Biden’s housing agenda starts with fair housing initiative

With a Senate split, progress may come down to executive orders and those the administration puts in place to enforce them.

One of the first actions President Biden took after being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States was to sign an executive order that would undo controversial policies put in place by his predecessor and continue to strengthen the effort to have fair housing in America for all.

Biden’s order targeted two policies put in place by President Trump – a rule that governs how cities determine and act upon housing segregation, and a rule that relaxed standards that police discrimination when it comes to mortgage lending and rental housing.

Biden called for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review these orders and to take the steps necessary to get HUD’s policies back in line with those outlined in the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Although that Act has been in place for nearly 53 years, the homeownership rate for Blacks in America is no better in 2021 than they were when that act was created.

With homeownership being one of the largest drivers to creating intergenerational wealth, many feel the federal government needs to take on a more active role – rather than leaving this to state and local governments to manage – in order for there to be a real difference.

Marcia Fudge, who was expected to be approved by the U.S. Senate as the new HUD Secretary in early March, is going to be busy in her new gig.

That’s because Biden’s fair housing agenda is not just about undoing a couple of Trump policies. Biden’s agenda includes eliminating red tape to make housing development easier as well as implementing new policies designed to close the racial gap in homeownership.

Biden feels he can accomplish this because of key leaders he has appointed to important roles in the administration that will tackle fair housing head-on.

Jenn Jones is the new chief-of-staff at HUD, after serving as the lead for the nonprofit National Community Reinvestment coalition. Prior to that, she served as a senior policy advisor to President Obama’s HUD Secretary Julian Castro where she was a guiding hand in the development of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule that was an Obama executive order.

The rest of HUD’s senior staff is a who’s who of researchers who have studied ways to improve equity and fair housing issues.

Atop the list is Alanna McCargo who is now the senior advisor on housing finance at HUD after serving as vice president of housing finance policy at the Urban Institute.

Ironically, Sasha Samberg-Champion is the deputy general counsel for HUD’s office of general counsel. Samberg-Champion previously sued HUD in 2018 on behalf of the National Fair Housing Alliance and housing groups in Texas for a failure to enforce the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. He told Bloomberg CityLab in 2020 that “HUD is taking fair housing out of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.”

Then there’s Peggy Bailey, who will serve as the senior advisor of rental assistance at HUD who previously was the vice president for housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Bloomberg City Lab noted in a January 26 article that the Biden Administration will likely appoint Michael Barr to head up the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an agency in the Treasury Department that has an impact on fair lending standards.

Barr was a Treasury-Department official under President Obama and his first task will be to undo a Trump rule that all but gutted the Community Reinvestment Act requiring banks to fully serve the communities in which they are located.

The Community Reinvestment Act could use a facelift though, to accommodate online-only banks and other technological changes that have made lending easier.

The hiccup here with Barr as an appointment is that progressives within Biden’s own Democratic Party oppose this appointment because Barr is allegedly too chummy with former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who was deemed to be in Wall Street’s pocket.

This is a concern because the OCC has built a bad reputation over the years of being in cahoots with the banks, therefore any link to banks or Wall Street, even if it’s a secondary or tertiary link, is going to be viewed negatively.

Barr does have support from some progressives, most notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who he also considers a mentor. But, Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown and House Committee on Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters have pushed back against his appointment.

These appointments are critical if the Biden Administration really wants to push this housing agenda. With a split Senate, legislation will be tough to pass, meaning that Biden will have to rely on executive orders, such as this one, and having the right people in place to enforce his new rules.

This is likely his only path to changing the equity of how the federal government responds to housing issues like fair and affordable housing.