Every April we celebrate National Fair Housing Month and the passage of the Fair Housing Act, a robust civil rights act enacted in 1968 that prohibits discrimination in the access of housing. On the surface, fair housing could simply mean accessibility to quality housing and community resources regardless of income, race or geographic location. While this meaning addresses the technical aspects of housing needs and even some of the permeating issues prohibiting fair housing, it underestimates the scope and magnitude of fair housing access in our communities. Fair housing is an intersectional fight that can be approached through many lenses and must be addressed to ensure equitable access in all communities across the nation.
Fair housing is health care.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the sanitation and safety of housing has been highlighted as a healthcare issue. For many populations, adhering to social distancing guidelines and mandatory quarantines is just not feasible due to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, lack of access to food and medicine, and threat of eviction. In addition to issues of housing quality and stability, many people, especially people of color, reside in communities without access to quality and non-discriminatory healthcare providers. As people struggle with COVID-19 in the home and at the hospital, distrust in the healthcare system is only exacerbated and leaves the most vulnerable populations without necessary care. The Economic Justice Project with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to address COVID-19 disparities and issue clear guidance for equitable vaccine distribution that provide essential workers and communities of color the critical support they need during a pandemic.
Fair housing is education.
There has always been a direct correlation between housing and education, such as the use of property taxes – determined by property values based and largely on the socioeconomic status and racial composition of the community – to fund local schools. With the growing use of technology and the need to work and learn remotely, the line between housing and education is no longer distinguishable. The home has become the classroom. This transition to remote learning has revealed that millions of students lack access to the internet and other educational resources in the home to perform in a virtual environment. But how many more students are learning in housing that is substandard and unsafe?
Fair housing is criminal justice.
In the Summer of 2020, we witnessed thousands of people take to the streets to march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to protest the injustices of police brutality and mass incarceration. Underlying these incidences of racism is a long history of residential segregation and racialized space, that emboldens not just police officers to violence against Black people, but also average citizens. The presence of Black people in purported white spaces, housing and communities is still seen as a threat. For Black lives to truly matter, we must combat the racism that permeates through our communities and the boundaries we place between them.
Fair housing is economic justice.
The federal minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour. Although many states have adopted their own minimum wages, many workers’ income is well below what is necessary for a quality standard of living. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted workers, especially minority workers in food production, retail, healthcare, and transportation, are among the lowest paid workers. The income inequality that low–wage workers face directly impacts their accessibility to fair and affordable housing. People of color also face a wider unemployment gap that reinforces disparate housing access in low-income communities and must be mitigated to elevate equitable housing.
Fair housing is election protection.
The 2020 presidential election was a historical election with record turnout. The calls to the 866–OUR-VOTE Election Protection hotline, which is led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, was a testimony to the barriers many communities face when accessing the ballot in their communities. The attacks against low-income and minority communities through baseless suggestions of voter illegalities, blatant voter intimidation, and misinformation were rampant. To defend democracy and the sanctity of elections, as a country we have to reach out to people where they are, in their communities and now in their homes with increased fair housing policies.
Most importantly, fair housing is justice for all.