Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Wednesday that his agency will "reinterpret" the landmark Obama housing rule meant to address housing discrimination, a regulation that conservatives have criticized as tantamount to a national zoning board.
"Do I believe in fair housing? Of course, I believe in fair housing," Carson told the Washington Examiner in a Wednesday interview. But he said he doesn't believe in "extra manipulation and cost."
"So we just have to reinterpret it, that's all," he said.
The rule in question is the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which was finalized in 2015. It is meant to implement part of the civil rights-era Fair Housing Act by requiring local governments to spell out plans for reducing segregation or risk eventually losing out on federal bock grants.
On Monday, a group of Republican members of Congress led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee called on Carson to rescind the rule.
Carson, who had criticized the rule as a doomed-to-fail attempt to "legislate racial equality" in 2015, indicated that he would not totally reverse it. He cited a 2015 Supreme Court decision finding that housing policies with disparate impact on black families violated the law, even in the absence of intent to discriminate.
"I probably am not going to mess with something the Supreme Court has weighed in on," Carson said. "In terms of interpreting what it means — that's where the concentration is going to be."
However, Carson didn't say how he might be able to "reinterpret" the rule more favorably.
As written, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provides jurisdictions with demographic and socioeconomic data and a tool for assessing ways in which minorities and other protected groups might be excluded from opportunities. The localities are supposed to develop a plan for addressing those disparities, for example, by building public housing in richer areas or rezoning towns.
Some local governments have said that the exercise places too much of a burden on their resources. Carson agreed Wednesday and said the number of hours required to develop the plan is "craziness."