Marcia L. Fudge is the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development.

When demonstrators flooded the streets of Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd, they were not only protesting local police practices. They were also speaking out against the destructive, systemic racism that has permeated nearly every aspect of life in the Twin Cities — and our nation as a whole. Consider this sobering fact: A child born in the majority-White neighborhood of Historic Hill in St. Paul can expect to live 21 years longer than a child born in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Rondo — even though these areas are separated by fewer than five miles.

In the United States of America — the greatest country in the world — a child’s future should never be limited by the Zip code where they are born. As our society embraces a long overdue reckoning with our legacy of systemic racism, we must remedy the structures and policies that perpetuate inequality in our nation — many of them, such as the practice of redlining, created by our own governments. That is why the Department of Housing and Urban Development is now taking action to realize the full promise of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

When Congress passed this landmark civil rights legislation, it understood that where we live impacts nearly every part of our lives — from the schools our children can attend to the jobs we can find, from the health care we can secure to the air we can breathe. As a result, the Fair Housing Act charges our department with deploying the billions of dollars in federal funding we distribute each year to “affirmatively further” fair housing. To put it directly: HUD has a legal mandate to proactively break down unjust barriers that block too many people from moving into neighborhoods with greater opportunities.

Too often, our government failed to live up that mandate. That is not the case in the administration of President Biden.

This week, HUD is publishing a rule that will require every local government that accepts federal housing dollars to make concrete and meaningful commitments toward affirmatively furthering fair housing. In some places, this could mean developing more affordable housing by relaxing restrictive zoning codes that prevent all but the wealthiest from living in certain communities. In others, it could entail bringing new services — such as affordable public transit — to neighborhoods that lack them.

Those who oppose efforts to forge a fairer and more inclusive America have labeled such policies a federal government attempt to “abolish the suburbs” through “social engineering.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that this step represents a call for local leaders to make their own decisions about how to meet the requirements of a long-standing law.

As a former mayor, I understand every community faces its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. I know there is no cookie-cutter solution when it comes to fair housing.

So, instead of telling state and local leaders what to do, we want them to identify fair housing barriers that exist within their own communities — and address them through open and honest dialogue that includes representatives from every segment of their population.

These leaders can then work together in devising strategic, long-term plans that leverage federal support and other resources to enact more inclusive housing policies. At every step in this planning process, HUD would be there to offer guidance and support.

The publication of this interim rule is a significant first step in HUD’s efforts to fully enforce our duties under the Fair Housing Act. Our department is embarking on a process to design an additional, comprehensive rule that gives communities further tools and guidance. We will gather input from a wide range of sources — including civil rights organizations, elected officials, federal agencies, housing providers, policymakers and members of the public. Once that process is complete, we plan to issue a final rule that responds to their valuable advice and provides clarity for all our stakeholders.

Although the conversations ahead may not always be easy, I believe our nation is ready to have them. Since the summer of 2020, we have witnessed a mass awakening about the urgent need to root out systemic racism. While we have seen glimmers of hope in that time, our work is far from finished. We must remember the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.”

Our government must advance justice affirmatively and proactively by eradicating the many forms of discrimination that still exist across our society — including in our housing sector.

At HUD, we will do everything we can to place the United States on a path that finally provides every American with equality, opportunity and equity — regardless of the color of their skin or the Zip code where they are born.

Read more: