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Biden's Push Against Housing Discrimination Must Go Beyond HUD, Researcher Says

Housing discrimination against communities of color also involves lenders, local zoning laws and other issues, says Andre Perry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Dan Brandenburg
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Housing discrimination against communities of color also involves lenders, local zoning laws and other issues, says Andre Perry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The Biden administration says the federal government needs to do a better job of acknowledging the ways that communities of color are blocked from fair and equal access to housing.

"Today the average Black family has just one-tenth the wealth of the average white family, while the gap between white and Black in home ownership is now larger than it was in 1960," Susan Rice, head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said in a news briefing Tuesday.

One of several executive orders signed by President Biden directsthe Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies to overcome a history of racism in housing and restore tools to uncover evidence of discrimination when people apply to rent or buy homes.

"It's a great start," Andre Perry, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, where he studies race and housing, said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition.

But Perry, the author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America's Black Cities, added, "The problem with it is that housing entails so many different regulatory agencies, so many different jurisdictions that HUD may not be able to reach many of the issues that hurt Black, brown and Asian people."

There are a variety of forms of housing discrimination, said Perry, which makes addressing them complex. Some occur daily, he said.

"There's rental discrimination — landlords consistently discriminate against Black, brown and Asian folk," he said. There's also the practice of real estate agents directing potential homebuyers toward a particular neighborhood based on the buyer's race. And there are instances of landlords harassing tenants over their failure to pay the rent — a problem that's especially acute as millions of jobless people face evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Black and Latino households are twice as likely as white families to say they're struggling to pay or have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments, according to a poll last summer by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"So many renters have not been able to pay, and they receive significant harassment," Perry said.

"Over the last four years, you have essentially not seen any enforcement," according to Perry. He said that under former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, HUD had "essentially been sitting on their collective hands when it comes to these issues. So this is a welcome action on the part of Biden to say, 'Hey, we at least have to enforce the rules on the books.' "

But Perry said another key issue isn't addressed by the new president's action. "The executive order doesn't really touch on how we're going to recoup those material losses from historic discrimination."

And, he said, the remedies for housing discrimination will need to be found beyond HUD and even the federal government overall.

"Housing devaluation has a lot to do with real estate agent behavior, has a lot to do with appraisals, has a lot to do with lending — none of which HUD really has a good hold on," Perry said.

"Remember, much of the redlining, the Federal Highway Administration work and the creation of the interstate highway system, all these different things," he said. "There was complicity with municipalities in terms of zoning. And so we're going to ask for those same co-conspirators to be on the side of justice in this case. So they need to take on some of Biden's equity value."

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Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.