President Biden signed an executive action Tuesday that suggests a more aggressive approach to undoing the problem of housing segregation. 

His memorandum states that, "Many neighborhoods are as racially segregated today as they were in the middle of the 20th century,” and pledges that his administration will “work with communities to end housing discrimination, to provide redress to those who have experienced housing discrimination,” and end racial bias in home-buying and renting.

“As a statement of intent, it’s certainly a welcome change,” said Craig Gurian, an attorney who heads the New York City-based Anti-Discrimination Center and who has led efforts to desegregate Westchester County for years.

Last year, then-President Trump argued during his presidential campaign that Biden would “abolish” the suburbs if elected

Trump’s remarks on the issue were frequently alarmist, suggesting an eventual influx of poor residents from the cities, if Democrats came to power.

“They want low-income housing,” he told Laura Ingraham on Fox News. “And with that comes a lot of other problems, including crime. May not be nice to say it, but I'll say it.”

Last July, Trump threw out the Obama administration’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required cities and towns to put forth detailed desegregation plans or forfeit federal funding. 

This week’s action by Biden was a rebuke of the Trump attacks on the Fair Housing Act and a return to the Obama-era push to end housing segregation. While pleased by the shift in Washington, Gurian said that at this point, the Biden memorandum is, “really a place setter, indicating that fair housing is a priority of the administration.”

“For change to happen,” he added, “the Biden administration would really have to do some unprecedented things. We really have to see.”

Listen to reporter Arun Venugopal's radio story for WNYC:

Jerry Levy, who previously ran a Westchester program to provide federal Section 8 subsidies to low-income residents, agreed. He said it was up to the Biden administration to enforce existing housing laws, “and not cave in to local opposition” from municipalities across the country. 

He argued that agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department “must withhold funding and litigate when local and state governments fail to comply with fair housing laws and regulations.”

“Voluntary actions will, in most cases, never happen,’ said Levy. “State and local governments do not have the political courage and moral DNA to overcome housing discrimination.”

Gurian successfully sued Westchester over discriminatory housing practices, and, in 2009, the federal government ordered the county to enter a consent decree to build more low-income housing. However, studies found that Westchester remained highly segregated, and a federal appeals court called the county’s fair housing efforts “obstructionist” and “inconsistent, slow, and half-hearted” in 2017. 

The Biden memorandum includes a litany of ways by which the U.S. has denied equal access to housing for racial minorities over the course of the 20th century. The memorandum notes that the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, in an attempt to end such practices.

“Since then,” it reads, “access to housing and the creation of wealth through homeownership have remained persistently unequal in the United States.”