• Imogen Katcher

Biden’s Stimulus Package, Discriminatory Housing and COVID-19

In the mid-20th century, the Federal Housing Administration in the United States was erected to ensure fair and affordable housing. However, what resulted was a set of policies referred to as "redlining" that gave loan preference to white neighbourhoods and essentially drew "red lines"around Black communities, creating immense hurdles to receiving loans and mortgages. Almost seven decades later, Belinda Archibong, Economics Professor at Columbia University, claims that state-backed discrimination in housing has evolved into racism in the buyer’s market today. More than 4 million cases of housing discrimination occur each year, as informed by the Disparate Impact Tool. Redlined into urban zones, Black communities have been historically underfunded and have not been provided adequate public health and physical infrastructure by the United States government.


How has redlining exacerbated COVID-19?


This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic as Coronavirus deaths and hospitalisations are incredibly disproportionate between Black and White communities. Public Health and Sociology Professor at Harvard University David Williams states, “social inequities are patterned by place, and opportunities to be healthy vary markedly at the neighbourhood level”. Additionally, COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing health inequities including access to healthcare, healthy food, and insurance. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that an African American infant is more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday than a white infant. Access to medical insurance is inconsistent, particularly with many Southern states refusing to expand the programme under the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 2 million without health insurance. During the Coronavirus pandemic, Black Americans are more likely to work in jobs considered “essential” which requires in-person conduct and higher exposure.


In terms of COVID testing and contact tracing, JAMA also found that testing centres are more likely to be in predominantly white than predominantly Black neighbourhoods. In New York City, The Bronx borough has statistically the lowest levels of income and education and the highest proportion of Black and Latino peoples. The Bronx also had the highest rates of COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths. In comparison, Manhattan, a predominantly white, affluent borough has the lowest rate of hospitalisations and deaths, despite having a higher population density. In Los Angeles County, Black residents reportedly die at twice the rate of white residents, which is also the case in Alabama. According to the Centre for Disease Control as of 12 March 2021, Native Americans were 2.4 times more likely to die and 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of COVID-19. Black Americans are 1.9 times more likely to die, and 2.9 times more likely to be hospitalised than their white counterparts. Hispanic and Latino persons are 3.1 times more likely to be hospitalised and 2.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19. But why are the rates so much higher for non-white people? Discriminatory housing and lack of public infrastructure create additional hurdles in accessing testing, medical treatment, and insurance. One report stated that Black people who reported COVID symptoms, such as a cough or loss of smell, were less likely to be given a test in comparison to white persons with the same symptoms.


How can this change?


Before the 2020 Election, Joe Biden promised to focus on fair and equal housing. Within the first few months of his presidency, he has already appointed Marcia Fudge (member of the Democratic Party and US Representative for Ohio) as Head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, thereby restoring the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule.


President Biden has also created the National Fair Housing Alliance, which seeks to “establish and fund a Racial Equity Fund to provide sustainable, affordable credit to borrowers impacted by historical and current discriminatory housing and lending practices and to close the racial wealth and homeownership gaps".


Additionally, Biden’s US$ 1.4 trillion funding package provides upwards of US$ 900 billion in COVID relief. Section 3208 of Biden's American Rescue Plan of 2021 appropriates US$ 20 million to the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, extends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium, and allocates US$ 25 billion in emergency rental assistance for rent and utilities. Under the Health and Human Services Section, Biden allocates US$ 73 billion to support public health, with more than US$ 8.75 billion to the CDC in combatting COVID-19. Biden seeks to promote equity within Coronavirus responses by allocating US$ 2.5 billion in a “targeted effort to improve testing capabilities and contact tracing in high-risk and underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minority populations and rural communities”.


What does this mean for the future?


Redlining left a legacy of systematic racism within non-white communities, resulting in a stark underfunding of public health infrastructure. Systemic racism, both in public policy and within the health system, has only exacerbated the ongoing discrimination communities of colour face within the United States. where you live directly affects your health. In Flint, Michigan, a town with a 57 percent African-American population and 40 percent of its residents living below the poverty line, the entire county was left without clean water for over two years. The Flint Water Crisis not only caused long-standing health effects on local communities, but the government’s slow response in combatting the crisis left many wondering if the reaction would be the same in a white, upper-class suburb. Moreover, factors such as proximity to hazardous toxic waste facilities, air pollution, and lack of healthcare and fitness facilities directly impact people’s health. Biden’s American Rescue Plan package appropriates billions of dollars to not only combatting Coronavirus, through increased testing centres and vaccination clinics, but is also committed to providing equity and opportunity to underserved communities through fair and affordable housing. However, only time will tell if Biden’s allocations will manifest into proper domestic policy.