President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Belmont University on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump participates in the final presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at Belmont University on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The ACLU and other groups have filed suit against the federal government to stop the rule change from going into effect.

A coalition of legal and civil rights organizations in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island has filed suit against the Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying changes they are making to a housing rule will lead to more discrimination.

The Trump administration recently amended a rule that aimed to protect minority communities from policies that may appear innocuous, but ultimately have a “disparate impact” on those communities. The new regulation shifts the burden of proof, making it more difficult to prove discriminatory housing practices. It would require the person bringing the complaint to show that a less discriminatory alternative would be “equally effective.” The change is slated to go into effect Oct. 26. 

The protection against “disparate impact” policies goes back to the Civil Rights Act of 1968, more commonly known as the Fair Housing Act. It prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. 

The legislation was meant to prevent future discrimination and reverse decades of government-sanctioned housing segregation that kept people of color locked in neighborhoods with little access to jobs, healthy food and other resources. Under the act, housing providers, municipalities, and other entities were required to remove policies that may appear neutral, but have an adverse effect on housing opportunities for marginalized communities, especially when there is no legitimate business need for the policy. 

“The Trump administration has launched yet another attack on civil rights by gutting one of the key tools used to defend our right to fair housing and combat housing discrimination,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

If HUD succeeds in removing the Fair Housing Act’s protections, landlords could evict survivors of domestic violence for calling the police, for example, under policies that punish tenants for criminal activity in their homes. They could enforce restrictive occupancy limits that would eliminate families with multiple children. And low-income people seeking to live in wealthier neighborhoods to access better-resourced schools could be denied housing vouchers from public housing authorities, perpetuating racial segregation. 

This continues the administration’s attacks on housing protections and President Donald Trump’s pattern of using racism to appeal to voters. In July, the administration repealed the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which required cities and towns that receive federal housing money to track patterns of poverty and segregation in their areas and undergo scrutiny regarding the data in order to qualify for the funding.

“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” the president tweeted. “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”

He continually paints lower-income citizens, immigrants and people of color as “criminals” destroying the suburbs and framing the suburbs as overwhelmingly white and middle class–neither of which are true.

“Suburban women, they should like me more than anybody here tonight because I ended the regulation that destroyed your neighborhood,” he said at an October campaign rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. “I ended the regulation that brought crime to the suburbs… I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?”

A 2017 study from Princeton University found that the percentage of white residents in suburbs of the nation’s major cities had decreased from 93% in 1970 to 68% in 2010. And more suburban voters voted Democratic in the 2018 midterm elections, returning them to a majority in the House of Representatives. A 2017 study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that over the last 10 years, refugees contributed $63 billion more in taxes than it cost to settle them in the United States.