A new federal proposal would significantly weaken the nation’s fair housing laws, according to leading housing advocates.

The plan released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) seeks to change the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, including proposing a new process to evaluate jurisdictions on their fair housing efforts as well as steps to reduce the regulatory burdens placed on local communities.

Housing advocates say the proposed moves will gut efforts to prevent housing discrimination.

“What HUD has released is not a rule to affirmatively further fair housing. It significantly weakens fair housing compliance, entrenches segregated housing patterns, and continues the status quo in which some communities are strengthened by taxpayer-supported programs and amenities while other neighborhoods are starved and deprived of opportunities,” said Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), in a statement. “At a time when housing discrimination has reached record highs, we need stronger enforcement of the Fair Housing Act instead of these continuous attacks by the Trump administration. Weakening the AFFH mandate gives cities and public housing authorities (PHAs) a free pass on discrimination.”

Rice said HUD “should abandon this misguided effort and reinstitute the AFFH rule it adopted in 2015.”

The AFFH mandate calls on jurisdictions and public housing authorities that receive federal funding to analyze patterns of segregation and discriminatory housing practices for families with children, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of other protected classes. They are also required to take actions to tackle barriers to fair housing, explained the NFHA.

HUD suspended the AFFH rule in 2018, and the new proposal would eliminate the suspended regulation entirely, replacing it with a new rule that does not address segregation or provide clear standards or a format to help jurisdictions identify or cure housing discrimination, according to the fair housing organization.

In unveiling the new plan, HUD secretary Ben Carson said his agency remains committed to fair housing, and the proposal offers clearer guidance to states and local governments.

"Mayors know their communities best, so we are empowering them to make housing decisions that meet their unique needs, not a mandate from the federal government," said Carson. "Having said that, if a community fails to improve housing choice, HUD stands ready to enforce the Fair Housing Act and pursue action against any party that violates the law."

However, other housing and civil rights advocates joined Rice in blasting the new proposal, calling it a major retreat from the nation’s efforts to undo housing discrimination.

“This proposed rule underscores secretary Carson’s fundamental misunderstanding or willful misreading of the fair housing and its obligations,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “His proposal would allow communities to ignore the essential racial desegregation obligations of fair housing law and is the latest of secretary Carson’s attempts to weaken and disrupt HUD’s fair housing duties.”

The 2015 AFFH rule was the strongest effort in decades to reverse harmful patterns of segregation and discriminatory practices in communities across the country, according to Yentel.

“Now HUD is proposing to scrap years of extensive input and intensive work that went into the 2015 rule and make the agency’s previous flawed and failed system even worse,” she said.