A group of Democrats in Congress are asking the federal housing agency’s inspector general to investigate why federal housing officials have told lenders to deny DACA recipients government-backed home loans, and why agency officials misled Congress and the public about the policy.
A letter making the request to the Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General Rae Oliver Davis was signed by 13 Senate and 32 House Democrats, headed up by Sen. Bob Menendez, Rep. Pete Aguilar, and Rep. Juan Vargas. It comes in response to a BuzzFeed News’ report last week, which revealed that Department of Housing and Urban Development officials did make a policy change to exclude DACA recipients from home loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration while denying that there had been a change to the public and to Congress.
“Specifically we are concerned that HUD imposed a new, nonpublic, and legally erroneous policy prohibiting the issuance of FHA-insured loans to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and knowingly misrepresented to Congress the implementation and enforcement of this new policy,” they wrote in the letter.
BuzzFeed News initially reported that DACA recipients and their mortgage lenders were being told they were no longer eligible for the program, which they had been able to access for years until the Trump administration moved to rescind DACA in 2017.
On several instances after BuzzFeed News published that story, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and other housing officials assured members of Congress in public hearings and in private meetings that there had been no policy change.
“The facts are clear: HUD officials implemented a secret policy change to discriminate against DACA recipients. HUD failed to disclose this change publicly and misrepresented that a change in policy had occurred in Congressional hearings, letter responses, and briefings to Congressional staff,” Menendez told BuzzFeed News in a statement on Monday.
”This is wrong and unacceptable. We are requesting that HUD’s Inspector General investigate potential violations of federal law and failure to disclose this policy change to Congress," Menendez said.
Carson told members of Congress last year that after reading the initial story from BuzzFeed News, he had “asked around” his department.
“No one was aware of any changes that had been made to the policy whatsoever. I’m sure we have plenty of DACA recipients who have FHA-backed loans,” he said during testimony before a House committee in April last year, well after the emails obtained by BuzzFeed News show that officials within the agency had decided to exclude DACA recipients.
“It’s unacceptable for the Trump Administration to secretly change the rules to stop DACA recipients from achieving the dream of home ownership. It’s equally unacceptable that the HUD Secretary would lie to Congress about the Trump Administration’s discriminatory housing practices," Aguilar told BuzzFeed News in a statement.
In December 2018, Sens. Menendez, Cory Booker, and Catherine Cortez Masto wrote to HUD officials asking why federal housing officials told lenders to deny DACA recipients government-backed home loans.
Responding to that letter, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations Len Wolfson wrote, “[t]he Department wants to be very clear that it has not implemented any policy changes during the current Administration, either formal or informal, with respect to FHA eligibility requirements for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. HUD has longstanding policy regarding eligibility for non-U.S. citizens without lawful residency. Those policies have not been altered.”
In another exchange of letters, Wolfson wrote in July last year that HUD “has not implemented any policy changes during the current Administration with respect to FHA eligibility requirements for DACA recipients.”
"HUD chose to exclude lawful homebuyers from accessing FHA-backed home loans,” said Vargas in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “DREAMers earned the right to buy a home as taxpaying participants in our country’s labor force.”
In their letter to the inspector general on Tuesday, Democrats pointed to Wolfson’s responses, Carson’s testimony, and the internal documents and emails that show that a specific decision was made to interpret a requirement for legal residency for the loans to exclude DACA recipients.
“The above timeline and documents demonstrate what we believe was a change of policy without sound and unambiguous legal reasoning, without an opportunity for public input under Section 553 of the APA, and without communication to FHA-approved lenders and Congress,” they wrote.