United States Capitol Building
West side view of the United States Capitol building.

By Elayne Weiss, Policy Analyst

After days of debate, the Senate passed yesterday a spending package that included the THUD appropriations bill by a vote of 89 to 9.

NLIHC supported passage of the bill since it includes no significant funding cuts and will ensure households currently served by HUD programs will continue to receive assistance.

The Senate THUD bill will:

  • Provide sufficient funding to renew existing project-based rental assistance contracts;
  • Allocate enough funds to renew existing Housing Choice Vouchers and provide additional funds for new vouchers targeted to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program and Family Unification Program;
  • Increase funding for public housing;
  • Provide new resources to homeless assistance programs, including targeted funds to address youth homelessness;
  • Level fund the HOME Investment Partnerships program, the Community Development Block Grant program, and the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program;
  • Increase funding for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program and the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program; and
  • Provide more resources to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ grants.

To view NLIHC’s updated budget chart, which further details the funding levels in the bill, click here.

As the Senate considered the bill, housing and civil rights advocates had to spring into action when Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA) filed an amendment attacking the Fair Housing Act. Their amendment would prohibit HUD from implementing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule and its assessment tool, as they claim the rule turns HUD into a national zoning board with the power to overturn or rewrite local zoning laws in communities across America.

However, we know that’s not true. We know that the AFFH rule will provide states and local governments with the guidance and data they need to help them more fairly and effectively invest federal funds in their communities. We know that this rule imposes no new obligations; it simply clarifies how communities can comply with existing obligations and provides tools to help them live up to the commitment that they’ve already made. Moreover, the rule affirms localities maintain control in developing and implementing solutions for removing barriers to fair housing.

NLIHC and our members, including our state partners, made calls, sent letters, and blasted action alerts in an effort to defeat the amendment. All that hard work paid off when senators opposing the amendment eked out the 60 votes needed to set the amendment aside, defeating efforts to have it included in the THUD bill. The final vote was 60 to 37.

Senators took to the floor to speak about the importance of the AFFH rule in realizing the promise of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, with some recounting their own experience facing or witnessing housing discrimination.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a former mayor, spoke of the discrimination his parents faced when trying to buy a home and how the Fair Housing Act came to their aid. “Legislation that this body passed empowered my family to move into the home of their dreams in an all-White neighborhood with incredibly good schools that I went through from K–12,” Senator Booker said. “I am the beneficiary of work this body did to ensure that our American values are preserved, our values of inclusion and integration, to make sure fair housing is the law of the land. That work gave me my start in life. The activism of local activists, combined with the law of the land as passed by us, defined my path.”

Senators also explained that the AFFH rule empowers local communities to better address the housing needs of all of their residents, and not “federal bureaucrats to dictate where a community’s low income residents will live,” as Senator Lee would like you to believe. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) spoke about how the rule will allow communities to gather “more information to try and find ways we can end the lack of housing availability for certain Americans by bringing in data and trying to create new ways to [address the problem].” He particularly pointed to the housing discrimination faced by many people with disabilities. Indeed, more than 50 percent of fair housing complaints that are filed each year are disability-related.

THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and others pointed out that the rule was a direct response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that criticized HUD for not effectively enforcing the Fair Housing Act. “[The AFFH rule] wasn’t some wild scheme that was dreamed up by bureaucrats at HUD, as some have claimed,” Senator Collins said. “This was in response to a report from the Government Accountability Office. We talk about how we want more efficiency, better accountability. That is why we have the GAO. This rule that was directly adopted in response to the GAO’s report surely is significant.”

Senators noted that in responding to the GAO, HUD worked diligently to craft a rule that addressed the needs and concerns of many stakeholder groups, a process that spanned years and involved input from the public, including mayors and county executives.

Senator Collins, along with Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) and THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), offered an amendment that made clear that the new rule does not provide local zoning authority to HUD. That amendment was adopted on an 87-9 vote.

It was critical that the Senate block the AFFH amendment from making its way into the THUD bill, considering the House has included a similar provision in its THUD spending bill the past two years, and is likely to do so again. If both the House and Senate were to include language blocking the AFFH rule in their THUD bills, it becomes more likely that that language will be incorporated in a final THUD bill negotiated between the two chambers.

Fair Housing advocates must remain ever vigilant to make sure that doesn’t happen. But in the meantime, let’s savor this victory and give heaping thanks to our champions in the Senate who defended the Fair Housing Act with so much persistence and righteousness.