Fifty-two years ago, Congress enacted a one-of-a-kind civil rights directive. It requires every federal agency—and state and local grantees by extension—to take affirmative steps to undo segregation. In 2020, this overlooked Fair Housing Act provision—the “affirmatively furthering fair housing” or “AFFH” mandate—had heightened relevance. Perhaps most visible was Donald Trump’s racially charged “protect the suburbs” campaign rhetoric. In an appeal to suburban constituents, his administration replaced a race-conscious fair housing rule with a no-questions-asked regulation that elevates local control above civil rights.

The maneuver was especially stark as protesters marched in opposition to systemic racism’s many forms. In this moment of racial awakening, it is critical to revisit how neighborhood segregation affects nearly all aspects of American life. We live in a racist ecosystem, and racial segregation is its defining feature. Segregation’s profound influence reinforces the importance of the AFFH mandate as a remedial tool.

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