Civil rights groups announced this week that they are taking the next steps in a lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Urban Development that claims it unlawfully suspended an Obama-era rule intended to promote racial integration and combat discriminatory housing practices.

HUD effectively suspended the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, a 2015 regulation that required any community receiving HUD development block-grant funding to routinely identify instances of racial segregation and provide solutions to counter them. Those local governments were required to submit a summary of their findings and goals to HUD for approval.

In January, HUD extended the deadline for submitting those assessments, and on May 18 the department withdrew the assessment tool for complying with the rule without providing the required public notice or comment period. Claiming the tool was too complicated to use, HUD reinstated an older process, which housing advocates say gives jurisdictions a free pass to use billions in grant dollars without proper oversight.

Lisa Rice, the president and chief executive officer of the National Fair Housing Association, one of the groups involved in the suit, said the lack of public notice or comment opportunities was what prompted the suit. Housing advocates say communities just needed time to adapt to the new requirements, which created a promising mechanism to fight housing discrimination.

“It’s been 50 years that we’ve been trying to further fair housing, and we’re still rolling back the clock,” Rice told HuffPost. “That’s so frustrating. So many people saw so much promise in the AFFH rule. They’re seeing that promise being snatched away.”

Supporters viewed the Obama-era rule as a long-overdue addendum to the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which prohibited owners and landlords from refusing to sell or rent to minority groups but wasn’t adequately enforced. The rule and a computer program developed to help implement it were designed to create consequences for communities that didn’t advance fair housing, said Stephanie Reyes, a state and local policy manager for the Grounded Solutions Network, a group that works to create affordable housing.

DREW ANGERER / GETTY IMAGES
HUD’s community block-grant program works to provide decent affordable housing. Under the AFFH rule, HUD grant recipients were required to identify segregation issues and come up with solutions to counter them.

“It was very exciting,” Reyes said. “We saw many, many communities stepping up.”

Trump’s HUD, however, said in a press release that the AFFH rule was ineffective and the software created to complete the assessments was “confusing and difficult to use,” resulting in far too many unacceptable reports.

HUD provides block-grant funding to about 1,200 communities a year to provide decent affordable housing, offer services to vulnerable residents and create jobs. Just 49 communities had used the new assessment process, according to the department. It rejected a third of those assessments because they were missing information.

It declined to comment on the lawsuit but noted that it received numerous complaints from grant recipients that were having trouble with the tool and wanted it removed.

Housing advocates said that the AFFH process wasn’t notably different from ones that other government departments use to implement their policies.

“Collecting data to see what the problem is, laying out sets of strategies to address those problems and then taking a bit of time to implement those strategies. That’s a tried and true general process for addressing issues in a community, whatever it is — health problems or transportation problems,” Reyes said. “That overall model is extremely strong.”

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 18: HUD Secretary Ben Carson testifies before the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill April 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2019 for the Housing and Urban Development Department. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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