September 23, 2020

Brown Floor Speech: Detailing How The Trump Administration Has Systematically Undermined Decades Of Fair Housing Progress

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – delivered the following floor speech on a new report that outlines how the Trump Administration has systematically undermined 50 years of fair housing progress. The report which was written by the Banking and Housing Committee minority staff can be found here:

Sen. Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Mr./Mdme. President,

The coronavirus pandemic has been the “great revealer.”

This crisis isn’t happening in a vacuum – it’s layered atop a system that already wasn’t working for a whole lot of people, and that had centuries of racism built into it.

Few places is that more true than in our housing system. And when it comes to housing, like so many problems in this country, we have a president who makes things worse, not better.

For four years now, President Trump and his administration have systematically undermined fair housing.

Their agenda has turned back the clock on civil rights protections that leave communities of color, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people behind.

This week, I released a comprehensive report detailing all the ways that President Trump has made inequality and segregation in housing worse – and the work we have to do to undo the damage.

More than 50 years after Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, access to housing remains not just unequal, but separate and unequal.

The contours of our country are still defined by “Black,” “Latino,” “Asian,” or “white” neighborhoods – all with very different levels of access to resources like schools and grocery stores, and health care, and clean air and water, and public safety.

This is not an accident. This is by design.

For decades, the federal government not only condoned housing segregation and discrimination – it actively promoted it.

We all know about Jim Crow – even if too many want to deny we’re still living with its legacy today.

But it wasn’t just the most blatant racist laws – discrimination was woven into the creation of our modern housing system from the beginning.

After the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt created the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation – the HOLC – and the Federal Housing Administration, the FHA.

These could have been tools for expanding opportunity for everyone – they did that for white Americans. But for Black Americans, they did the opposite.

HOLC partnered with local real estate agents and appraisers to make “Residential Security Maps.”

These maps used color-coding to differentiate between supposedly “high-risk” and “low-risk” neighborhoods, with green signifying the “Best” neighborhoods and red indicating a supposedly “Hazardous” area. 

Neighborhoods that were home to people of color, even a small percentage, were marked “Declining” or “Hazardous.”

That was redlining.

It was despicable racism, woven into the fabric of our housing system. And we still live with the results. Capital – in the form of low-cost, stable mortgages – flowed to white neighborhoods and dried up in Black neighborhoods, or neighborhoods that were home to immigrants.

White borrowers were able to build wealth through homeownership that could be passed down through families.

Our government systematically denied Black families the same wealth-building opportunity.

From 1934 through 1962, 98 percent of all FHA mortgages went to white homeowners[1]. 

It wasn’t until Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, assassination in 1968 that Congress finally passed the Fair Housing Act, to outlaw discrimination and promote integrated communities.

The Fair Housing Act was followed by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Community Reinvestment Act. These laws all provided powerful tools to root out discrimination and invest in underserved communities.

But for too long, those laws were not fully implemented.

Administrations of both parties ignored the Fair Housing Act’s requirement that the federal government affirmatively further fair housing and minority communities remained underinvested. It took decades for all courts to say that if a housing policy has a discriminatory effect it is, in fact, discriminatory. 

The government also didn’t collect enough housing data to root out discriminatory lending that fed the subprime mortgage crisis. We know the 2008 crisis stripped away much of the housing wealth families of color had fought for.

Today access to housing – and all the opportunity and stability that comes with it – remains unequal.

The African American homeownership rate is nearly 30 percentage points below the white homeownership rate.

Analysts have tried to explain the disparity with income and education. But it never tells the whole story. 

With all else equal, similarly-situated African Americans are less likely to own a home than their white counterparts.

Black and Latino renters are also more likely to pay a larger share of their income toward housing than white renters, making it even harder to get by, and even harder to save to buy a home.

That’s the legacy of redlining and racial exclusion at work.

During the last Administration, President Obama made significant strides in finally enforcing the civil rights laws that have been on the books for decades.

But instead of continuing that progress, President Trump has turned back the clock, and undone the progress civil rights leaders fought for.

Over the past four years, the Trump Administration has:

·       Appointed an OCC director who undermined the Community Reinvestment Act by making it less likely banks will provide the loans, investments, and services that their communities need.

·       Cut back on housing data collection, allowing lending discrimination to go unchecked.

·       Tried to make mortgages more expensive and harder to get, particularly for people of color.

·       Denied opportunities for homeownership to hundreds of thousands of young adults.

·       Forced families to choose between access to affordable housing, food, and healthcare, and a path to citizenship.

·       Gutted the “disparate impact standard” that helps root out policies that have hidden discriminatory effects.

·       And they’ve dismantled the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule – essentially telling communities around the country: you shouldn’t even bother trying to create a better, more equal housing system, and we won’t help you if you want to.

And on and on and on it goes.

I invite everyone to read our report, and then join us to take action.

We have our work cut out for us to undo all the damage President Trump has done, and then to get to work to actually erase the legacy of redlining and Jim Crow, and build a housing system that works for everyone.  

We have to restore the Fair Housing Act to its full strength.

This means providing the tools to help communities create more inclusive housing markets, to end home lending discrimination, and strengthen fair housing oversite.

We must break down barriers to homeownership and redesign our housing finance system so that it better serves Black and brown communities.

We have to protect the basic premise that LGBTQ people seeking shelter should be treated with the same dignity and respect as every other person.

And we must provide long-overdue investments in housing and community development in communities of color.

Black families and other communities of color have endured too many decades of our country failing them.

The same year we passed the Fair Housing Act, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech we call “The Other America.” In that speech, he said:

“Our nation has constantly taken a positive step forward on the question of racial justice and racial equality. But over and over again at the same time, it made certain backward steps.”

The Trump Administration is that backward step.

Fundamentally, we all pretty much want the same thing – a home that’s safe, in a community we care about, where we can get to work and our kids have a good school, with room for our family – whether that’s three kids, or an aging parent, or a beloved pet.

You should get to define what home looks like for you. And you should be able to find it and afford it without crippling stress every single month.

For too many Black and brown families, that’s been out of reach.

Congress cannot ignore these challenges, and we can’t keep allowing the Trump Administration to gut the tools we have to make people’s lives better. 

If we want to make the economy work better for everyone – including the communities of color who have been systematically excluded from opportunity – we cannot shrink from these challenges. When work has dignity, everyone can find and afford a place to call home.