Joe Biden’s administration is restoring Obama-era fair housing rules at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, critical to the enforcement of federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and disability, among other protected categories.
Days after his inauguration, the president issued four executive orders aimed at advancing racial equity and tackling systemic racism, including directing the Housing Department to examine the impacts of former President Donald Trump’s cuts to civil rights protections in housing laws and to begin reversing them.
Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge intends to revive a 2013 rule aimed at preventing landlords, lenders and other housing authorities from putting in place discriminatory barriers to housing that have disproportionate impacts among Black and Latino residents. That rule was weakened under the Trump administration.
The department also will restore a 2015 policy that requires communities that receive billions of dollars in federal aid to identify and root out barriers to racial integration or risk losing that money – another move undermined by the Trump administration. Former Housing Secretary Ben Carson faced lawsuits from civil rights groups for reversing the Obama-era policy.
The policy changes were announced by the White House Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday and first reported by The Washington Post.
“The Trump administration set us back years in the push for fair housing and inclusive communities,” Mr Obama’s Housing Secretary Julian Castro said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Reinstating these rules, which HUD worked to finalise over several years, marks a major step forward.”
On Sunday, Mr Biden issued a proclamation recognising National Fair Housing Month and passage of the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968 that implemented civil rights protections in housing laws.
“My administration will continue our efforts to close persistent racial gaps in wages, housing, credit, lending opportunities, and access to higher education,” said Mr Biden, adding that closing those gaps would “add an estimated $5 trillion in gross domestic product in the American economy over the next [five] years”.
“We are committed to doing all we can to end unlawful housing discrimination and advance equity for all underserved populations, fulfil the full promise of the Fair Housing Act, and put the American dream within reach of all Americans,” he said.
In a video statement, Ms Fudge said that the purpose of the Fair Housing Act “is to bring an end to discrimination in housing and to eliminate the patterns of racial and ethnic segregation and economic disparities that have long existed in our neighbourhoods and communities”.
“We are focused on putting fair housing and civil rights back at the forefront of HUD’s mission,” she said.
Susan Rice, director of the National Fair Housing Alliance, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that the US experiences more than 4 million cases of housing discrimination every year.
Ms Rice told The Washington Post that her organisation is working with the Biden administration ensure his sweeping infrastructure and jobs plan – which proposes $213bn for housing – centres racial equity, after the nation’s legacy of infrastructure projects have enshrined racial inequities.