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Biden Wants More Equity When It Comes To Housing. What Does That Look Like?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. We're going to take a closer look now at the housing issue. 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. Andre Perry is a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, where he studies race and housing. Andre, thanks so much for being here.

ANDRE PERRY: Hey, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what do you make of this executive order? Is it going to make the changes that you want to see?

PERRY: Well, first, it's a start. We haven't heard or seen equity mentioned as much as any president as it has been uttered by Biden in just the first month of being in office. So introducing values is important. This executive order on housing also directs the HUD secretary to essentially enforce discrimination under - that occurs under its purview. So it's a great start. 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 hurts Black, brown and Asian people. And so it's a good start. It's more than symbolic, but I'm happy to see it.

MARTIN: Yeah. I want to pick up on something you said, that the order is going to push HUD to fully enforce the Fair Housing Act. Can you explain how the Fair Housing Act has been neglected or not enforced?

PERRY: Oh, man. When it comes to discrimination, there's some obvious sort of things that occur on the daily. So there's rental discrimination. Landlords consistently discriminate against Black, brown and Asian folk. We also see steering from real estate agents. And that's the practice where real estate agents direct potential buyers towards one neighborhood, whether they're Black or white, depending on the neighborhood. There's also harassment claims that essentially come from - particularly from landlords. And this is occurring right now because of COVID. So many renters have not been able to pay and they've received significant harassment. So over the last four years, you have essentially not seen any enforcement. Ben Carson and 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 there's another issue. Equity is not just about fairness. It's also about material losses. The executive order doesn't really touch on how we're going to recoup those material losses from historic discrimination.

MARTIN: Some part of this problem lies outside federal control - right? - as you have mentioned, practices from mortgage lenders, discriminatory practices that banks have carried out, real estate agents and that industry. How do you start to address those issues?

PERRY: Yeah. You know, again, housing involves the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the OCC, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve. There are so many agencies. My issue that's mentioned in the memo regarding housing in terms of 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. And so I do think this is a start. You have to start somewhere. You start with HUD. And hopefully momentum from the public can encourage these other areas to make change. Remember, much of the redlining, the Federal Highway Administration work and the creation of the interstate highway system, all these different things, there was complicity with municipalities in terms of zoning. And so we're going to ask for those same coconspirators to be on the side of justice in this case. So they need to take on some of Biden's equity value.

MARTIN: Andre Perry, he's the author of "Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives And Property In America's Black Cities." He's also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thank you so much.

PERRY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.