President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act just days after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King -- and President Donald Trump's Housing secretary wants to undo that legacy.
The 1968 law hasn't been able to undo the harm from government-sanctioned housing segregation, which still feeds today's wealth and racial inequality, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to remove a protection for black owners who pay unfairly high property taxes, reported the New York Times.
Under current rules, families in black neighborhoods can file a complaint with HUD alleging that out-of-date property assessments violate the Fair Housing Act by forcing them to pay more for city services through their property taxes.
The Trump administration, under HUD secretary Ben Carson, would make that process so difficult that most homeowners could not even make their claims.
"Before the city would be required to provide a rationale for its failure to keep assessments current," wrote author Richard Rothstein, "the complainants would have to imagine every conceivable justification that the city might assert, and prove that each was not legitimate, without knowing what actual defense the city might claim or what standard of legitimacy HUD would impose."
If the city came up with an excuse the homeowner hadn't refuted, HUD could dismiss the complaint.
"A process that requires complainants to refute defenses that haven’t yet been offered is one that is designed to block civil rights, not protect them," wrote Rothstein, author of “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.”
Carson has opposed remedies to racial segregation as "social engineering," and the HUD he oversees has been openly hostile to the Fair Housing Act.
The administration now wants to undo one change implemented by President Barack Obama that required cities and towns to propose solutions to the segregation their residents faced, but Carson's HUD removes that requirement.
"This second newly proposed HUD rule effectively relieves jurisdictions from an obligation to desegregate and virtually reduces the Fair Housing Act to a tool that can be used only to combat racially explicit discrimination," Rothstein wrote.