April 11, 2018

Brown Floor Speech On The 50th Anniversary Of The Fair Housing Act

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 speech on the Senate floor today on the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

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


Mr./Mdme. President,

50 years ago today, we enacted the Fair Housing Act, just one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he fought for economic justice with sanitation workers in Memphis. 

It also came just weeks after the Kerner Commission issued its report on the origins of urban unrest in the 1960s. This report  contained the now-famous warning that “[our] nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal." 

In the wake of these events, the Fair Housing Act made discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing illegal for the first time.  

For generations, redlining, restrictive covenants, and outright discrimination kept families of color locked out of entire neighborhoods, and created segregated communities that linger to this day.

They denied these families the opportunity to build wealth through homeownership.

Many of these exclusionary practices were carried out by private entities and local governments. But, as Richard Rothstein reminds us in his new book, “The Color of Law,” federal policies also played a role in reinforcing segregation.

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

The Fair Housing Act made this despicable discrimination illegal, and it required that federal housing and urban development grants be administered in a way that would “affirmatively further” fair housing.

State and local governments and public housing authorities were required to use their federal funds in ways that would reverse – rather than reinforce – segregation in their communities.

But April 11, 1968 was not the end of our work to ensure fair housing and equal opportunity.

50 years later, there is still more work to be done. 

A new report this year from the Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed tens of millions of mortgage records, and found that all across the country, people of color are far more likely to be turned down for a loan, even when you take into account factors like their income and the size of the loan.

And we know that the 2008 housing crisis hit communities of color particularly hard.

In the run-up to the crisis, faulty mortgages were targeted to people of color. Even those who qualified for a no-frills, no-surprises prime mortgage were often instead steered into a subprime loan. Even African American and Hispanic borrowers with higher incomes than other borrowers found themselves in subprime products.

These practices of discrimination stripped a generation’s worth of equity from communities that had fought hard for equal access to homeownership.

The household wealth of communities of color still hasn’t recovered. Middle class black and Hispanic families lost half their wealth from 2007 to 2013.

Middle income black household wealth was $63,700 in 2007. In 2016, it was $38,300. The numbers are similar for Hispanic households – $85,600 in 2007 and $46,000 in 2016. 

Borrowers with these higher-cost loans were foreclosed on at almost triple the rate of borrowers with standard, 30-year fixed rate mortgages. Between 2006 and 2014, more than 9.3 million homeowners lost their homes through foreclosure, distressed sales, or surrendering their home to the lender. 

After the crisis, we took steps to fight this discrimination.

We created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look after bank customers, and to help root out discrimination. We required lenders to report more detailed data, so we can more easily spot modern-day redlining.

In 2015, HUD also issued the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. 

The rule would have given clearer guidance to communities to help them assess their own fair housing needs, and provided them with the data they need to inform their decisions. And it would have allowed them to set their own goals and timelines.

Some of the questions communities would ask during these assessments would demand they think in new ways about how to create housing and economic opportunities for all of their residents – no matter their color, or family size, or whether they have a disability. 

These are the types of questions this body told the country to ask when it enacted the Fair Housing Act nearly 50 years ago.

We know there is more work to be done.

But instead of recommitting ourselves to the promise we made five decades ago, too many Washington politicians are trying to take us backward.

Earlier this year, HUD suspended implementing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.

That won’t reverse the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Instead, it will hurt communities, which will once again be left to comply with the law without the technical assistance and tools they need.

And remember that new data that banks were going to report, to make it easier to spot lenders that discriminate?

The bill the Senate passed last month would exempt 85 percent of banks from reporting the data they are collecting and reporting today. 

Without it, we cannot monitor trends in mortgage lending. Without this data, it will be even harder to see who has access to affordable mortgage credit – and who does not. 

HUD is even thinking about changing its mission statement in ways that diminish the importance of combating housing discrimination.

And the administration’s actions over the past year make it clear they’re already wavering in that commitment.

For example:

  • In 2017, HUD withdrew guidance requiring equal access for transgender people in homeless shelters. 
  • According to a report in the New York Times, Dr. Carson’s HUD has suspended several anti-discrimination investigations, including an investigation of discriminatory housing advertisements on Facebook.
  • The administration proposed a 14 percent cut to the HUD budget, including affordable housing and community development programs aimed at creating housing and opportunity for low-income communities.

This is the last thing we ought to be doing at a time when a quarter of all renter households – including 400,000 in Ohio alone – pay more than half of their incomes for rent.

A few years ago, I hosted a discussion with some of my colleagues and Matthew Desmond, the author of the book “Evicted.”

In the front of my copy of the book, he scribbled the phrase “Home = Life.”  

That simple statement captures so much. A safe, stable home is the foundation for opportunity.

And too many people are being denied that opportunity.

That’s why we must redouble our commitment to fair housing, and take real, proactive steps.

My colleagues and I have legislation, the Fair and Equal Housing Act of 2017, that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to those protected from discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. 

Rather than take us backward, we must take these sorts of actions to give more Americans the opportunity to have a safe, stable home, and to build wealth through homeownership. We must constantly work toward realizing Dr. King’s vision of equality and economic opportunity for all.