Diversity push adds federal muscle, new directives show
By Evan Lips | June 10, 2016, 19:22 EDT
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s strategy to foster diversity in the nation’s suburbs by using Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations now involves two other federal agencies: the Education and Transportation departments.
That development emerged this week from a “Dear Colleague” letter outlining a set of wide-ranging policies that builds on last summer’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule from HUD. That directive presented a new interpretation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, one that may be used to punish municipalities by withholding federal housing dollars when a city or town fails to show it has reached racial diversity quotas as measured by ZIP codes.
“Our goals are to identify impediments to accessing opportunity; to coordinate efforts to address these issues and to provide broad-reaching benefits; and to ensure that every child and family is provided with transportation, housing, and education tools that promote economic mobility,” reads the letter, signed by the secretaries of all three departments.
The new set of guidelines from the three departments don’t specifically say that federal subsidies may be at risk for those deemed as failing to comply, but the letter makes clear references to last year’s new rule and the goals it embodies. In a Federal Register entry last year about the new Fair Housing rule, the housing department says: “It is a statutory condition of the receipt of HUD funding that program participants certify that they will affirmatively further fair housing.”
The dear colleague letter sent this week went out to state and local leaders. Its language suggests similar measures will be used to assess levels of reaching diversity goals.
“Diversity benefits all students in our schools,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a prepared statement released as part of a joint announcement concerning the drive outlined in the dear colleague letter. “Our schools, as well as our communities, should reflect the increasing diversity in our nation. Students who attend diverse schools will be better prepared to live and work, and be active citizens in today’s world.”
Dear colleague letters have been used by the Education Department to indicate that federal subsidies would be at risk for schools that fail to meet the agency’s evolving interpretation of discrimination in educational opportunities based on sex. Texas, which is suing the federal agency for overstepping its mandate, risks losing billions of dollars in aid by refusing to follow its directives regarding access to public facilities, including bathrooms and locker rooms, for transgender individuals.
“Diversity plays a crucial role in promoting innovation, fostering understanding, and encouraging hard work in classrooms, offices, and communities across the country,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx in a statement. “But too many people lack the transportation options they need to pursue opportunities like high-quality education, good-paying jobs, and affordable housing. Expanding these transportation options is a fundamental first step toward promoting diversity in communities, while also giving more people a shot at achieving the American Dream.”
“Access to opportunity starts with a safe, stable place to live and a quality education. We have a responsibility to ensure our kids are getting the chance to reach their full potential, regardless of where they live or what they look like. That’s why we’re committed to creating vibrant, diverse, and accessible communities that serve as a platform for them to achieve their dreams,” chimed in HUD Secretary Julián Castro.
Read a copy of the Dear Colleague letter here: