This is an extraordinarily challenging time: police killings of Black men and women; a global pandemic disproportionately harming and killing people of color; Depression-era unemployment levels disproportionately harming people of color; police and military responding with violence to protests against police brutality; a president continuously stoking division. And, if we don’t act immediately, millions of Black and brown people may be evicted from their homes in the coming months.
Now more than ever, we must say clearly and unequivocally: Black Lives Matter. We must recognize that calling for racial justice, while important, is not enough – we must work to create it through actions, policies and programs that protect and value Black lives and make racial equity a reality.
We in the housing field have essential work to do. America’s history of racist housing and transportation policies - redlining, blockbusting, restrictive covenants, restrictive zoning, highway systems built to isolate Black communities – resulted in over-policing and disinvestment in Black and brown communities. These decades of structural racism created tremendous racial disparities in housing and homelessness. African Americans represent thirteen percent of the general population but are forty percent of people experiencing homelessness and more than fifty percent of homeless families with children. Black families are twenty-six percent of all extremely low-income renters.
The housing crisis and its disproportionate harm to low-income people of color deepened over the last several decades; at the same time, Black homeownership declined, and the country’s yawning racial wealth gap widened. For most of the 20th century, people of color were denied the federal resources created to help white families become homeowners and build wealth. As a result, the wealth of the median-income white family is twelve times larger than the wealth of the median-income Black family.
Now, Black and brown renters are at immediate risk of losing their homes. Because, in addition to everything else happening in our country, rent was due last week and millions of people can’t afford to pay. Black and Native Americans are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 infections and fatalities, and Latinos and Black people are bearing the brunt of historic job losses. Eviction moratoriums are expiring and back rent is due. Unless Congress intervenes soon, there will be a rash of evictions and a spike in homelessness across the country and, once again, people of color will be most harmed.
Congress must act to prevent this tragic, costly, and entirely preventable outcome by quickly enacting the essential housing and homelessness provisions in the House-passed “HEROES Act.” Each day of inaction in the Senate puts more low-income renters — mostly people of color — at immediate risk of losing their homes.
In the months and years ahead, we have essential work to do to dismantle racist systems and structures and rebuild them equitably – from creating a true criminal justice system to ensuring that everyone has a safe, affordable and accessible home. Right now, we must push Congress to prevent millions of low-income Black, Latino and Native people from being forced out of their homes during a global pandemic.
Housing justice is racial justice. We need rent relief now.