Trump Administration suspends key civil rights provision in the Housing Choice Voucher program

By Kimberly Hall of PRRAC

This week, HUD sent letters to public housing agencies (PHAs) covering 23 metropolitan areas, “suspending” a 2016 rule that would have allowed more families in the Housing Choice Voucher program to move to lower poverty neighborhoods. The letter informs PHAs that the mandatory implementation of the “Small Area Fair Market Rent Rule” would be delayed for at least two years, to 2019.   Implementation had been scheduled for next month.

The Small Area Fair Market Rent Rule was adopted by HUD after several years of study, and in response to a civil rights lawsuit in Dallas, to address a longstanding problem in the voucher program - the use of a single metro-wide rent standard for families using housing vouchers.   The effect of this approach has been to segregate low income families with vouchers in higher poverty, lower opportunity areas - rather than giving the “choice” that the Housing Choice Voucher program is supposed to offer.   HUD’s 2016 rule changed this approach by basing subsidies on rents in zip codes in the metro areas with the highest rates of voucher concentration.

“HUD is basically saying that segregation in the voucher program is acceptable, and slamming the door on thousands of low income families who were finally going to have a chance to choose,” said Philip Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, a civil rights policy group in D.C.

The action appears to have been taken without any notice or opportunity to comment.  Like some other recent Trump Administration actions, the suspension of the Small Area FMRs appears to have been issued without following the necessary legal steps.

Research has documented the benefits for families and children who move from high poverty to low poverty neighborhoods, including improvements in physical and mental health, and long term positive educational and employment outcomes for children who move when they are young. Moves to lower poverty areas can give families and children access to better employment opportunities and higher performing schools, both of which can help to break the cycle of poverty.  The Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as “Section 8,” has the potential to help families make these kinds of moves, but without reasonable local rents, the promise of housing mobility is an empty promise.

The HUD letter indicates that PHAs can still adopt Small Area Fair Market Rents voluntarily, but it is unclear how many would take this step, and in many metropolitan areas, without the HUD rule, this would require inter-agency agreements.

See copy of the HUD letter here.

Metro areas affected by the rule suspension:

  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Bergen-Passaic, N.J. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, N.C.-SC HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Colorado Springs, Colo. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach, Fla. Metro Division
  • Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Gary, Ind. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Conn. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Jackson, Miss. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Jacksonville, Fla. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Monmouth-Ocean, N.J. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, Fla. MSA
  • Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla. MSA
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD MSA
  • Pittsburgh, Pa. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, Calif. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • San Antonio-New Braunfels, Texas HUD Metro FMR Area
  • San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif. MSA
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. MSA
  • Urban Honolulu, Hawaii MSA
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md. HUD Metro FMR Area
  • West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, Fla. Metro Division