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Julián Castro Says Trump Administration's Housing Rollbacks Are 'Taking Us Backward'

Triple and double decker apartment houses along Lamson Street in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Triple and double decker apartment houses along Lamson Street in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Trump administration has been rolling back Obama-era housing measures that were created to ensure fair and equal housing.

Earlier this summer, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson terminated the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule. And on Monday, a new rule took effect that invalidates “disparate impact,” a key tool used to measure discriminatory practices in housing.

Former HUD secretary and former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro is criticizing the new rule because he says it will make it more difficult for people to prove that a landlord or lender discriminated against them. He says he hopes both parties will pay more attention to housing in the future.

"This administration is taking us backward by undoing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and weaponizing it in this political environment," he says. "Really what they’re saying is that they’re OK with a 1950s model of the suburb that is lily-white [and] not integrated."

Suburban voters in his home state of Texas are also becoming disillusioned with Trump and the Republican Party, Castro says.

"I grew up in a Texas where people were leaving the Democratic Party. They said, 'I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me,'" he says. "Well, now the opposite is happening. People are saying, 'Look, I used to be a Republican, but they just don’t reflect my values. They don’t reflect how I see the world.'"

Interview Highlights

On what the new rule changes, and who it impacts most

"Basically, this rule casts a higher burden for a plaintiff to allege discrimination by a landlord or lender whose policy can be shown essentially to have a harder impact on people of color or other people in a protected class. In 2013, the Obama administration promulgated the disparate impact rule so that people could file claims where you couldn’t necessarily show that somebody, a landlord or a lender, intended to discriminate, but you could show that the policy they had in place had a discriminatory or disparate impact on a protected class, whether you’re talking about a racial group or, you know, another protected class.

"Well, this goes completely in the other direction. It goes from a three-part test that the plaintiff has to hurdle through to a five-part test. It shifts the burden to the plaintiff in a way that is going to make it so much harder for these claims to actually be successful."

On what this rule means for the future of affordable housing

"What President Trump is trying to do is essentially scare especially white Americans with the idea that you would have people of color living next to you and low-income individuals living next to you. And really, it’s a lie on three counts. It’s a lie about what the suburbs look like right now because people of different backgrounds do tend to live together more than they did when we passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968. I think it’s a lie about the policy because the policy itself of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing never dictated to communities exactly how they had to pursue fair housing opportunities ... and I think it’s a lie about white Americans. I don’t think that the vast majority of white Americans are sitting in their living room trying to figure out how they’re going to keep people of color out of their neighborhood. It sells them short, too. But that’s what the Trump administration has chosen to do, and when you take the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rollback and the disparate impact rule rollback, what it means is that less low-income individuals and less people of color are going to have the opportunity to move into certain neighborhoods."

On how suburban politics are playing out in Texas

"Suburban abandonment of Republicans and all of the demographic changes that people have been talking about and writing about for the last 15 years, those two things coming together are making Texas very competitive, and of everything that’s been written about turnout in Texas over the last 10 days or so, the most fascinating to me was that Texas ranked highest in the percentage of the overall vote that was from people 18 to 29 years old. Twenty four and a half percent, which led all of the states. That’s amazing because that usually doesn’t happen in Texas."

On the role of the Latino vote this year in shifting U.S. politics

"This year, the Latino community has a tremendous role to play in determining the outcome of traditional swing states like Florida, but also a slew of new swing states — Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and even a state like North Carolina, which is probably going to be close and has a growing Latino community. What I see is the possibility of a new electoral map emerging after 2020, where you have California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and then Florida, which together equal more than half of the electoral votes that somebody needs to become president, all winnable by a Democrat in 2024 and beyond. It’s amazing. You know, we could see that shift where Latinos are in the driver’s seat like never before."

On the need for both parties to change the way they take on housing issues

"It’s been about 40 years since we had a real commitment to invest in housing opportunity. We need to bring that back, and I’m proud that Joe Biden has put forward a plan to invest $640 billion in housing, to create more units to make sure that people are able to get into housing by universalizing the Section 8 voucher program for people who need it. We have a rental affordability crisis throughout this country, and right now we have people who are on the brink of eviction. Housing needs the kind of attention that it just hasn’t gotten over the last four decades.

"You know, it’s not the most glamorous issue. It’s not necessarily the most contentious issue, but it’s an issue that is of utmost importance at a basic level to everybody out there, and it just gets bypassed largely, and not invested in enough. Well, it’s time for that to end. It’s time for the investment to be there, or you’re going to see this continued growth in homelessness and the quality of life for all Americans dimming because of it."

Cristina Kim produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Elie Levine adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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