April is National Fair Housing Month. For those who are unaware, this month highlights efforts to end housing discrimination and raise awareness about fair housing rights. It also commemorates the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose final fight in the battle for civil rights centered on fair housing.
In a move to double-down on Dr. King’s legacy and the Biden administration’s broader fight for racial equity, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge appointed Adjoa B. Asamoah as the department’s senior advisor for racial equity –the first role of its kind in the agency’s 56-year history. This announcement come just days before the White House’s convening on
As one of the first “racial equity czars” appointed by the Biden administration, Asamoah is tasked with carrying out the racial equity agenda outlined in one of the president’s first executive orders. This announcement comes just days before the White House’s convening on equity, where members of the Biden cabinet will release their equity action plans.
With America’s most vulnerable families unable to access affordable, equitable and fair housing, many see the fight for fair housing as an unfinished battle and the lynchpin to ensure fairness in our democracy.
“What history tells us is something that Civil Rights movement leaders before us knew all too well: the struggle for democracy in America is directly linked to the fight for fair and affordable housing,” Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) said as part of the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2022.
This fight isn’t new for either Asamoah or Secretary Fudge, the first African-American woman to lead HUD.
With Secretary Fudge previously serving as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Asamoah having served on the national social action commission for the organization primarily committed to serving the Black community , these Black leaders and sorority sisters have dedicated their lives to fighting for racial equity in America and abroad.
For Secretary Fudge, that work includes 12 years in the House of Representatives, eight years as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio and a stint as director of budget and finance in the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office. During this period, Fudge ardently fought for conferring dignity on those struggling to make ends meet.
“There is dignity and there is grace within every woman, every man and every child in this nation, including those who live on the outskirts of hope, those who work hard and struggle to make it work. And those who have no place to lay their heads,” Secretary Fudge said in a 2020 speech to then-President-elect Joe Biden and his assembled officials.
And it was that push for dignity that caused Secretary Fudge to hand select Asamoah as a senior advisor on race, equity and their intersection with government policy. Known distinctly for her work on the Crown Act, an anti-discrimination bill focused on hair texture and protective hairstyles that passed the House and currently sits before the U.S. Senate, Asamoah has dedicated her life’s work in the fight for equity, inclusion and the end of racial discrimination.
Asamoah is a leader of various public policy campaigns and a strategist who has worked with current and former members of Congress, including Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). She also heads D.C.’s Title I Committee of Practitioners. For Howard University (HU) Professor Greg Carr, Asamoah has been on the cutting edge of racial equity’s infusion in public policy.
Carr, who serves as HU’s Afro-American Department chair, said Secretary Fudge is creating a new template for how the federal government should tackle racial equity. He went on to indicate that, in selecting Asamoah, Secretary Fudge will find a fearless proponent in the fight for racial equity.
“Creating this role and selecting such a highly qualified individual is something that no presidential administration, in terms of a president and his advisor, would ever have been to draw up intentionally,” said Carr, an HU adjunct law professor. “This appointment is a testament to who Marcia Fudge is and who Adjoa Asamoah is. And it shows a clear connection between Black people and independent Black institutions, and how that relationship outweighs electoral politics.”
It has been this connection that defined the first year of Secretary Fudge’s tenure at the federal agency dedicated to ending housing discrimination and advancing inclusive and equitable solutions. Since taking on the lead role at HUD, Fudge has navigated the inequities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and congressional gridlock.
“We are facing an enhanced crisis with the pandemic taking the floor out from under people who are already precariously unbalanced in terms of mortgages, rental assistance and in terms of poor folk who have either lost their jobs or seen their work undervalued,” said Carr. “This is happening as the stock market soars and the rich get richer.”
A 2018 Brookings report found that Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000 per home on average, resulting in closer to $156 billion in cumulative losses for the Black American.
“Ongoing legacies of residential segregation and discrimination remain ever-present in our society. These include a racial gap in homeownership; a persistent undervaluation of properties owned by families of color,” President Biden said in a Memorandum on Redressing Our Nation’s and Federal Government’s History of Discretionary Housing Practices and Policies.
On June 1, 2021, to commemorate the Tulsa Race Massacre and destruction of “Black Wall Street,” Secretary Fudge stood with President Biden in Tulsa, Oklahoma to announce the creation of the Interagency Taskforce on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity (PAVE).
The taskforce, created by the secretary’s insistence, is a first-of-its-kind interagency approach focused on ending bias in home valuations on the grounds of race and ethnicity. With 13 federal agencies and offices in its membership, PAVE is singularly focused on rooting out bias in appraisal value as a method to decrease the racial wealth gap and increase homeownership among communities of color.
With Secretary Fudge at the helm as the taskforce co-chair, the cabinet-level team plans on outlining the role that racial inequity has played in residential property value, examining the various forms of bias that appear in the appraisal process and outline measures the federal government can take to correct those wrongs.
“For generations, millions of Black and brown Americans have had their homes valued for less than their white counterparts simply because of the color of their skin or the racial makeup of the neighborhood. Black and brown homeowners in communities just like mine have not felt that they have had a voice or that the federal government was doing enough to redress the issue of racial bias in the appraisal process,” Secretary Fudge said.
While gaining recent social media fame from her tactful response to a muted White House Press Corp in March of 2021, much of Fudge’s work at HUD has gone under the radar. As one of the most committed cabinet members in the fight for equity because of her own lived experience and connection to a Black legacy institution like Delta Sigma Theta, Fudge has dedicated her time as the federal housing head to changing policy, supporting HBCU research on housing and uplifting community resiliency.
In March, Secretary Fudge announced that HUD was allocating close to $3 billion to help neighborhoods, cities and municipalities recover from disaster and build resilience plans that are inclusive of historically underserved communities, including communities of color.