions for themselves. He wants to say that I don't belong. He wants to say you don't belong... But we are here to tell him, we are America. Governor, Black history is American history and you are on the wrong side of history.
Acknowledging that the course "will be altered and resubmitted and most likely they'll be able to make enough changes for the governor to approve it," Driskell asked, "but at what cost? Are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America's students across the country about Black history?"
\u201cWhen DeSantis taught school, according to some of his students, he told them that the Confederacy had a point because they "lost property" and that abortion "was wrong". Hypocrite. Was that HIS WOKE agenda? \nVisit https://t.co/LNnmmhjyvZ.\u201d— Dr. Marvin Dunn (@Dr. Marvin Dunn) 1674575816
"Accurately teaching our history is not political until others make it so," Driskell asserted. "How is political to talk about the struggles we've endured? How is political to talk about and to remember our history?"
"The truth is the truth; you can't change it, it simply is," she added. "But if you try to sugarcoat it, if you refuse to teach it accurately, then the truth can be suppressed, it can be diminished, and if we're not vigilant, it can even be erased."
The governor also signed a law requiring "media experts" to ensure that all books in Florida classrooms are "free of pornography," are "appropriate for the age level and group," and contain no "unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination." Violators face felony charges, leading some teachers to cover or remove books from their classroom libraries for fear of running afoul of the law.
\u201cMy latest. \n\nBlack journalists knew from the jump that the end game of the CRT panic was to justify legalizing anti-Black efforts.\n\nFlorida and DeSantis are showing us what was under their *ahem* hoods this entire time. \n\nhttps://t.co/3dtnSB0lXu\u201d— Karen Attiah IS ON INSTAGRAM @karenattiah (@Karen Attiah IS ON INSTAGRAM @karenattiah) 1674666471
DeSantis stridently touts himself as a champion of "freedom."
"Together we have made Florida the freest state in these United States," he said during his 2022 State of the State address. "While so many around the country have consigned the people's rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom's vanguard."
"The decision to halt fracking was exceedingly well-reasoned, and I hope the court rejects the oil industry's reckless attempt to overturn the 9th Circuit's ruling," said one campaigner.
The American Petroleum Institute and a pair of oil companies filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in a bid to overturn a lower federal court ruling that blocked fracking in public waters off California's coast.
"The decision to halt fracking was exceedingly well-reasoned, and I hope the court rejects the oil industry's reckless attempt to overturn the 9th Circuit's ruling," Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in a statement. "Fracking is dangerous to whales, sea otters, and other marine wildlife, and this dirty, harmful technique has no place in our ocean."
CBD and the Wishtoyo Foundation sued the Trump administration to stop offshore fracking in 2016. Then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a similar case.
In 2018, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez ordered a prohibition on permits for offshore fracking in federal waters off California, ruling that the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) had failed to adhere to multiple federal laws.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Gutierrez's decision last June, arguing that the DOI violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act when it allowed fracking in offshore oil and gas wells in all leased public waters off California.
In late August, the Biden administration, of which Harris is the vice president, asked the 9th Circuit for an en banc review to overturn the panel's ruling.
The Biden administration's request, which drew the ire of environmentalists because it would have enabled offshore fracking to resume, was denied in September.
"Fracking is dangerous to whales, sea otters, and other marine wildlife, and this dirty, harmful technique has no place in our ocean."
In its June ruling, the 9th Circuit stated that the DOI "should have prepared a full [environmental impact statement] in light of the unknown risks posed by the well stimulation treatments and the significant data gaps that the agencies acknowledged."
Instead, the agency "disregarded necessary caution when dealing with the unknown effects of well stimulation treatments and the data gaps associated with a program of regular fracking offshore California in order to increase production and extend well life," the 9th Circuit wrote.
The panel's decision prevents the DOI from issuing fracking permits until it completes Endangered Species Act consultations and published an environmental impact statement that "fully and fairly evaluate[s] all reasonable alternatives."
In addition to the fact that offshore fracking increases planet-wrecking greenhouse gas emissions, tens of millions of gallons of toxic fracking wastewater have been dumped into the ocean since 2010.
According to CBD scientists, "At least 10 chemicals routinely used in offshore fracking could kill or harm a broad variety of marine species, including sea otters, fish, leatherback turtles, and whales."