All Things Considered

Fair housing process that President Trump criticized is underway in the Twin Cities

Highland Park Water Tower open house
The skyline of downtown Minneapolis is visible from the Highland Water Tower in St. Paul.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2018

Local governments in the Twin Cities metro are asking for public comment on their latest fair housing report through Oct. 18. It's the final step in a process that President Donald Trump has continued to criticize in an appeal to suburban voters.

Trump alleges the Obama-era framework for reporting on housing discrimination has made suburbs less safe and hurt property values by forcing suburban jurisdictions to build affordable housing. In reality, the 1968 Fair Housing Act has always called on local governments to report on and reverse longstanding housing inequities. The Obama administration’s rule clarified that requirement and gave local governments a template for doing so.

Trump’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has not enforced the rule since joining the agency in 2017, and the administration officially revoked it this summer. Still, the Fair Housing Implementation Council, with representatives from the seven metro counties, produces a report every five years to lay out a framework for meeting the remaining legal obligation to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

“What that means is, it's not enough to just prohibit discrimination in your jurisdiction. It means that jurisdictions have to take active steps to remedy the history of discrimination and segregation in our communities,” said Sarah Carthen Watson, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law whom the council contracted to write the report.

The lengthy document outlines barriers to housing for marginalized residents, including those with disabilities. Watson said those include landlords requiring excessive security deposits that can weed out people using Housing Choice vouchers, also known as Section 8; overly restrictive criminal background checks; a failure by landlords and public housing authorities to provide accommodations for people with disabilities; and a lack of transportation options in suburbs that prevent people with disabilities from choosing homes there.

The report also includes recommendations, but Watson said they are not binding.

“[Cities and counties] are not required to do anything that we say. They are recommendations,” she said. “And often I try not to dignify Trump's blatant racism with a response, but he's really fanning the flames of racial hostility in his base. We've seen this type of argument many times in conducting these reports. We call it the not-in-my-backyard sentiment from people in predominantly white areas who think that multifamily housing or affordable housing brings a whole host of problems.”

Sue Watlov Phillips, executive director of the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing, told the Star Tribune that past reports “did result in some additional creation of affordable housing in suburban communities.” But Watson pointed out that the market, coupled with a lack of fair housing protections in the city, is a major force behind demographic shifts in the suburbs.

“You are seeing an interesting dynamic in Minneapolis, where places that traditionally were not hot places to live are now really, really hot places to live,” she said. “Growing up, I don’t think that North Loop was considered a neighborhood. Now it’s one of the up-and-coming neighborhoods and I think that’s great. Minneapolis is on the up and up. But as more people are drawn into the cities, people are going to get priced out.”

That’s why Watson recommends requiring more affordable units in both city and suburban developments.

You can see all of the report’s findings and recommendations here, and give your feedback here.