During the 2020 Democratic primary, housing policy played a far more prominent role than in any presidential contest in recent memory, as candidates released aggressive plans to combat rising costs, exclusionary zoning, and a wave of evictions. But the issue seemed destined to be relegated to the margins in the general election, amid more politically potent crises like the pandemic, police brutality and the push for racial justice, the economic collapse, and President Trump’s brutal crackdown on immigration.
And then, on Tuesday night, with a tweet (naturally), Trump pushed the subject right back to center stage.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but the first question is: Where did this tweet come from? After all, Joe Biden released his housing plan back in February, and it’s unlikely that the president just happened to decide, late in the evening four months later, to peruse the details. Generally, when Trump publishes a seemingly out-of-the-blue tweet, it turns out there was a Fox and Friends or Sean Hannity segment on the subject just beforehand. This time, the president’s information appears to have come from a Tuesday story by Stanley Kurtz in the National Review with the headline “Biden and Dems Are Set to Abolish the Suburbs.”
At the heart of the story, and of Trump’s tweet, is an Obama-era housing regulation. Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing was actually a provision of the 1968 Fair Housing Act designed to combat housing segregation, but compliance and enforcement were weak until the Obama administration released a rule in 2015 strengthening AFFH by tying federal community development grants to proactive efforts by communities to integrate neighborhoods.
Trump is now threatening to end the AFFH regulation, but, effectively, he already has. In 2018, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a two-year suspension of the requirement that localities submit plans to undo residential segregation. And earlier this year, HUD issued a proposal to take the teeth out of AFFH by essentially freeing communities from any obligation to tackle segregation.