Every four years, we hear promises from both sides of the political aisle about all of the changes that they will make once they get elected into office. With President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, many of their promises revolved around housing and racial equity, specifically, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (referred to as HUD hereafter) and its role in their plan to legislate equity in America in the next four years. What are their plans for HUD, and what do they mean for the American people?
We will dive deep into the good, the bad, and the most realistic outcomes of the changes that are promised to be made to HUD under the new administration as Biden kicks off his first year in office and the nation waits to see how he decides how to combat inequity and housing discrimination.
Equity for Black and Brown Communities
The primary goal set by President Biden for his administration’s HUD officials is to ensure that the United States housing industry ensures equity for disenfranchised communities of color that are disproportionately affected by homelessness, poverty, and housing instability as a result of what former acting HUD Secretary Matthew Ammon has referred to as the federal government’s “deliberate and systemic efforts to deny them fair and equal access to housing opportunities.”
While leaps and bounds in equity have been made in the past 53 years since the Fair Housing Act of 1968, it has never been implemented to the fullest effect that the current administration would like to see. One of President Biden’s first executive orders upon assuming his position in the White House was to initiate an investigation into the federal government’s fair housing practices over the last decade and determine what he and his administration can do in order to improve the industry and get rid of inequity in housing.
Part of this is due to the widespread belief that discrimination in housing, and lending practices, is preventing tens of millions of individuals the ability to advance themselves and their families. The overarching goal being to help more families attain the American dream of homeownership. By fully implementing the Fair Housing Act and enforcing neighborhood choice, individuals receiving subsidized housing or housing vouchers will be able to choose the neighborhood that they live in rather than being restricted only to dilapidated projects in undesirable areas of the inner city.
With current political challenges leading to Vice President Harris being the tie-breaking vote on many policies, many issues will require bipartisan support or full support of the Democrats and at least a few Republicans in order to fully pass without executive orders being pushed through by President Biden. That being said, President Biden has stated that he is prepared and willing to push these through - and into law - regardless of voting outcomes and support from either party if he deems it necessary to eliminate the equity and wealth gap present in America.
For the People or For Washington?
One concern shared by Democrats and Republicans alike is whether or not the politicians in Washington will actually implement what they promise their constituents and help the people that need it the most. Oftentimes, reform targeted towards societal equity comes from a place of good intent but, once implemented, becomes an overly complex and political means to boost the resumes and pocket books of the politicians working on it without helping the hard working Americans it was originally written to provide assistance to.
The previous administration implemented a change to HUD policy, requiring a five-step process in order for regulators to prosecute landlords, lenders, and real estate industry professionals. Part of the new administration’s plan includes rolling back this process, which has some concerned lawsuits and allegations of discrimination will be brought forward unscrupulously.
The concern here lies with how it could now potentially be abused by those who feel wronged (not discriminated against) by a lender, landlord, or housing professional and potentially destroy their life (and career) without any evidence of wrongdoing. This is potentially harmful to the real estate industry as a whole if baseless allegations of discrimination end up becoming commonplace whenever someone feels wronged or personal disagreements arise. While it is likely that it will mostly be pursued in clear cases of actual discrimination, it is a potential loophole that should be closed before it is exploited. Any time that there is no burden of evidence placed on the plaintiff, the potential for vexatious litigation skyrockets. This then places all industry experts in a position where they have to make a tough decision -- stay in an industry where they are not protected against potentially false and inflammatory claims -- or retire/change career paths to a field where they have more protections.
What’s Really Going to Happen?
In reality, it is safe to say that what is promised to us from Washington is just a glimpse into what will and could actually happen. Historically, many promises made on campaign trails do not come to fruition once politicians make it into office. With this election cycle being a particularly volatile one (in addition to taking place during an incredibly expensive pandemic that is taking an immense toll on our nation) one can only expect that the new administration will be setting aside the majority of heavy hitting Housing and Urban Development changes until they have gotten the current COVID-19 pandemic under control and wrapped up.
Once things are resolved with the current global pandemic, it is fair to assume that it will take several years in order for any meaningful change to occur within the government and for policy to be effectively written, voted on, and eventually implemented on a national, state, and local level. At the end of the day, one cannot judge the administration’s decisions and policies based on what happens today and tomorrow, but over the long term. Looking back at the decisions made by President Biden during these four years will be much more meaningful ten or twenty years from now when we can observe the cause and effect of the policy, and determine what did and did not work effectively once implemented. Not only that, but it can take several years before the impacts of policies are actually felt on the local community level.
In conclusion, there are both positives and negatives associated with the new administration’s plans for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As with anything in politics, the likely outcome will be somewhere in the gray area in between, and will be difficult to measure until we are able to see the long term outcomes of the policies enacted.