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Relman, Dane & Colfax Challenges Trump Administration Roll Back of Housing Choice Voucher Rule

On October 23, 2017, Relman Dane & Colfax filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of two Housing Choice Voucher holders and a civil rights group, alleging that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) violated its civil rights obligations by unlawfully suspending a program that was intended to give low-income households the chance to live in high-opportunity areas. That action, the plaintiffs allege, relegates Voucher holders to lower-rent neighborhoods characterized by poverty and racial and ethnic segregation. They seek a court order requiring HUD to implement the program on schedule.

After many years of study and notice-and-comment rulemaking, HUD adopted a final regulation in 2016 requiring that housing agencies in 24 metropolitan areas adopt new rent-setting formulas that properly take into account the higher cost of rental housing in neighborhoods with high–performing high schools and access to good jobs and amenities. That regulation—known as the Small Area Fair Market Rent (SAFMR) Rule—required HUD to take a number of steps during 2017 to ensure that Voucher households would have greater purchasing power beginning January 1, 2018. Instead, the complaint alleges, the Trump Administration has undermined the program by failing to take those steps and by sending letters to the housing agencies in August 2017 informing them that they were not required to follow the Rule.

The Firm represents Crystal Carter and Tiara Moore, single mothers living in Hartford, Connecticut and Chicago, Illinois, who, because of HUD’s action, will be unable to move to safer neighborhoods where their children can attend good schools. Recent research studies have indicated that children moving to such neighborhoods have better health outcomes, improve academic achievement and have higher earnings as adults. Open Communities Alliance, a Hartford-based civil rights nonprofit whose mission is to provide greater opportunities and more choices for people living in low-opportunity areas in Connecticut, is also a plaintiff, alleging that its mission has been frustrated by suspension of the SAFMR Rule.

As outlined in the complaint, suspension of the SAFMR Rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires HUD to justify the suspension of a final regulation, identify the new data upon which the suspension is based, and provide an opportunity for all affected parties to weigh in on the potential impacts of such a suspension. Plaintiffs also claim that HUD has violated its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing, and that the effect of its action is to deepen and perpetuate racial segregation.

The litigation team at Relman, Dane & Colfax includes Sasha Samberg-Champion, Sara Pratt and Michael Allen. Co-counsel are NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Poverty & Race Research Action Council; Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Public Citizen Litigation Group.

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