President Trump has added “suburbs” to his bogus list of things Democrats are going to “abolish.” Predictably, he is weaponizing racism to rescue his flailing reelection bid. To no one’s surprise, he could not be more wrong about the facts.
Trump began his latest white supremacist dog-whistle by tweeting that he “may END” a 2015 federal regulation called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). The rule, he claimed, “is having a devastating impact” on suburbs. Trump later said that Democrats would “destroy the suburbs.” Now, over the objections of his own experts, Trump is killing AFFH without any public input.
What is AFFH? It’s a rule promulgated by President Obama and his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to enforce the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The FHA requires the government “affirmatively to further” fair housing: that is, take real steps to end segregation.
The regulation is simple. If a community is maintaining segregation, it can’t receive federal infrastructure funding. To qualify for funding, every community must study its housing practices and plan to dismantle discrimination. Ending exclusionary zoning and building more affordable housing are priorities.
That is hardly radical. Richard Nixon’s HUD secretary—Mitt Romney’s father, George—pioneered a similar approach. And despite what Trump says, there’s no way AFFH is having a “devastating impact” now: He suspended it two years ago.
By dismantling suburban segregation, we can finally ensure communities of color and low-income people do not continue to bear a disproportionate share of pollution and the devastation of climate change.
AFFH could only “destroy the suburbs” if you view segregation and white supremacy as integral to the suburban experience. Trump may well see it that way; in the 1960s and 70s, he and his father excluded Black people from renting at their properties.
It’s not 1960 anymore. Suburbs are increasingly diverse. Since 2000, white suburban population fell from 76% to 68%. However, thanks to the legacy of redlining and exclusionary zoning—deliberate policies to create white and Black neighborhoods with vastly different access to resources—suburbs are still places where white wealth lives next to, but apart from, Black poverty.
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This separation affects the social services these communities can provide. Look to Westchester County, with its long history of housing segregation, as an example. Byram Hills High School, with 91% white enrollment, spends $39,302 per student, while Peekskill High School, with 87% Black and Latino enrollment, spends $25,486 per student. That opportunity gap follows students for life.
The federal government helped to segregate the suburbs. Today, the federal government needs to right that wrong. Without AFFH, communities will not even have to disclose data on segregation. Trump seems to think segregation is like COVID: If you don’t test for it, then it isn’t real.
We must see AFFH as a beginning, a first step toward envisioning suburbs that are inclusive and equitable places to live.
Inclusive and equitable suburbs build more affordable housing. In the United States, more than 7 million affordable rental homes must be built to meet present demand. The housing we do have is prohibitively expensive. Nearly half of American renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing. By encouraging the construction of housing that people can afford and discouraging exclusionary zoning, AFFH can help close the gap.
Inclusive and equitable suburbs advance fairness in education. Nearly 70 years after the Supreme Court was supposed to have ended school segregation, housing keeps schools separate and unequal. The discriminatory housing policies AFFH targets are responsible for 76% of the school segregation we see in America.
Inclusive and equitable suburbs center environmental justice. By dismantling suburban segregation, we can finally ensure communities of color and low-income people do not continue to bear a disproportionate share of pollution and the devastation of climate change. We must invest in public transit to connect our suburbs to cities, to each other, and to our jobs.
Trump says he’s gutting the AFFH in the name of “many great Americans who live in the Suburbs.” No, thanks. We can speak for ourselves.