Although April is annually observed as Fair Housing Month, the reality for Black America and other people of color is that housing has not significantly changed since the 1968 federal enactment of the Fair Housing Act. Its enactment came seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had strongly advocated fair and open housing.
But 53 years after a historical enactment, race and place remain the determining factors of who is allowed the opportunity to build wealth, as well as to share wealth's financial advantages across family generations.
What makes this year's observance more hopeful are renewed efforts by President Biden and Congress to correct decades' long denials of full access to the American Dream.
For the first time in more than four years, the nation’s President committed his Administration to the active pursuit of fair housing. Beginning with a memorandum coinciding with his inauguration on January 26th, President Biden directed the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to "as soon as practicable, take all steps necessary to examine the effects of" the Trump Administration's 2020 repeal of two critical housing rules issued by the Obama Administration: the 2013 Disparate Impact Standard and the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.
On inauguration day, the U.S. Senate had not yet taken action on many cabinet-level agencies.
“This is not only a mandate to refrain from discrimination,” stated President Biden on January 26th, “but a mandate to take actions that undo historic patterns of segregation and other types of discrimination and that afford access to long-denied opportunities.”
The "disparate impact" standard for proving discrimination helps to ensure that lenders, insurers, governments, and others covered by the 1968 Fair Housing Act analyze their policies and eliminate those that disproportionately hurt certain groups without justification. Similarly, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) legally requires that federal agencies and recipients of federal funds actively address and work to eliminate housing discrimination and segregation.
“Systemic discrimination continues to limit housing opportunity for Black and Brown communities and stunts our country’s economic growth,” said Nikita Bailey, Executive Vice President with the Center for Responsible Lending. “Reinstating the original Disparate Impact and AFFH rules will move us closer to achieving a more just society where everyone has access to opportunity. Moreover, given the large amounts of federal funding subject to the AFFH requirement being distributed, there is an urgency to restore the rule’s obligations on jurisdictions."
Only a month following her March 13th U.S. Senate confirmation, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge acted on the President's direction and announced steps to restore both fair housing rules gutted by the Trump Administration. HUD has submitted the regulations to the Office of Management for regulatory review. Once OMB completes its review, the revised rules will be published in the Federal Register.
As much as fair housing regulations are needed, adequate funding to support HUD programs determines how many low-and-moderate-income people can receive housing assistance.
On April 9th and exercising presidential authority for discretionary spending, $68.7 billion was awarded to HUD for fiscal year (F.Y.) 2022. This nearly $9 billion increase above 2021 funding levels will boost revenues for programs delivering direct services. These monies are bonus funds that will be augmented by other funding made available through the annual budgetary process.
“President Biden’s FY22 discretionary funding request turns the page on years of inadequate and harmful spending requests and instead empowers HUD to meet the housing needs of families and communities across the country. I am particularly pleased that the request proposes more than $30 billion to expand housing vouchers to an additional 200,000 low-income families,” noted HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge.
The bulk of these funds are dedicated to expanding the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program by $3.8 billion. CDBG is one of the department’s most valued programs and has benefitted over the years from bipartisan support due to its focus on local priorities to remedy housing ills. Similarly, $3.5 billion in discretionary revenues will be dedicated to resolving homelessness.
After more than a year of challenges wrought by COVID-19, the risk of losing housing looms even larger today. Preserving affordable housing and homelessness prevention are key pulse points for many local communities.
Other HUD programs that will expand due to the discretionary funding include Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8 housing that augments monthly rental cost in the private housing market and serves low-to-moderate income families; and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program that serves elderly and persons with disabilities with permanently affordable housing.
Fair housing is also emerging as a priority item on Capitol Hill lawmakers.
On April 13th, the U.S. Senate Banking and Urban Affairs Committee convened a hearing entitled "Separate and Unequal: The Legacy of Racial Discrimination in Housing." Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s opening statement as committee chair set the tone for the forum.
“As my friend Joyce Beatty said recently, we cannot change our history,” noted Sen. Brown. “But we can learn from it, and we can build a far better future – one that brings us closer to making our founding ideals real for everyone. Fair housing took longer to pass through Congress than voting rights, desegregation of public spaces, and even equal opportunities for employment.”
Expert testimony provided startling data and calls for changes that will make real the promises of fair housing.
Testifying on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Richard Rothstein, its Senior Fellow Emeritus, candidly assessed America's lack of fair housing and the consequences of it. Since its founding in 1940 by the late Thurgood Marshall, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, achieve racial justice through litigation, advocacy, and public education. In housing, LDF works to combat racial segregation and promote racial integration and opportunity.