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President Trump To Repeal Obama-Era Fair Housing Rule Aimed To Combat Racial Bias

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump announced today that he would repeal and replace an Obama-era housing rule aimed at reducing racial discrimination. It is a move that's not just about housing policy; it's also about Trump's bid to get reelected. He is engaging in a larger political strategy here to target swing voters in the suburbs, and the president's leaning on fear and racial divisions as he makes that pitch. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is here to talk with us about it. Hi, Danielle.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Begin by explaining for us what this Obama housing rule that Trump is repealing actually did.

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. So it's a rule known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, or AFFH for short. It was created under the umbrella of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, so it was created decades after that landmark law was passed. And it was aimed at eliminating racial housing discrimination and segregation. And we should mention here that the Justice Department sued the Trump family business in the early 1970s for housing discrimination at their family properties, so there is some related history here.

But basically this rule said this - that if you're a community receiving federal housing funds, you have to do an assessment that looks for patterns of housing discrimination or segregation and then have plans to eliminate it. So it was instituted in 2015, but then the Trump administration greatly weakened it just two and a half years later. So there wasn't a lot of time for it to really get off the ground and have an effect.

Now, proponents of the rules say that this rule gave the Fair Housing Act more teeth and just made it more enforceable, that it might mean that a community looks and sees that it needs to, you know, add more apartments, for example, something that allows people who can't afford a house, for example, to live there. So it might mean in practice rezoning a community so it's not just for detached, single-family homes.

SHAPIRO: Danielle, you said that the Trump administration dramatically weakened this rule in 2018. So why take this step now?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, the White House today said that the rule is an example of federal overreach and that the rule will discourage homeownership. And we should say opponents also say that the rule doesn't effectively bring down housing prices. The White House says that they are instituting a new rule to replace this one that they say would give power back to local communities.

But this is also, of course, part of a larger political play that you mentioned. We should say here that when Trump talks about this rule, he's generally not making a nuanced policy pitch about housing stock, for example. He's making a political pitch. He's been saying that Democrat Joe Biden, who says he is in favor of this rule, that he would want to, quote, "end single-family zoning." Now, that's not true, but this rule definitely could lead some communities to reduce that kind of zoning. Trump then turns that into an argument that Biden wants to, quote, "abolish the suburbs" - of course, also not true. Biden has no such plan, and the Biden campaign has been calling this a smear.

SHAPIRO: So if this is a political tactic to win suburban voters, tell us about how important that voting group is in this election in November.

KURTZLEBEN: Very. They're very important. They're - in part because they're plentiful. They made up half the electorate in 2016. And also, there are a lot of swing voters in the suburbs, particularly white women. Trump knows this. Today he tweeted about how the, quote, "suburban housewives of America" should read up on this policy. And he's implicitly making a racial pitch here because this is about a race-based policy. But the suburbs have been growing more diverse and more educated, by the way, and those are trends that both work against Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Thank you.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.