How fair housing and COVID-19 intersect
While the medical community has worked valiantly in the fight against a deadly pandemic, policymakers have largely failed to connect the dots between COVID-19 and the biggest driver of overall inequality between whites, and Black and Brown people: residential segregation.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, the racial disparities between whites and people of color have been clear. Black people were infected, hospitalized, and died at disproportionately higher rates.
Less evident, however, particularly to people in positions of power, was the connection between COVID-19’s known disparities by race, and the causes of residential segregation, which is the bedrock of American inequality.
Compared to white people, Blacks and Hispanics are twice as likely to be behind on their mortgage payments, and more than twice as likely to voice little or no confidence in their ability to make future mortgage payments. They are also at greater risk of losing their homes due to eviction.
These figures serve as the latest example of the depressing aphorism that when “white America catches a cold; Black America gets pneumonia.”
President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will take office Jan. 20 in the face of a long and daunting list of challenges. First on their agenda must be taking bold actions to reverse residential inequality and prevent communities of color from being pushed further behind. Their prescriptions should include access to safe and affordable housing that is free from discrimination. This step is an essential element of any strategy to eliminate the structural racism that has inflicted physical, emotional, social and economic harm on our society for centuries, and left communities of color more vulnerable to a global pandemic that has cost them disproportionately more.
The task before the Biden-Harris administration, and members of the 117th Congress is monumental, and the stakes could not be higher.
To help their efforts, the National Fair Housing Alliance recently issued a policy roadmap as a guide. Our solutions include:
- Meaningful fair housing impact analyses as a central component of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to solve the nation’s affordable housing shortage, close the racial homeownership gap, and eliminate the racial wealth gap.
- Prohibiting lenders, housing providers, and others operating in the housing space from accessing federal programs, subsidies, tax breaks, or other government assistance if they have violated the Fair Housing Act or Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
- Ensuring new programs to expand housing opportunity do not perpetuate the inequities of the past. One policy the new administration must advance is the use of Special Purpose Credit Programs to promote equal credit opportunities for people of color who have been impacted by lending discrimination and redlining.
We are encouraged that President-elect Biden selected Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) as his nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She has a strong track record of supporting matters of civil rights, and we’re looking forward to working closely with her to prioritize fair housing practices.
We believe her main priority must be to reverse the damage to fair housing caused by the Trump administration. Fudge must restore the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, reinstate Disparate Impact protections, and rebuild HUD’s team of fair housing and lending experts. With over 4 million instances of housing discrimination each year, these are the minimum tools she will need to protect people of color, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and families with children who have suffered under discriminatory policies.
While a strong nominee to lead HUD is a good start, it’s not nearly enough.
We need principled leadership dedicated to eliminating systemic racism to be the charge of every Cabinet appointee. Reforms to advance justice will only be achieved through a coordinated, intentional push within and between federal agencies. Where you live matters deeply, and fair housing opportunities have a significant and lasting impact on every aspect of a person’s life and their health outcomes. Communities of color have more hazardous and toxic waste facilities; more polluted land, air and water; fewer banking options, health care and fitness facilities; less green space and access to fresh food and water. These problems are interrelated and will not be solved by government agencies working in silos. To create a set of coherent, government-wide policies that promote racial equity, President-elect Biden should re-establish the President’s Fair Housing Council and appoint Vice President-elect Harris as chair.
To prevent history from repeating itself, the Biden-Harris administration and the new Congress must tackle structural inequality in all its forms and this critical work must begin on Day One.
If the new administration fails to take bold and immediate action, Black and Brown people will never fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, racial inequality will grow, and the dismantling of fair housing that happened during the Trump administration will combine to make the nation less secure.
Lisa Rice is the president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance.
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