a unique opportunity to address historic housing issues

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Family accommodation Essex Townhouses developed by the City of New Haven.

$ 231 billion That’s a lot of money, but is it enough to correct the racial inequalities that have been built into the very foundations of US housing policy? It may not be, but it is vitally important that New Haven – and Connecticut more broadly – seize this unique opportunity that President Biden and the Congressional Democrats have given us to directly address the issues of housing policy with explicit racial equity. Framework.

Karen DuBois-Walton

Why is it essential to direct federal bailout funds using a racial equity framework? The history of our country’s housing policy helps us understand why race needs to lead the conversation.

During the Great Depression, housing activists fought and won the battle to create a national public housing system. It was a massive triumph for workers in the United States, but these revolutionary policies contained explicitly racist provisions that segregationist policies applied on all social housing projects. Throughout the 20th century, the Federal Housing Authority, now part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, reinforced segregation across the country by refusing to insure mortgages to people living in African communities. American or just nearby. At the same time, the federal government subsidized the construction of all-white suburbs that explicitly prohibited African Americans buy homes within them.

While our country’s history provides a glimpse of how the past plays a role in this conversation about race, the conversation doesn’t and can’t end there. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the divide between our black and brown communities and the wealthier white suburbs. One in 480 African Americans aged 40 to 64 has died from COVID. Among Hispanics, that number is one in 390, but among whites, it is one in 1,300. Among minority communities, it is relatively common that families living in overcrowded housing, which only increases the sensitivity of these communities to COVID. For our residents of color, it has become a very real life and death situation.

Segregationists and Red Liners may have dictated housing policy in America in the past, but the money and flexibility provided to state and local governments by the US bailout is explicit recognition by the federal administration and Congress that this money is intended to repair damage created by previous government policy.

New Haven must seize this rare opportunity to invest in housing and neighborhood development. The city of New Haven was ceded $ 100 million in federal pandemic relief, and I laid out a plan for at least $ 20 million of that money to be spent on creating more affordable rental housing, affordable homeownership opportunities and neighborhood community investments that increase wealth in our less wealthy communities.

Recognizing that the affordability crisis is an income crisis, we must all commit to raising the minimum wage so that it becomes a housing wage. Although recent efforts have raised the minimum wage, it remains far too low considering residents across the state must earn at least 27.37 $ / hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. And since we won’t get there overnight, the City should take the first steps to increase revenues by using these stimulus funds to create a housing subsidy for families in our less wealthy communities and by ensuring that contract awards made with these federal dollars include the requirement that workers receive a housing wage.

Maybe these ideas sound like “pie in the sky,” but luckily they’re very popular with Republicans and Democrats across the country. According to a recent survey by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 74% of all Americans support investment in housing development programs for low-income residents, and 68% support increased funding to public housing authorities to provide critical infrastructure repairs for the $ 70 billion backlog of needs.

Twenty million dollars is a lot of money, but it is only 20% of all that our City will receive. Think of it as a down payment on long overdue debt to families and neighborhoods that have been deprived of wealth and forced into underfunded communities for generations. The federal government has recognized the need to start paying off this debt and has offered some resources. It’s up to us to make sure that the payments go to those for whom they were designed. The time and evidence of an investment in housing and neighborhood development is no more important than now.

The US bailout is a monumental bill that provides cities and states across the country with opportunity and choices. Let’s make the right choices – choices that can eliminate the extremely wide wealth gap between our communities of color and our white residents. Let us make the intentional choices to invest for the sake of fairness and racial justice.

Karen DuBois-Walton, Ph.D. is the President of Elm City Communities / New Haven City Housing Authority.


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