OCA v. Carson Resources
On October 23, 2017, Open Communities Alliance and two individual plaintiffs, represented by several civil rights organizations, sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) challenging its decision to suspend a rule that would have assisted low-income families in securing affordable housing. Five organizations – the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC law firm, the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Public Citizen Litigation Group– represent the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Open Communities Alliance v. Carson.
On December 23, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted Open Communities Alliance's Motion for Preliminary Injunction, requiring HUD to reinstate the Small Area Fair Market Rent regulation, allowing thousands of families across the nation access to neighborhoods that promote access to opportunity.
Shortly before the December preliminary injunction hearing in Open Communities Alliance v. Carson, HUD issued a notice seeking comments on its August suspension of the SAFMR rule. The notice did not affect the judge's ruling, but it did bring out a strong group of comments from advocates for low income families from across the country, including in many of the 23 affected metropolitan areas (accompanied by a few complaints from trade associations). Shortly after the comment period closed, HUD issued new guidance on implementation of the Small Area FMRs, with a deadline of April 1 for PHAs in the 23 mandatory metro areas.
In Connecticut, 48% of households relying on HUD's Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) live in the 2% of the state experiencing the highest levels of opportunity isolation - with under-resourced schools, fewer employment options, and other challenges. 86% of HCV households live outside the 40% of the land area of the state with the greatest access to opportunity (click here for more on opportunity mapping). Because opportunity-isolated areas are also disproportionately home to families of color, the HCV program reinforces and continues segregated housing patterns.
One of the central reasons for this segregation is the HCV program's unrealistic limits on the maximum rents in thriving communities. The Obama Administration’s Small Area Fair Market Rent rule was designed to remedy this and represented an important step forward for fair housing and civil rights.
Current HUD rent policies for the HCV program have effectively confined low income families to under-resourced neighborhoods by capping rents using a regional “average” rent. Families should be able to choose the community that is best for their family – and low income families of color should not be arbitrarily excluded from the communities with the best employment and educational opportunities.
The Obama Administration’s Small Area Fair Market Rent rule ends the effective exclusion of voucher families from high opportunity areas by calculating average rents for each zip code, rather than regional average rents, to give families a fair shot at renting units in every neighborhood and community.
Studies have shown that Small Area Fair Market rents do not raise the overall costs of the voucher program.
The 2016 rule applied Small Area Fair Market rents in 24 metro areas – selected because they had the highest rates of voucher concentration. Existing tenants were protected from rent increases, and cities with very low vacancy rates and high housing demand were exempted from the mandatory rule.
In August, 2017, the Trump Administration illegally suspended the rule for 23 of these metro areas. This change will limit housing choices for many of the 1.8 million households receiving housing assistance through the HCV program across the country, including the 31,000 using the program in Connecticut.
We welcome you to join Open Communities Alliance in opposing this change.
- Small Area Fair Market Rent rule (HUD)
- Small Area Fair Market Rent fact sheet (HUD)
- Small Area Fair Market Rent calculations (HUD)
Commentary: Trump Administration Should Reinstate Promising Housing Voucher Initiative (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities)
- HUD Suspends SAFMR Implementation (National Low Income Housing Coalition)