Black HomeownershipEnforcementFed PolicyPolitics & Money

Biden calls on HUD to address racial equity

President wants HUD to return to Obama-era rules governing discrimination and fair housing

President Joe Biden signed several new executive orders on Tuesday that address racial equity, including a memorandum that directs the Department of Housing and Urban Development to both mitigate racial bias in housing and advance fair housing laws.

“The nation is ready to change. But government has to change as well,” Biden said in a press conference on Tuesday. “We need to make equity and justice part of what we do every day… Again, I’m not promising we can end it tomorrow, but we are going to continue to make progress to eliminate systemic racism in every branch of the white house and the federal government.”

In a memorandum, Biden called on HUD to examine changes the Trump administration made last year to several rules, including “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice” and “HUD’s Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Standard.” The agency will examine whether the Trump administration’s rules harmed access to fair housing.

Under Biden’s directive, HUD will reassess its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard, a rule initially enacted by HUD during the Obama administration and used as a mechanism to enforce the Fair Housing Act.

The housing industry strongly criticized the Trump administration’s changes to the rule last year, particularly after then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson issued updated guidelines that imposed a specific, five-step approach that required regulators to prove intentional discrimination on the lender’s behalf.

Under HUD’s previous rule, lenders, landlords and other housing providers could be held liable for discrimination against protected classes even if it was not their intent to discriminate. The use of disparate impact was challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the rule in 2015.

However, under Trump HUD began signaling that changes could be coming. By 2017, the Trump administration, via the Department of the Treasurycalled on HUD to reconsider how it used the disparate impact rule.

Carson criticized the Obama-era rule for forcing communities to find “anything that looks like discrimination,” rather than responding to actual problems.

In a Tuesday memo, acting HUD Secretary Matthew Ammon said President Biden’s executive order is a vital step toward redressing the federal government’s legacy of housing discrimination.

“Racially discriminatory housing practices and policies have kept communities of color from accessing safe, high-quality housing and the chance to build wealth that comes through homeownership. To this day, people of color disproportionately bear the burdens of homelessness, pollution, climate-related housing instability, and economic inequality because of deliberate and systemic efforts to deny them fair and equal access to housing opportunities,” Ammon said.  

“Only by recognizing and acknowledging our nation’s history of housing discrimination can we begin to lift the barriers to safe, accessible, and affordable housing. With this executive order, President Biden is taking meaningful action to advance racial equity in housing and expand opportunity for all. HUD looks forward to working closely with the President and his administration to expand equitable access to housing for millions of Americans,” said Ammon

Several housing groups have already expressed support for Biden’s executive order.

Center for Responsible Lending executive vice president Nikitra Bailey said Tuesday’s actions will help to move the nation closer to its “ideals, and center solutions to discrimination that hinder opportunity,” allowing marginalized communities to move closer to equal justice under law.

“Prioritizing racial equity is needed at the outset, and fully implementing the Fair Housing Act of 1968 as part of a comprehensive racial equity agenda is essential to expanding opportunity for all Americans. These actions give Black and brown families an opportunity to live free of discrimination and participate fully in the economy. We look forward to working with the new Administration in a continued focus on racial equity,” Bailey said.

Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, cited Biden’s order to HUD to address systemic racism is essential to addressing America’s racial wealth divide.

“Home ownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream. It is the primary way that families accumulate wealth, and it has long been denied to people and communities of color,” Van Tol said. “Giving HUD the authority to re-evaluate past measures and make changes to advance fair housing, combat housing discrimination and fully enforce the Fair Housing Act, is the right first step.

However, Van Tol said more remains to be done, with Tuesday’s orders having little impact if they do not ensure long term transformation.

Prior to his inauguration day, Biden chose Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to lead HUD under his administration. Throughout her career, she has been a strong advocate for fair labor practices and civil and human rights.

If confirmed, Fudge would be the first Black woman to serve as HUD secretary in more than 40 years and was met with resounding support from the housing industry.

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