On January 26, 2021, President Biden issued a “Memorandum on Redressing Our Nation’s and the Federal Government’s History of Discriminatory Housing Practices and Policies”. It was directed to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Biden’s choice for Secretary of HUD had yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The memorandum starts with a section called “Background and Policy”. It provides some history about housing discrimination that some people may be unaware of. As such, it was smart for President Biden to explain what the problem and how it negatively affects certain groups of people.
“Diverse and inclusive communities strengthen our democracy. But our Nation’s history has been one of great struggle toward this ideal. During the 20th century, Federal, State, and local governments systematically implemented racially discriminatory housing policies that contributed to segregated neighborhoods and inhibited equal opportunity and the chance to build wealth for Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and Native American families, and other underserved communities.
“Ongoing legacies of residential segregation and discrimination remain ever-present in our society. These include a racial gap in homeownership; a persistent undervaluation of properties owned by families of color; a disproportionate burden of pollution and exposure to the impacts of climate change in communities of color; and systemic barriers to safe, accessible, and affordable housing for people of color, immigrants, individuals with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender-nonconforming, and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals.”
Before going into more of the memorandum, I believe it is a good idea to clarify why President Biden mentioned those specific groups of people in regards to housing discrimination. It can take many forms – and is often done in very sneaky ways that make it difficult for people to immediately recognize that they have been discriminated against.
HUD.gov has several examples of housing discrimination. They take the form of little stories where the person is either referred to as John or Jane.
- John, who is a Black man, speaks to a prospective landlord on the phone about leasing an apartment. On the phone, the landlord seems eager to rent to John, but when John meets with the landlord in person to fill out an application, the landlord’s attitude is entirely different. A few days later, John receives a letter saying that his application was denied because of a negative reference from his current landlord. John is surprised because he never had problems with his landlord, and his landlord swears she was never contacted for a reference. John suspects that the real reason he was denied the apartment was because he is Black, so John files a complaint with HUD. HUD investigates, and it turns out John is right – the landlord’s files show a pattern of discrimination because of race and color.
- John, who is an Asian man, meets with a real estate broker to discuss purchasing a house for his family. When John names the neighborhood that he is interested in, the broker asks John if he is sure his family will feel comfortable there. The broker tells John that she has a wonderful listing in another neighborhood where there are more “people like them.” When the broker takes John to see the house, John notices that the residents of the neighborhood appear to mostly be Asian. John files a complaint with HUD because steering someone to a certain neighborhood because of his race is a form of race discrimination.
- John recently moved to the United States from Mexico. One day, John sees that there is a new tenant in the apartment next to his, so he welcomes her to the building. John’s neighbor comments on how nice everyone in the building seems, especially the building manager, who offered to waive her security deposit because she seems like a good person. John is surprised because the building manager was short-tempered with him and said that John’s accent made him hard to understand. John later finds out that the building manager has waived fees and deposits for other tenants he likes, but not for him or other persons from Mexico. John files a complaint with HUD because providing different terms and conditions to tenants because of national origin is illegal discrimination.
- Jane has a developmental disability that affects her capacity to manage her own finances. Jane tells her building manager that her mother will be paying her rent for this reason and asks if all notices relating to her rent can be sent to her mother. The building manager tells Jane that the management company has a policy of only sending notices to residents, no exceptions. Several months later, Jane receives an eviction notice because her mother had not known that Jane’s rent had been increased. Jane files a complaint with HUD because denying a reasonable accommodation is a form of disability discrimination.
- John, a person with a disability that uses a wheelchair, views a condominium he is hoping to purchase in a new multistory building. When John arrives, he finds there are not accessible parking spaces in the building’s parking lot. When John tries to enter the unit, his wheelchair can barely fit through the door and he bangs his arms on the way in. Inside the unit, the thermostat and light switches are all too high for him to reach. The building has a fitness room, but he cannot look at it because the only way to get to the fitness room is to go up steps. John files a complaint with HUD because failing to comply with accessibility requirements is a form of disability discrimination.
There is an entire page on the HUD website titled: “Housing Discrimination And Persons Identifying As LGBTQ“. Part of the information includes some examples:
- An underwriter for an FHA-insured lender is reviewing a loan application by two males; both incomes are being used as the basis of the applicants’ credit worthiness. The underwriter assumes the applicants are a gay couple and, as a result, denies the application despite the fact that the applicants meet all requirements for the loan. This may violate HUD’s Equal Access Rule, which prohibits FHA-lenders from taking actual or perceived sexual orientation into consideration in determining adequacy of an applicant’s income.
- A transgender women is asked by the owner of her apartment building not to dress in women’s clothing in the common areas of the property. This may violate the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination, which includes discrimination based on non-conformity with gender stereotypes.
- A gay man is evicted because his landlord believes he will infect others with HIV/AIDS. This may violate the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition against disability discrimination, which includes discrimination against people who have or are perceived to have HIV/AIDS.
President Biden’s memorandum points out: …”a persistent undervaluation of properties owned by families of color; a disproportionate burden of pollution and exposure to the impacts of climate change in communities of color…”
Chicago Policy Review posted an article on April 12, 2021, that includes information that backs up Biden’s claim.
“A large body of evidence shows that Black and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately exposed to harmful pollutants. People of color are more likely to live near hazardous waste landfills, more likely to reside near contaminated waterways, and more likely to breathe air containing pollutants such as ozone. Scholars have named this phenomenon the “toxic exposure gap” and believe that it contributes to poor health outcomes and persistent poverty…”
“… A new study illuminates one potential answer. Between 2018 and 2019, a team of three economists – Christensen, Sarmiento-Barbieri and Timmins – studied the connection between housing discrimination and residential air pollution. Their results suggest that discriminatory behavior among realtors makes it more difficult for Black and Hispanic Americans to move to neighborhoods free of pollution….”
“… The results provide significant evidence of discrimination in the American housing market. When a perceived person of color applied to live in a low-pollution neighborhood, they received only 59% as many realtors’ responses as white applicants did. These disparities were particularly pronounced for African-American men and held regardless of a given neighborhood’s racial composition and income…”
The next part of President Biden’s memorandum says:
“… Throughout much of the 20th century, the Federal Government systematically supported discrimination and exclusion in housing and mortgage lending. While many of the Federal Government’s housing policies and programs expanded homeownership across the country, many knowingly excluded Black people and other persons of color, and promoted and reinforced housing segregation, Federal policies contributed to mortgage redlining and lending discrimination against persons of color…”
What is redlining? Investopedia explains it well, especially in a section that includes frequently asked questions.
Why is it called Redlining? The term “redlining” was coined by sociologist John McKnight in the 1960s and derives from how the federal government and lenders would literally draw a red line on a map around neighborhoods they would not invest in based on demographics alone. In the 1930s the federal government began redlining real estate, marking “risky” neighborhoods for federal mortgage loans on the basis of race.
Why is Redlining Discriminatory? Redlining is discriminatory practice as it puts services (financial and otherwise) out of reach for residents of certain areas based on race or ethnicity. It can be seen in the systemic denial of mortgages, insurance, loans, and other financial services based on location (and that area’s default demographic) rather than on the individual’s qualifications and creditworthiness. Black inner-city neighborhoods were the most likely to be redlined. Investigations found that lenders would make loans to lower-income Whites but not to middle- or upper-income African Americans. The result of this redlining in real estate could still be felt decades later.
The next part of President Biden’s memorandum brings up the Interstate Highway System.
“…The creation of the Internet Highway System, funded and constructed by the Federal Government and State governments in the 20th century, disproportionately burdened many historically Black and low-income neighborhoods in many American cities. Many urban interstate highways were deliberately built to pass through Black neighborhoods, often requiring the destruction of housing and other local institutions. To this day, many Black neighborhoods are disconnected from access to high-quality housing, jobs, public transit, and other resources.
“The Federal Government must recognized and acknowledge its role in systematically declining to invest in communities of color and preventing residents of those communities from accessing the same services and resources as their white counterparts. The effects of these policy decisions continue to be felt today, as racial inequality still permeates land-use patterns in most U.S. cities and virtually all aspects of housing markets…”
Politifact provided information about the Interstate Highway System in a fact-check in which they were investigating a quote from a public figure.
From the Politifact fact-check:
“There are numerous examples of Interstate highways tearing through existing neighborhoods populated largely by people of color.
“In Miami, I-95 ran through the predominantly Black neighborhood of Overtown. In Alabama, portions of I-65 or I-85 were routed through Black communities in Montgomery and Birmingham. In Los Angeles, freeway planners targeted Boyle Heights, a neighborhood with many Mexican Americans.
“In North Carolina, a freeway decimated the “Black Wall Street of the South” in Durham’s Hayti neighborhood. The North Claiborne Avenue area of New Orleans was the home of the Black Mardi Gras, but in the early 1960s, highway planners all by destroyed the neighborhood for an elevated section of I-10. Other examples can be found in Baltimore, Detroit and Richmond, Va., among other cities.
“Sometimes Interstates were built in ways that kept racial groups apart…”
The next section of President Biden’s memorandum focuses on the Fair Housing Act.
“The Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act more than 50 years ago to lift barriers that created separate and unequal neighborhoods on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin. Since then, however, access to housing and the creation of wealth through homeownership have remained persistently unequal in the United States. Many neighborhoods are as racially segregated today as they were in the middle of the 20th century. People of color are overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness.
“In addition, people of color disproportionately bear the burdens of exposure to air and water pollution, and growing risks of housing instability from climate crises like extreme heat, flooding, and wildfires. And the racial wealth gap is wider than it was when the Fair Housing Act was enacted, driven in part by persistent disparities in access to home ownership. Although Federal fair housing laws were expanded to include protections for individuals with disabilities, a lack of access to affordable and integrated living options remains a significant problem.”
History.com has an explanation about the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
“The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing based on race, religion, national origin or sex. Intended as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the bill was the subject of a contentious debate in the Senate, but was quickly passed by the House of Representatives in the days after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The Fair Housing Act stands as the final great legislative achievement of the civil rights era…
“…In the U.S. Senate debate over the proposed legislation, Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts – the first African American ever to be elected to the Senate by popular vote – spoke personally on his return from World War II and his inability to provide a home of his choice for his new family because of his race.
“In early April 1968, the bill passed the Senate, albeit by an exceedingly slim margin, thanks to the support of the Senate Republican leader, Everett Dirkson, which defeated a southern filibuster…
“…After a strictly limited debate, the House passed the Fair Housing Act on April 10, and President Johnson signed it into law the following day…
“…Despite the historic nature of the Fair Housing Act, and its stature as the last major act of legislation of the civil rights movement, in practice housing remained segregated in many areas of the United States in the years that followed.
“From 1950 to 1980, the total Black population in America’s urban centers increased from 6.1 million to 15.3 million. During this same time period, white Americans steadily moved out of the cities to the suburbs, taking many of the employment opportunities Black people needed into communities where they were not welcome to live.
“The trend led to the growth in urban America of ghettoes, or inner city communities with high minority populations that were plagued by unemployment, crime and other social ills…”
The rest of President Biden’s memorandum calls on the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to examine a series of rules set by previous administrations and to determine their effects.
“…Based on that examination, the Secretary shall take any necessary steps, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to implement the Fair Housing Act’s requirements that HUD administer its programs in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing and HUD’s overall duty to administer the Act (42 U.S.C. 3608(a)) including by preventing practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect.”
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