Changes to federal fair housing rules undermine the government's responsibility to guide efforts to overcome the legacy of racial discrimination and economic segregation, U.S. bishops said Tuesday.

"Fair housing regulations remain one of the key tools for addressing long standing inequities and historical disadvantages and must be strengthened, not weakened," leading figures in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities said in a July 28 statement.

The statement responded to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's decision to replace the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule with a new rule that will have less regulation.

"HUD's replacement of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule undermines efforts to promote fair housing and human dignity," they said.

"Discriminatory practices such as redlining, disinvestment from communities, discriminatory practices in selling or renting homes, and racial and economic segregation have undermined fair housing for generations and continue to harm communities of color today. HUD's new rule minimizes the affirmative responsibility to promote fair housing by removing clear guidance and effective accountability."

Speaking for the U.S. bishops' conference were Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. Sister Donna Markham, O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities, USA, joined the bishops' statement.

The rule dates back to 2015, and was enacted under the Obama administration. It aimed to encourage local communities to address deeply ingrained patterns of housing segregation that shape how Americans shop, go to school and access health care, ABC News reports. It made federal money to local communities contingent on proactive plans to reduce inequality and to provide fair housing in its rules and its decisions on granting permits.

Critics said the rule was confusing, and said it was difficult to use the computer tool to submit reports and measure progress. The Trump administration suspended the rule soon after taking office.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson on July 23 said the previous rule was "unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with" and "too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most."

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He said the Trump administration programs like opportunity zones drive "billions of dollars of capital into under-served communities where affordable housing exists, but opportunity does not."

"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," said Carson. "Washington has no business dictating what is best to meet your local community's unique needs."

On Twitter, Carson characterized the Obama-era rule as "a ruse for social engineering under the guise of desegregation" that turned Housing and Urban development "into a national zoning board."

Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Housing Coalition, rejected that claim.

"The Fair Housing Act sought to undo decades of social engineering via racist housing policies that created segregated communities," she said, according to ABC News.

President Trump weighed in on the rule, framing affordable housing as a threat to suburban safety and housing values.

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"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," the president said on Twitter July 29.

"Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down," he said, noting the rescinding of the Obama-era rule. "Enjoy!" he added.

Trump has previously claimed the housing policies of his political rivals will affect suburban safety. In July 16 remarks on the South Lawn of the White House, Trump accused Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of wanting to "abolish" the suburbs and to eliminate single-family zoning, "bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down."

The change comes amid significant difficulty for the United States in the wake of the new coronavirus epidemic.

Peaceful protests followed widespread viewing of video of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man, while being detained by Minneapolis police. In many major U.S. cities, these protests were also accompanied by riots and civil unrest that could be the costliest in U.S. history. They caused hundreds of millions of damage and multiple deaths in Minneapolis alone.

Concerns about police brutality have prompted legislation billed as police reform in several states, as well as calls to defund the police. There are also reports of demoralization among police forces, failure to intervene in crime, and efforts of officers to seek early retirement.

In March, the U.S. bishops and Catholic Charities USA filed joint comments asking HUD to withdraw the proposed new rule on the grounds that it fails to address barriers to fair housing, reduces community engagement, weakens the definition of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, and weakens the role of public housing authorities.

"The responsibility to ensure fair housing choice is more robust than simply guarding against housing discrimination. The previous definition of AFFH was more holistic and included important elements such as overcoming patterns of segregation and fostering inclusive communities," their March statement said.

The proposed rule, they said, wrongly reduced the definition of fair housing to ensuring that individuals and families have "the opportunity and options to live where they choose, within their means, without unlawful discrimination related to race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, of disability."

On Wednesday the bishops and Catholic Charities USA cited the U.S. bishops' 1975 statement "The Right to a Decent Home," which said "an absence of racial discrimination is no longer enough. We must insist upon effective programs to remedy past injustice."

"Let us renew this call to action to ensure all people have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing," they added.