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6 Research-Supported Steps Toward Fairness in Housing

President Biden in a recent Executive Order acknowledged the federal government’s role in creating and perpetuating patterns that contribute to racial segregation, inequality, and inequity.

The federal government has played a central role in creating and perpetuating today’s patterns of racial segregation, neighborhood disinvestment, housing insecurity, and racial wealth gaps, according to an Urban Institute report by three researchers outlining "six steps the federal government could take to achieve the goals outlined in the presidential memorandum."

"Moreover, these patterns have terrible consequences in that they fuel inequities in health, education, policing, and employment," the researchers noted.

This acknowledgement is both history-making and packs plenty of punch, the institute noted, particularly since, prior to Biden, no president had pointed a finger at the culpability of the federal government, much less taken official action to redress the consequences of its actions.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) leaders, in tandem with other federal agencies, have previously acknowledged the role of the government in creating racial inequity and injustice. However, according to the researchers, progress toward undoing the previously unchecked consequences of the federal government ignoring — or denying — its obligation to redress the harms of racist policies has, at best, been sluggish, the organization further stated.

President Biden’s new memorandum and last week’s executive order on gaining traction with racial equity recognize that initiatives to erase the nation’s history of racism doesn’t mean the issues and inequities induced by racism can’t be treated as if they never happened, said the Urban Institute.

"Facing the facts about our history is a necessary step toward long-overdue healing and provides the foundation for urgently needed policy changes," the researchers said.

Research fellows Margery Austin Turner, Solomon Greene, and Martha M. Galvez rounded up several Urban Institute research projects in order to come up with their list of steps the government could/should take if it wishes to carry out the President's plan.

  1. Vigorously enforce the long-neglected statutory mandate to affirmatively further fair housing by requiring local and state governments to develop plans that restore resources and opportunities in historically disinvested neighborhoods and that expand access to exclusive neighborhoods.
  2. Expand neighborhood choice by documenting voucher discrimination and identifying ways to enhance the Housing Choice Voucher Program as a tool to help families live in opportunity-rich neighborhoods.
  3. Break down exclusionary barriers to housing production and support local inclusionary housing policies by creating incentives for states and localities to reform zoning and land-use regulations.
  4. Collect and share disaggregated data so that needs can be accurately identified and progress toward closing equity gaps can be systematically evaluated.
  5. Confront emerging and evolving forms of discrimination in today’s housing market and reaffirm and enforce the disparate impact standard, which recognizes that groups protected under the Fair Housing Act can experience discrimination through policies and practices even if no evidence exists of an intention to discriminate.
  6. Close the racial wealth gap by supporting homeownership and home equity for households of color.

(Urban Institute)

Relatedly, researchers at the Urban Institute reported last month that AVMs hold promise when it comes to reducing costs and increasing accuracy, and they write that the practice has helped keep the housing market moving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, in a late-December study, they found that AVMs in majority-Black neighborhoods produce larger errors, relative to the underlying sales price, than AVMs in majority-White neighborhoods, potentially contributing to the wide housing wealth gap between Black and White homeowners.

Researchers Michael Neal, Sarah Strochak, Linna Zhu, and Caitlin Young, who wrote the paper entitled "How Automated Valuation Models Can Disproportionately Affect Majority-Black Neighborhoods," say that historically, appraisals, including in-person appraisals, have been tainted by bias.

About Author: Chuck Green

Chuck Green has contributed to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and others covering various industries, including real estate, business and banking, technology, and sports
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