New Jersey Attorney General Sues Trump Administration Over Claim Affordable Housing Leads to Crime

October 20, 2020 Updated: October 20, 2020

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Monday for allegedly failing to produce information in support of President Donald Trump’s claims that low-income housing policies are associated with increased crime.

Grewal’s suit seeks to enforce a pair of Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests that he filed in August in the wake of a presidential tweet, which said: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood…Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”

The New Jersey attorney general objected to Trump’s claim of a link between the affordable housing policies of the prior administration and a rise in crime, citing his own “experience as a prosecutor or as someone who’s lived most of my life in the suburbs.” He filed two separate FOIA requests to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) seeking information “supporting the president’s inflammatory claims that affordable housing leads to increased crime rates,” which he said the agencies failed to produce by deadline, prompting the lawsuit.

Grewal’s FOIA requests cited several studies that showed no link between affordable housing policies and crime.

Trump, in his tweet, was referring to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which was adopted in 2015 by HUD as a way to compel federal agencies and federal grantees to administer programs in a way that reduces racial disparities in housing. Yet the rule proved “complicated, costly, and ineffective,” according to HUD, with the agency’s Secretary Ben Carson arguing that a review found the regulation to be “unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with” and too often resulted in “funds being steered away from communities that need them most.”

Trump replaced AFFH in 2017 with a new rule called Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice (pdf), which reduced the regulatory burden on communities while preserving the overarching aim of expanding access to opportunity.

“Instead, the Trump administration has established programs like Opportunity Zones that are driving billions of dollars of capital into underserved communities where affordable housing exists, but opportunity does not,” Carson said in a statement. “Programs like this shift the burden away from communities so they are not forced to comply with complicated regulations that require hundreds of pages of reporting and instead allow communities to focus more of their time working with Opportunity Zone partners to revitalize their communities so upward mobility, improved housing, and home ownership is within reach for more people.”

“Washington has no business dictating what is best to meet your local community’s unique needs,” Carson added.

The same month Trump tweeted about the link between crime rates and low-income housing, he also said in reference to the AFFH rule: “Your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise. … People have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they’re going to watch it go to hell.”

Grewal’s FOIA requests also call on the DOJ and HUD to turn over communications with the White House about the AFFH rule and the impact of affordable housing on crime rates.

Neither the DOJ nor HUD immediately responded to requests for comment.

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