California officials oppose Department of Housing and Urban Development scaling back fair housing enforcement

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, is facing controversy after HUD secretary Ben Carson suggested removing the phrase “free from discrimination” from the department’s mission statement.

In a letter addressed to Carson, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for the nondiscrimination language to remain in HUD’s mission statement. Harris said in the letter that she supports the notion that HUD must commit to eradicating housing discrimination, as it has done in the past.

“These changes to the HUD mission statement would erase decades worth of progress and bring back an era in which people were denied housing based on the color of their skin,” she alleged in the letter.

As for the potential effects this could have on the Berkeley community, Igor Tregub, chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, called the proposed removal of the nondiscrimination language a “travesty.”

HUD’s aim, according to the HUD mission statement, is to create inclusive and sustainable communities and affordable housing for all.

“HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business,” the current mission statement reads.

In an email to HUD staff, Carson denied accusations that HUD is not committed to fair housing. According to Carson, the mission statement has been changed multiple times since it was written.

“Now, in 2018, we are considering another change to our mission statement and are seeking comments and ideas from our senior staff,” he said in the email. “But the notion that any new mission statement would reflect a lack of commitment to fair housing is nonsense.”

Brian Sullivan, HUD supervisory public affairs specialist, denied allegations that HUD is moving away from the ideals of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which aims to protect people from discrimination when buying, renting or securing financing for any housing. Sullivan described the controversy behind the rewording of the mission statement as “false hysteria.”

“Nobody believes in housing discrimination,” Sullivan said. “Housing discrimination is bad and against the law.”

Sullivan said the removal of the nondiscrimination language in the HUD mission statement is meant to “distill it down to its essence.” According to Sullivan, the best mission statements are the ones that are “clear and concise” and straight to the point.

Tregub suggested that the state of California use a body of federal nondiscrimination laws to create and implement state laws. He said he hopes that state officials will take matters into their own hands if any changes are made to federal nondiscrimination laws.

“In their minds, we have a completely equitable society and have no need to protect those who have been underserved or historically discriminated against,” Tregub said. “We are a long way from being in a fully equitable society.”

Contact Shelby Mayes at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shelbymayesdc.