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Hundreds of thousands of poor Americans will soon be able to move to better areas, judge rules

By: Tracy Jan, The Washington Post
December 28, 2017 Updated: December 29, 2017 at 6:13 am
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photo - FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2017, file photo, Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2017, file photo, Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File) 

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement an Obama-era rule on Jan. 1 that would give low-income families greater access to housing in more affluent neighborhoods.

The 2016 rule was designed to break up areas of concentrated poverty in two dozen metro regions, including Colorado Springs.

It would operate by taking into account the rental prices in specific neighborhoods - instead of averaging across an entire metropolitan area - making it easier for poor people to afford apartments in middle-class neighborhoods with better schools, lower crime rates and more job opportunities.

The ruling's effect on vouchers in Colorado Springs remained unclear Thursday.

The Colorado Springs Housing Authority, which oversees 2,290 housing vouchers across the city, had yet to receive guidance from HUD as of Thursday afternoon on how to implement the new policy, said Chad Wright, the agency's executive director.

"We're kind of waiting to see what the implications of that are," said Wright, of the ruling. "We just don't know that much, about where we are and where we go from here."

Under the current system, families receiving public rental assistance have been concentrated in deeply segregated, high-poverty communities.

As Colorado Springs' rental market heated up over the last couple years, for example, vouchers became increasingly concentrated in the south-central and southeast portions of the city, Wright said.

A five-day Gazette series this year showed the city's southeast generally has higher rates of poverty, crime and unemployment than other areas of the city.

A coalition of civil rights organizations sued the Trump administration in October after HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced that the agency would delay implementing the rule by nearly two years to allow the new administration time to fully understand its effects. Housing industry groups, including the National Association of Home Builders, lobbied against the rule, arguing that it would lead to disinvestment in inner city neighborhoods.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Barack Obama, ruled on Saturday that HUD's decision to delay implementing the rule was "arbitrary and capricious." She said the agency failed to show sufficient reason for a pause, and that a delay would irreparably harm the plaintiffs: a Hartford, Conn., mother of five and a Chicago mother trying to move their families to safer suburban communities.

"It's long overdue that our federal government remedy the massive disparities in wealth and education its policies continue to produce, and modest rules like this one play an integral role in leveling the playing field for blacks, Latinos, and low-income Americans," Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was among the half-dozen groups that challenged HUD's efforts to delay the rule. -

Gazette reporter Jakob Rodgers contributed to this report.

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