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HUD puts new tools behind fair housing efforts

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announces

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announces a policy change at a news conference Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Chicago next to new public housing units on the city's South Side. The new rules provide guidance to help cities achieve the promises of the 1968 Fair Housing Act by promoting racially integrated neighborhoods. Credit: AP / Christian K. Lee

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration issued a rule Wednesday requiring local governments receiving federal housing funds to use new tools to develop plans that would promote racially integrated communities and access to affordable housing.

The regulation requires use of detailed data and maps to assess fair housing, said HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and on Long Island applies to Nassau and Suffolk counties and the towns of Babylon, Huntington and Islip.

"Unfortunately, too many Americans find their dreams limited by where they come from, and a ZIP code should never determine a child's future," Castro said. Noting recent racial unrest, he added, "I see this as a helpful tool to address the kind of challenges we have seen in Baltimore, Ferguson and other cities."

Castro billed the rule as a step toward fulfilling the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which not only outlawed racial discrimination in housing, but also required affirmative steps to integrate communities.

His agency gives vouchers to people living in areas of poverty to rent in communities with more opportunities and funds the revitalization of segregated, low-income areas.

Americans for Limited Government, a conservative group, said the rule gives federal bureaucrats control of local zoning. House Republicans tried to defund its implementation.

Richard Koubek, president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, which advocates for affordable housing, downplayed expectations.

"This isn't new," he said, because towns already fill out detailed pages of factors that impede fair housing and plans to overcome them. "Then it means nothing," he said, because local opposition often blocks those plans.

Alison Karppi, executive director of the Community Development Agency for the Town of Islip, said, "I don't foresee too much of a change for us."

Her agency just filed an already required assessment and five-year plan in May, she said.

The Town of Huntington issued a statement applauding the rule for clarifying requirements and giving it new tools.

Craig Gurian of the New York City-based Anti-Discrimination Center, said the rule is about planning, not action. He said, "The message is to take a serious look at segregation."

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