(Fixes 14th graf to show further assesssments were due in next several years, not this year)
By Gregory Scruggs
SEATTLE, May 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Housing activists sued the U.S. government on Tuesday over its suspension of a rule designed to discourage racial segregation in cities and towns, saying integration is critical to the nation’s economic prosperity.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has suspended the three-year-old housing regulation on grounds it was not effective.
Adopted under former President Barack Obama in 2015, the rule required local governments to assess how much racial segregation exists and to set targets to boost integration.
Housing activists argue the rule is critical to encourage local governments to address racial segregation.
In the lawsuit, they cited examples in Texas and New York where without the rule, local governments steered unpopular low-income housing into minority neighborhoods rather than into predominantly white areas.
Ending racial segregation “benefits everyone,” said Madison Sloan, director of Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center and one of the groups filing the lawsuit.
“Segregation is not an accident - it is the product of decades of intentional government policy,” she said in a statement.
Texas Appleseed, along with the National Fair Housing Alliance and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Delaying the rule violates the government’s own housing law, it said. The rule stems from the nation’s Fair Housing Act, which aimed to ban racial segregation.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, appointed by Trump, announced in January that deadlines under the housing rule would be suspended until at least 2020.
In a newspaper opinion piece in 2015, Carson called the rule an example of “social engineering.”
In a statement released in January, the government said the decision was based on feedback from cities and towns.
“What we heard convinced us that the Assessment of Fair Housing tool for local governments wasn’t working well,” it said. “We must make certain that the tools we provide to our grantees work in the real world.”
Although just four dozen governments had submitted assessments as of January, at least 1,200 others and all 50 states were due to submit over the next several years, said Solomon Greene of the Washington-based Urban Institute.
“A growing body of research demonstrates that what neighborhood you grow up in matters,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Racial segregation can limit economic prosperity for a region and its residents.”
Reporting by Gregory Scruggs, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst