Just Economy Conference – May 3, 2021
Andre Perry, Senior Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program
NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity.
Well thank you Secretary Fudge for those comments and thank you to everyone who has come here to have this conversation around housing and pandemic and equity. I am Dedrick Asante-Mohamad, new chief of membership policy and equity at NCRC. And we are joined as you can see by Dr. Andrew Perry Senior Fellow with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, a scholar in residence at American University and author of the new book, Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities. Thank you Dr. Price for coming. We are also joined by President and CEO Diane Yentel of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a membership organization dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes. Thank you for coming. We are here to discuss Secretary Fudge’s remarks on the state of housing and homeownership. Please, everyone watching share, please feel free to share your comments concerning Secretary Fudge’s remarks. And any questions you have for the panel. You too can be part of this conversation. So first, let me go to our panelists and ask, you know, what did they hear from our new Secretary of HUD, Secretary of Housing, urban development? And how do they feel the agenda being outlined just speaks to the moments we’re in? Let me start with diet?
Sure, thank you. And thanks for the opportunity to be here today, I think Secretary Fudge’s agenda, and her forceful presentation of it is very exciting and much needed. I like how she talks about both the responsibility and the opportunity that we have before us in this moment. Because it’s a treat, we have this tremendous obligation to ensure that these historic resources that Congress has provided to address housing instability and homelessness during the pandemic are spent well, and reach the people who need the funds the most, and produce new affordable homes and communities throughout the country. And we have this incredible window of opportunity now in the next six to nine months, really a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the level of investments and resources that we need both to address housing insecurity and homelessness, and to advance racial equity. And so I really appreciate the way Secretary Fudge combines that all together into an ambitious but realistic and attainable agenda.
And before I go to Dr. Perry, let me do one follow up with you, Diane. What is the need of affordable housing today? Right, because it’s you I think it’s important to kind of help the audience understand, you know, what is the challenge? What is the depth of the challenge, so we can have a better understanding of whether our current policy framework is well situated to address that need?
Sure, well, there’s a tremendous need, you know, the National Income Housing Coalition, we focus most on the lowest income people, so unhoused people or extremely low income renters, and for them, to understand the housing crisis that we faced, during the pandemic, we have to recognize where we were before the pandemic even came to our country, which was in the midst of a severe affordable housing crisis, where we had a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to the lowest income renters. So another way of saying that same number is for every 10 of the lowest income renter households, there’s fewer than four apartments that are affordable and available to them. And because we have such a shortage of homes for the lowest income people, we had before the pandemic, we had about 550,000 people who were unhoused sleeping in shelters or on sidewalks, and we had about 10 million extremely low income and low income renter households who are paying at least half of their income towards rent each month, and many were paying much more, you know, 6070 80% of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. And so when you have such limited income to begin with, and you pay so much of it for your home, you’re always one financial shock, away from missing rent and facing eviction, and in worst cases becoming homeless. So for many of those same households, the Coronavirus was that financial shock, they lost jobs, they lost hours at work, they lost wages, and it was harder than ever for them to cobble together what they needed to make rent. There were a number of protections and resources put in place during the pandemic that kept many extremely low and low income renters housed, but they fell behind on rent and latest estimates are that renters Oh, up to $50 billion in rent and utility The over years. So again, Congress has now provided a combined 46 and a half billion dollars to address those arrears. So we have an incredibly important job ahead to get that money to the renters and landlords who need it most. But those funds do little to nothing to address that pervasive shortage of homes for the lowest income people. And that’s why we have to also turn our attention to getting sustained and increased investments and program reforms to make homes affordable to the lowest income people.
No, no, I thank you for that. I think you’re helping to highlight, you know, what is needed to get through an immediate crisis. But how do we dress maybe a long term crisis of lack of affordable housing and let’s get to homeownership. Now, let’s go to Dr. Perry. What is your what’s your feelings about our what’s your analysis? What was stated by Secretary, Secretary Fudge? And where you hear policy conversations happening now, particularly as it relates to homeownership? And particularly let’s focus on on a black homeownership that we know is, you know, still about 30 percentage points less than white homeownership.
Yes, first of all, I want to thank the leadership of NCRC. And, and you and for inviting me to the just economy conference. It seems to be very timely. Unfortunately, it’s never a bad time to address structural racism. But here we are. I certainly welcome everything Secretary Fudge discussed today. In the main we have not seen a level of investment to working class people since really since the New Deal of this magnitude. But certainly since Ronald Reagan took office when an era of trickle down, economic failed, trickle down, economics took hold. And so for in the main, this is a welcomed agenda, that Secretary Fudge put forth. And I just want to highlight just a few things that are critically important. And, Diane mentioned this about the lack of affordable housing, it has been a problem for the decades now. We know it, we feel it, we see it. We experience it in the form of actually, the the COVID death rates, the the intergenerational housing, the lack of, of jobs with benefits that forced us to go to work, when when people had to go to their grocery clerk job or driving buses, they put themselves in harm’s way, came back home and infected their family members. This is one of the reasons why, a central reason why, you see death rates in the Black and Brown community two to three times higher than Whites and housing is central to all of that. And so I welcome this new tax credits the $20 billion of tax credit to build or to rehabilitate 500,000 single family homes, as you mentioned, homeownership is wanting in America. Since the Great Recession we’ve we’ve took a nosedive in terms of homeownership in this country. And we know that homeownership predicts for so much in this country and in terms of education, in terms of health, as I mentioned. And so it’s important that we see, we see these kind of interventions. But something else that Secretary Fudge mentioned that we should not overlook, you can never have affordable housing, even if we build new structures. If we don’t remove the dregs of racism from our various markets, including our housing market, one of the first legislative or decisions that were made or orders executive orders that President Biden issued was on equity, another was on on housing. And those two have to be a central part of the entire agenda. Because too often, we see discrimination, really thwarting any kind of effort in producing quality homes, affordable homes, and so we cannot ignore that. employment discrimination, wage discrimination in terms of income, really throttles our ability to create affordable homes again, you can’t have affordable homes if people can’t make ends meet. And so those things go hand in hand. And so for me, I think this is important, because if we ever want to increase homeownership in this country, we’ve got to build more affordable homes. And currently, it’s an inventory problem. It goes without saying, and even in those areas, where we have inventory, the housing stock may be too dilapidated to really for people who shouldn’t be able to get in those homes for for us to see an increase in homeownership. So I think this agenda will boost that inventory will create more affordable homes, we certainly need other levers at the municipal level state level to help this along. But overall, this is a welcome agenda that will help everyone and I just want to say one thing is that I do talk a lot about homeownership. But more Most importantly, we need stable housing for everyone. Consistent housing, too often people are pushed around whenever an economic shock occurs. They evictions, or are tried people or move or move from place to place we need protections for for everyone, regardless if you’re renting or owning. We and this is why I think these executive orders to enforce discriminate or enforce our policies on discrimination. Because if those don’t kick in, we’re still not going to benefit from these investments.
Well, you know, in going along with that kind of line of thoughts, I mean, there’s one thing about protecting people from discrimination, which I think everyone agrees is an important issue. But then I think, you know, I think you go into also out of a different direction, but a different issue, and your analysis about the need to value homes in black majority neighborhoods and the problem with devaluing Black assets. So we’d love to hear you talk a little bit, you know, again, we’ve acknowledged that, you know, we have to get past racial discrimination, whether it’s in lending, whether it’s in renting, what have you, but what does it mean to, you know, value homes back and joining neighborhoods, and to us, you know, value of Black assets.
You know, so often when things go wrong in Black neighborhoods, we blame people, right when the pandemic set in, and we started to see more deaths in the black communities. People would say, oh, look there. That’s because of asthma, people not taking care of themselves. They’re, they’re drinking more and all these other excuses. The reality is that our communities are devalued, and they lacked the resources because of racism. My colleagues, Jonathan Rothwell, and David harshbarger. And I did a study not in 2018, where we wanted to look at the overall conditions in Black communities. So we studied home prices, and we examine prices of homes and neighborhoods where the share the Black population is 50% or higher, and we compare them to areas where the share the Black population is less than a percent. And but for this study, we also controlled for all those reasons people say that home values are lower in Black communities. So we control for education, crime, walkability, all those fancy Zillow metrics. And what we found is that homes and black neighborhoods are equivalent homes to their white counterparts in equivalent social circumstances are underpriced by 23%, about 48,000 per home, cumulatively, that’s a loss of about $156 billion in lost equity. Now, that $156 billion is a big number, know that municipalities use these resources to fund things like education, infrastructure, critical services, like policing, but it’s also the revenue people use to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. And so that $156 billion would have financed is that the equivalent I should say, more than $4 million Black-owned businesses based on the average amount black people used to start up the firm’s it would have paid for more than 8 million 4 year degrees based on the average cost of a four year public eye. It would have replaced the pipes in Flint, Michigan 3,000 times over. $186 billion would have covered all of Hurricane Katrina damage and is double the annual economic burden of the opioid crisis. This is why I say that there’s nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can saw, again, when we look at our our Black communities, that they are thwarted by negative perceptions, bias policies over time, and current discrimination that we see in that under that devaluation of property. So even when we do own homes, we’re not reaping the benefits. We’re being robbed of the American dream because of racism.
I think that’s a really important point. And it’s one of my favorite quotes from your book about there’s nothing wrong with black people that solving racism white dress, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s it. Let me go into briefly, I think you bring up another important point, that as someone who studies racial wealth inequality, a lot of you know, it’s important to note, I mean, I think we recognize that African American homeownership being stuck at around 42%, since the time of the 1968, fair act, is definitely problematic. So we want to increase that black homeownership, but at the same time, we’re recognizing, as in as is in the report, that NCRC put out 60% Black homeownership radical goal for Black wealth development, that African Americans go into greater debt for less valuable homes, and receive less of a return on homeownership than Whites. And similarly, African Americans will go into greater debt for higher education and oftentimes see it and oftentimes, we’ll have less income than Whites have that similar education level. So even when people are taking the quote, unquote, right models of asset growth, it’s still not bridging that inequality. But I want to go to Diane, real quick and just ask you to oftentimes when we talk about wealth and asset development around housing, we think of homes. But if you could, you know, and Andre already commented on this a bit, but help us get a better understanding of the deep asset that is affordable rentals that is so important to and also to maybe not just to low income, but even, you know, middle-income communities.
Sure. And I think also just recognizing it’s important to recognize that the racism and the racial disparities that Andre discussed and his has shared so well, in his research and his writings, he shows up in who becomes homeless and who becomes an extremely low income renter. So these decades of racist housing policies in our country, you know, purposefully put homeownership out of reach for many black Americans that created this yawning generational wealth gap that exists today. This then creates tremendous racial disparities in housing and homelessness, where black and Latino people are disproportionately likely to be renters to be extremely low-income to be rent burdened, and to experience homelessness. So for example, black Americans make up about 13% of the general population. They are 40% of people experiencing homelessness, and they are 50% of homeless families with children. You know, that clearly doesn’t happen by accident that happens by intentional and generational public policy that created this, these disparate outcomes. And so now we have this tremendous responsibility to use housing policies to reverse this harm done and create equity. And that does come through for some people through first time homeownership, through building wealth through homeownership. For many too, it comes from having an affordable, accessible, decent place to live, which many for many extremely low income people will be an apartment. But we know that the private market on its own cannot build and maintain apartments that are affordable to extremely low income people, because the rent that they can pay doesn’t cover the costs to build and operate those apartments. So subsidies are necessary. So we need the federal government to significantly increase subsidies to make homes affordable for the lowest income people, whether by bridging the gap between what people earn and what rent costs when they are already in apartments through expanding the section eight voucher programs so that it is universally available to all eligible households. And whether it is building more apartments and ensuring that they are affordable to the people who need it the most the lowest income people by expanding programs like the National Housing Trust Fund. But advancing anti racist housing policy and centering racial equity in our work means that we can’t only be working towards and talking about the increased investments that we need. That’s a huge hill to climb on its own. But it’s not enough because we know that the section eight voucher program needs improvement so that it works for the black and brown renters who need it the most. So along with an expansion of section eight vouchers, we have to also work towards a national protection against source of income discrimination. And similarly, when we talk about significantly expanding the National Housing Trust Fund building more apartments that are affordable to low income people that will only be successful if we’re also focused in at the state local level, on reducing or eliminating restrictive, restrictive local zoning that is very often sustaining racist systems and certainly sustaining segregation. It’s also inhibiting the supply of any apartments and driving up costs for everybody. And finally, we have to, we have to rebalance the power that exists right now and tilts so heavily in favor of landlords, and at the expense of renters and predominantly a black women renters who are by far most likely to be evicted. So again, in addition to these major investments that we seek, we also have to advance robust renter protections, like right to counsel and just cause eviction, and expanding expunging eviction records. It’s only when we advance these policy reforms and improvements together with the investments that we’ll be able to actually ensure that these are anti racist programs that serve black and brown renters who are most harmed by our inequitable by design housing system.
Well, I like how these questions just kind of fly across the screen. So I will start responding, putting forward some of these questions to you all. But I want to just ask one more thing, and then we’ll get to the questions that are developing here is, you know, Andre, pointed out that, you know, we’ve been having kind of a regressive policies and kind of progressive policies since at least, the Reagan era. And Diane, in your writings, you’ve noted that maybe even since Nixon, there hasn’t been, you know, the needed subsidies for affordable rentals. What is the problem that it hasn’t just been like, when very conservative regimes are in but you know, whether it’s through the Clinton years or the Obama years, we don’t seem to be making substantive progress even over, you know, sustained periods of time, and addressing raging homeownership inequality? I mean, guess the closest was under Clinton, Black homeownership went from maybe 42 to 49%. But that was about the biggest jump we saw, or in terms of rentals, is there anything? It seems like there’s something very structural in our politics, our economy that’s not allowing growth in its maintaining this inequality? So just maybe, briefly, each of you speak to 20 seconds, 30 seconds on that, and then we’ll get to the audience’s questions.
Well, I know for me, there’s no denial that the there’s been a transfer for solutions from federal government to private markets. And so certainly, Nixon, Reagan, embraced the private sector in terms of solving for housing affordability issues, but certainly Clinton embraced sort of era sort of neoliberal policies that embraced the market. And so between them, I think we’ve seen just a backing away from the federal government’s role in that area.
I agree. And I would add that, you know, there are macro economic challenges that have existed over the same period of time that the federal government has been cutting back on funding programs that work and having them be publicly owned homes that work for low income people. At the same time, you know, wages for the lowest income people have remained essentially stagnant and rents have been skyrocketing. So since the 1960s, for the lowest income, lowest wage workers, their wages have increased by only about 5%. And rents have increased by 61% over that same period of time. And now we have this system in our country when it comes to the housing subsidies that are now susteren to make homes affordable for those lowest income people, we have a system where one and only one in every four households who needs housing assistance and is eligible for it receives any. So we have what is essentially a housing lottery system where only the lucky 25% gets the help that they need. But always it’s been a matter of political will, you know, we have long been certainly able as a country to to end homelessness and end housing poverty. We have the solutions. We have the data, we have the resources, but we’ve chosen not to as a country. And I think the good news there is that the political will has been growing, where now we have a president, President Biden, who talks about housing as a human right. And who has committed to Universal housing vouchers. That’s by far further than any president in my lifetime has gone in committing to affordable housing resources. So now our work is about holding him to that commitment.
Yeah, no, and your words remind me of that Dr. King quote about how we have the resources to address poverty, we just don’t have the will. And we haven’t had the well. And maybe we’re making a turning point as it relates to that. I think Andre, did you have something to add?
To just add one brief point to accentuate what Diane said, the reason why this jobs infrastructure bill is so important, not only will it improve infrastructure, lead to investments in housing, and other areas there, we can also create jobs programs that will give people the kind of wages skill development that will sustain these investments over time. And so you can’t really have a real affordable housing initiative without a jobs program. One will, the one will fizzle out without the other. And so for me, it’s critically important we get this jobs infrastructure bill done, because it will enable regular folks to participate in their own growth and recovery.
Yeah, I think that’s really helpful. I mean, again, we want housing for everyone. But we also want economic mobility and asset development, not just a house for people, we want people to be able to have jobs and develop incomes. Uh, one of the questions that was put forward, and it reminds me a lot of what is in the know, your price book? The question is, shouldn’t we be looking to develop LMI (low to moderate income) housing, in neighborhoods with resources. And it reminds me of debates I’ve also seen in the book of one way street of integration by Ed gets, I think that’s the idea that we shouldn’t be having that we should be focusing low to moderate income and higher income neighborhoods versus in lower income neighborhoods. So we’d love to, for you, Andre, to respond to that. And then we’d love to hear from you Diane, about thinking as relates to particularly low income art, lower income rentals, and where they should be.
Yeah, my thoughts on that is we somehow have to de risk this notion that building affordable housing is, again a risk of some sort. It is truly a risk when we segregate communities, particularly around income. And too often, this not in my backyard, sort of movement really puts the rest of the country the rest of our communities at risk. And so when we’re thinking about lending and investing, we need to really shift this notion that what’s really putting us at risk is a lack of diversity in our communities in terms of income, you should be able to work and live in the same community. And too often. Now, people have to travel long distances, because they can’t afford to work in their areas. I mean, you you have in some areas like in San Francisco, you can be a teacher and can’t afford to live in the area. And so that has to shift. And so these efforts, are these not my back yard efforts are bolstered when we say that affordable housing is somehow risky. And so we really need a different paradigm when talking about what we need as a country moving forward.
And Diane, what’s your thoughts on that question should low to moderate income housing be and more high resource areas or should they mostly be in high resourced areas?
So the ongoing longtime debate in the rental housing worlds about what we should do to recognize that much of our federal government’s investments in building bricks and mortar affordable homes have built them in often segregated, high poverty neighborhoods where people have less access to healthy food and and higher performing schools and access to transportation and jobs. And so the question then becomes, if we’re going to build more affordable housing, where should it be, and the debate often happens, one without without an agreement, that low income renters predominantly people of color should have a true choice in living in the places that are best for themselves and their families, like so many higher income, predominantly white families have had that choice. And the way that we make that choice, something genuine is by both ensuring that we are creating affordable housing opportunities in neighborhoods that today, have those higher performing schools, lower crime rates, access to jobs, and transportations, and we are revitalizing communities where affordable housing options already exist. And in those communities, maybe what’s not need it. We don’t need to build more affordable housing. But we do need to invest in the surrounding neighborhoods. So we’ve often had that conversation as a housing community, in a space it in a frame of scarcity. And I think now this opportunity to potentially get far greater investments in the solutions that are needed, offers us an opportunity to really expand the way we think about that conversation and the solutions that we advance.
No, no, I think that’s really helpful. I also, you know, taking Andre’s idea that affordable housing is an asset, right? So I like that idea that in places that have plenty of affordable housing, they need investments and other types of assets, in places that might be high income and don’t have much affordable housing, they also are missing an asset that is affordable housing and a greater diversity in income and community. So I like that idea that we need to kind of have the diversity and assets in all communities. And let me know most of the people of here are a part of local advocacy organizations and local organizations doing work committee economic development, housing, what role do you think that the local boots on the ground can play should be playing and helping to not just move forward? What is coming forth from the Biden administration, but to move it even faster forward? And address the issues that we’ve been noting, have been in too many ways stagnant over the last 50 years?
Well, I’ll start that. I don’t think Biden introduces the bold policies without the protests of the summer in 2020. I don’t think he gets elected. Without the advocates that are listening today. I don’t think he even gets in the conversation, without local organizations really doing so much work over the last three, four years to get someone else elected. So I say don’t stop doing what you’re doing. Just because someone gets an office and even proposes some proposes legislation does not mean we have to let the foot off the gas. And so I think Diane and I are work in increases in profile, when people are in the street demanding that our work get gets noticed. And so for me, I think I applaud the local groups, what they’ve been doing over the course, certainly over the last few decades, but certainly over the last few years, they’ve really pushed this president into a place where we’re, he has to deliver for us. And so I but I don’t think we should let the foot off the gas, we have got to demand the kinds of proposals that he’s currently putting forth.
You know, I’m glad to hear. That reminds me of, you know, we talked about the Fair Housing Act. It was part of 1968 Civil Rights Act, and that wouldn’t have got passed if it weren’t for organizing mass rebellions that happened after Dr. King was killed and rebellions that were happening in 1967, as well, and we saw that after a few years, and there wasn’t continued pressure, that you know, a lot of the positive things that were happening. The promise, as Secretary fights talks about the promise of the Fair Housing Act was never has never really been met. And hopefully this is a time we can help move in that direction. Diane, what’s your advice to community groups to help move this, these issues forward?
Well, I really appreciate and agree with everything Andre said, and I would echo it, and also say that this really is a once in a generation probably once in a lifetime opportunity that we have in front of us now and this, and it’s right now it’s these next six to nine months, where we are very likely to see a multi trillion dollar bill passed Congress and start flowing money to local communities. And we have this opportunity right now, to shape how those funds are utilized, what programs are funded, who is served by those resources, and we have to get it right, we have to get it right. For those of us who have been doing this work for years or for decades, on home working to end homelessness or and housing stability. This is the moment that we have been waiting for. And we have this incredible momentum from, as Andre said, the organizing the incredible advocacy that’s happened throughout the last year, we have a president who has made big, bold, ambitious promises. And we have an opportunity right now to hold him to those promises and achieve some, if not all of what he promised. So I think I know that people are tired from the last many years and especially from 2020. And I would just hope that we can still pull together and recognize this moment for what it is. And keep up the organizing, keep agitating keep advocating, and keep urging your members of Congress to pass these transformational funding requests that Chairwoman Maxine Waters is making that many lead democrats are making we really have a chance to make big change in the next few months.
Great. Well, we’re out of time. I want to thank both speakers, Diane Yancey of national income housing. And Andre Perry of Brookings also want to thank you Andre, for showing up those hip hop throw pillows back there, the Tupac and biggie. That’s great. I love it. I want to thank the audience for coming and hearing this conversation. Let me just do a few housekeeping notes. I think this is one of the last events of the day. Here are just a few reminders. As each session closes, you want to go back to the agenda to navigate to the next session. Most sessions are being recorded and will be accessible shortly via the agenda in case you missed something and wanted to catch up. The just cafe as is noted on screen is open for the next 30 minutes and it will open again at noon eastern time tomorrow. So if you want more time to talk about some of the issues that we’ve been discussing, please go there. And that is it. We will see you tomorrow and enjoy your evening. Thanks for being part of this just economy conference session.