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The Biden administration has made the issue of housing inequality a priority, acknowledging the role of federal, state and local governments in creating and implementing racist housing policies over the years. Margery Austin Turner, Institute Fellow, Urban Institute, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the impact of these policies and the importance of the Biden administration’s recognition of the same.
While local communities and states like Connecticut grapple with long-standing issues of housing inequality, the new Biden administration has announced it will also make this issue a priority.
On Tuesday, President Biden released a "memorandum on redressing our nation's and the federal government's history of discriminatory housing practices and policies." It included a frank acknowledgement that "during the 20th century, federal, state, and local governments systemically implemented racially discriminatory housing policies that contributed to segregated neighborhoods and inhibited equal opportunity…"
Earlier I spoke with Margery Austin Turner, institute fellow at the Urban Institute, and began by asking her about the importance of the Biden administration recognizing the role the government played in creating housing inequality.
Let's first start by talking about why is this even important as an executive action to acknowledge what happened?
Margery Austin Turner:
Facing the facts about the policies and practices that our government and private institutions have pursued over more than a century is absolutely the essential first step for addressing those harms, dismantling the system of separate and unequal neighborhoods that we've built. So facing the facts is critical.
It's a starting point, but it's not enough. We have a long path ahead of us, of a policy and practice changes to get us to more equitable solutions.
How much power does the Biden administration actually have? Because so much of what happens is on a local level, on a state level, what can the federal government do to try to right these inequities?
The federal government has a lot of tools in its toolkit and it could have more. It's true that state and local governments played an important role in building these inequities, and they're going to have to play a part in unwinding the legacy. But there's a lot the federal government can do.
Just one example is that HUD can reactivate a regulation that already exists. It's been well developed and well defined that requires states and localities that receive formula funding to develop plans, develop plans for their communities to create more neighborhood opportunities for everybody.
I know your organization has come up with a laundry list of suggestions, what is the easiest thing that the administration could tackle and then what is the hardest?
Well, none of this work is easy, but I think first steps are, as I said, reactivate this regulation that's already in place. A tremendous amount of excellent work was done in the Obama administration to craft this regulation. It's called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. Turn it back on. Get that started again right away.
In addition, HUD has the responsibility to enforce the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibit all kinds of discrimination in the housing market and sales, rentals, lending, appraisals. And that law can be more vigorously enforced, more proactively enforced, really digging into the forms, the subtle forms of discrimination that continue to operate in the housing market today.
So while neither of those things is easy, both can be done right away without new rulemaking or new legislation.
Ultimately, rules have to have some consequences. Is the federal government in a position where it can enforce the rules that are already on the books?
It clearly has the power and the obligation. I also think it's important for us to understand how much harm inaction is inflicting on all of us.
Discrimination and segregation perpetuate inequities and injustices across just about every domain of life safety, education, health, employment, wealth building. If we leave those inequities unaddressed, the costs to all of us are really huge. So this is a critical priority worth putting energy and effort and ultimately money into.
Do you think that the pandemic has brought this into focus more? I mean, we have lived with these inequities for so long. Are we paying more attention to it because we're seeing what's happening right now?
Well, I think this past year, both the profoundly inequitable consequences of the pandemic in terms of health and in terms of job and income loss and housing instability and hunger, all of those consequences have been far more severe for people of color. And that has really raised people's focus on these long standing issues. But I think also the reawakening to the terrible injustices that arose in the spring when we faced up to the killings of Black people by police. That reawakening of attention has also shifted our focus and forced a reckoning with these longstanding injustices.
Margery Austin Turner from the Urban Institute, thanks so much for joining us.
You're very welcome.
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