TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration after federal agencies failed to produce any information supporting the President’s inflammatory claims that affordable housing leads to increased crime rates.
Attorney General Grewal formally requested any information supporting the President’s comments from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on August 11, 2020. The legal deadline for DOJ and HUD to respond passed more than a month ago, but neither has produced any records to support the President’s claims.
“When I saw the President tweet that low income housing causes crime rates to go up in the suburbs, I knew that didn’t square with my experience as a prosecutor or as someone who’s lived most of my life in the suburbs,” said Attorney General Grewal. “So we called on the President to prove it. Show us the data. But they came up empty.”
The Attorney General’s lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeks to enforce a pair of Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests submitted in the wake of a tweet by President Trump on July 23 stating: “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 I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule.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 “AFFH Rule” is a rule adopted by HUD in 2015 to “affirmatively further fair housing.” The rule sought to combat entrenched housing segregation by requiring towns to address disparities in housing opportunity, promote the development of more inclusive communities, and reverse historic patterns of housing discrimination - including discrimination fostered by government policies.
President Trump’s July 23 tweet echoed a similar remark by the President earlier in July when he represented that, under 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.”
The lawsuit filed today asserts that both DOJ and HUD violated FOIA by failing to respond to the Attorney General’s information requests by the legal deadline.
“Why would a President with access to all of the federal government’s resources make unfounded claims about nonexistent crime waves?” Attorney General Grewal asked. “Why try to scare people with no basis? If the numbers support the President’s claims, why not release them?”
“President Trump’s repeated assertions that affordable housing ‘invades’ and ‘destroys’ suburbs are racist and false,” said DCR Director Rachel Wainer Apter. “The AFFH rule aimed to combat racial segregation in housing and to foster inclusive communities, a goal the Trump Administration evidently now deems not only unworthy, but dangerous. But the government has not been able to produce any facts to support the President’s inflammatory tweets.”
In addition to seeking any records supporting the President’s comments, the FOIA requests highlighted a series of recent studies that contradicted the President’s claims about the effects of affordable housing on crime.
The FOIA requests noted, for example, that a study in the Journal of Political Economy found that housing developments taking advantage of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) actually see “declines in both violent and property crime within low income areas” and “no impacts on crime” within higher income areas.The requests also pointed to a separate study which reported that LIHTC housing in distressed communities “positively impacts” surrounding neighborhoods in terms of “increased safety.”
The requests also referenced a study that focused specifically on the effects of affordable housing in Mount Laurel, New Jersey (Mount Laurel was the site of a major effort to promote affordable housing and desegregation.) According to that study, “the opening of affordable housing development was not associated with trends in crime, property values, or taxes.”
The FOIA requests also seek DOJ and HUD’s communications with the White House about the AFFH Rule and the effects of affordable housing on crime rates.
Deputy Attorney General Joanna Loomis of the Affirmative Civil Rights & Labor Enforcement Section, Section Chief Melissa L. Medoway of the Special Litigation Section, and Assistant Attorney General Mayur P. Saxena of the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group are representing the State in the matter.