By Janiah Miller
In America, it is widely believed that if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to obtain success. The American Dream is a misconception that is not accessible to everyone, even if they do obtain higher education and a stable job. The Biden administration has recognized housing instability as one of the focal points in The American Job Plan which seeks to bolster U.S. infrastructure and modernize the economy. This proposal includes two of three of the HoUSed campaign’s top priorities for an infrastructure bill. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, $45 billion will go to the National Housing Trust Fund for construction and preservation of homes affordable to people with the lowest income, and major investments to rehabilitate and preserve the nation’s public housing stock.
Affordable housing trusts are a leading vehicle for addressing critical housing needs in this country. They are distinct funds established by city, county, or state governments that receive ongoing dedicated sources of public funding to support the preservation and production of affordable housing, according to the Housing Trust Fund Project. Last fall I was able to see the direct impact affordable housing trust funds can have on a community. Through the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, I was a community canvasser. In this role I collected 600+ signatures for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Ballot Initiative. While collecting signatures, I shared with individuals while collecting signatures that as a recent college graduate and someone who is now pursuing a Master’s degree, it is extremely difficult to find affordable house. This is in direct contrast with the concept of the American dream. It is critical that housing trust funds are fully funded. This method is helpful as they guarantee funds regardless of economic hardships and changing political climates. While collecting signatures I was able to hear stories from individuals in the community as to how housing impacted their everyday life while sharing my own challenges. I gathered testimony from both Democrats and Republicans that showcased a point of commonality in their struggles -- funding the affordable housing trust fund was an issue that everyone could agree on. Grassroots initiatives can be key in advancing needed change around harmful policies. Housing is the foundation of everyone’s life — it should be considered a human right.
The discussion around affordable housing is lacking as it is largely viewed as a one-sided issue that only impacts low-income individuals. It is a multidimensional issue that impacts individuals across socioeconomic backgrounds. As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate the issue of the--already bad--housing crisis individuals who were previously impacted the most will suffer at a greater cost without transformational change that centers BIPOC communities. Policy changes are important as landlords go after BIPOC tenants at alarmingly high rates across the country through evictions. They use the courts to manage basic issues they could resolve with tenants through communicative measures. An eviction leaves a stain on an individual's record that could last more than several years. There largely is no accountability for landlords which leaves tenants vulnerable at greater risk. Legislative proposals at the local, state, and federal government must seek to address the lack of accountability to curb housing instability across the country or the issues will continue to grow.
At this moment we are a year into the civil unrest sparked by numerous police killings of Black people. Since then, organizations have committed millions of dollars to addressing racial equity within their organizations and outside of them through community-based efforts. Typically, conversations around racial equity focused on the Black community center on the increasing rate of mass incarceration. While this is an issue that needs to be addressed, I would push organizations to think broader as it is a consequence of lack of opportunity for well-maintained affordable housing and job security. Housing is the primary culprit of why the racial wealth gap is continually widening. In which a larger case for reparations as it relates to being historically left out of the housing market; this case is most notably made in Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations.”
As advocates, we must focus on ensuring equity is prioritized in Black communities as access to homeownership at the same rate as their counterparts due to policies such as a redlining that exploited and excluded them from purchasing homes. The policies and practices remnant of this era can still be seen today; most notably through the practice of gentrification. As organizations, it is more pertinent than ever to address historical barriers. As a society that is beginning to reckon with the devastating impact of such policies, it is more pertinent than ever to be innovative when addressing them. Organizations should support policies that specifically focus on economic equity. These policies can include (but are not limited to): rent control, baby bonds, a tenant bill of rights, developer accountability, guaranteed affordable housing, etc. Organizations who are making commitments and contributions to efforts around racial equity can build momentum around these issues that will have a large multi-generational impact.
Adequate well-maintained housing must be viewed as an economic justice issue. Across the country, there has been an affordable housing crisis for decades which continues to be exacerbated as resources become even more limited. Increased advocacy to push for well-maintained affordable housing is essential -- these are why affordable housing trust funds are critical as they can be used to address the policy solutions that were stated above. Housing is fundamental to everything – it is a human right that is at the center of achieving racial equity.