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Opinion: HUD Secretary on how to make fair housing a reality

Editor's Note: (Secretary Marcia L. Fudge is the 18th Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.)

(CNN) Martin Luther King Jr. did not live to see the Fair Housing Act become law, but its passage was a consequential part of his legacy.

Secretary Marcia L. Fudge

The Chicago Freedom Movement, which King helped lead, directly confronted the racist policies that blocked Black families from obtaining desired housing in White neighborhoods, pushed hardworking Black people into sub-standard homes and slums and trapped them in seemingly never-ending cycles of poverty.

The full realization of the Freedom Movement's work, and the advocacy of countless others in the Civil Rights Movement, did not come until the Civil Rights Act of 1968 -- better known as the Fair Housing Act -- was signed into law just one week after King was assassinated.

"Now, with this bill, the voice of justice speaks again. It proclaims that fair housing for all -- all human beings who live in this country -- is now a part of the American way of life," President Lyndon B. Johnson said at the time.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination because of a person's race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), religion, disability and familial status.

Additionally, the Fair Housing Act directs the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to carry out one of our most important duties: to administer our programs and activities in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing.

The courts have long held that that directive requires HUD, and those who receive our funding, to take proactive and meaningful action to overcome patterns of segregation, to promote fair housing choice, eliminate disparities in housing-related opportunities and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination.

Work to be done

Yet for most of the Fair Housing Act's history, HUD has failed to fully enforce this requirement. It finally took critical steps in that direction with the 2015 rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which established guideposts for state and local governments that receive HUD funding regarding fair housing.

However, that rule was only barely in effect until the summer of 2020, when the previous administration ended it.

All the while, ugly practices of discrimination in housing have persisted. Too often, people with disabilities are denied reasonable accommodation or forced to pay extra fees to rent housing. Hardworking families are blocked from purchasing homes because of the color of their skin.

And after decades of unequal treatment -- often facilitated by federal funds -- too many lack true housing choice and the ability to access opportunities that would allow them to succeed and thrive.

Making the Fair Housing Act stronger

Under the leadership of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, HUD is taking bold action to realize the full promise of the Fair Housing Act and live up to King's legacy. Soon, HUD will publish a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing," that builds on the successes of the 2015 rule and proposes refinements to make it stronger, based on a deliberative and thoughtful engagement process.

The proposed rule would result in greater impact by charging local governments and other recipients of HUD funding to set ambitious goals to not only confront and reject housing discrimination in all forms but recognize and remedy enduring inequality.

It would give state and local leaders the tools and framework necessary to advance fair housing. The rule is intended to allow communities to leverage HUD funding with other federal, state and local resources to develop solutions that meet their own unique needs.

Most importantly, the proposed rule would give the community a seat at the table in our ongoing work to guarantee fair housing, while adding accountability mechanisms to ensure that recipients of HUD funding comply with their duty to affirmatively further fair housing.

When finalized, this rule will be vitally important to our work to address ongoing segregation, disinvestment from communities of color and discrimination in housing markets. At its core, it will allow our country to create more places of opportunity where all residents can thrive.

To get there, HUD is seeking public input. We are confident that thoughtful and robust feedback will fortify our collective work to ensure our commitments to affirmatively furthering fair housing can be both realized and sustained.

We know there is work to be done to root out discrimination in all forms and to remedy the lasting effects of the inequities our communities have endured for too long. Every day we are reminded of the many obstacles we still face on that front.

To quote King, "now is the time to make real the promise of democracy. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity for all of God's children."

I am confident this proposed rule brings us one step closer to making the promise of democracy real and affirmatively furthering fair housing for all.

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