The Elusive Goal of Housing Justice, Part I

stopgentrifying1-1024x625Housing is a human right according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an internationally recognized standard implemented by the United Nations. If that is so, then why do we have such a pervasive housing problem in the United States?

Figures from CNN Money show that in 2014 income has only risen 1.8% while rentals have skyrocketed to 7%. This has created an economy where tenants are devoting more of their paycheck to their rent than ever before. According to the Homes For All campaign, 12 million people are routing more than 50% of their paycheck to their rent creating what the US Department of Housing and Urban Development calls the worst affordable housing crisis in this country’s history.

How did we get here? Large corporations and banks have created a system where profit is the end goal and the market reigns supreme. As the economic gap widens, the amount of affordable units decrease and gentrification becomes commonplace. In addition to gentrification, people of color are more likely to be victims of speculative banking and the forceful transfer of wealth that comes with it. In Elizabeth Warren’s recent speech on Black Lives Matter she describes how the “financial institutions figured out that they could make great money by tricking, trapping and defrauding targeted families.” Banks’ racialized target practices have created yet another layer to the 2008 housing collapse and the economic implications for low-income people of color.

However there are multiple organizations doing amazing work on this national crisis. Homes For All is a nationwide campaign that seeks to implement an agenda that provides protection for the displaced and works to create dignified, stable housing for low-income communities. They have achieved incredible victories by reforming Portland’s tenant protections, passing a Resident’s Bill of Rights in Santa Fe, and increasing code enforcement for renters in San Diego.

Locally, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) has been working to preserve their community and fight gentrification. The Lower East Side was put on The National Trust for Historical Preservation’s list of America’s Most Endangered Places in the 2000s after quickening gentrification plagued the area. The recent yearlong freeze on regulated rents was an unprecedented victory for tenant advocates at GOLES in New York City; the fact that housing costs have grown increasingly faster than incomes was a major factor in the Rent Guidelines Board’s decision in June.

Perhaps the most striking of all these victories is the force exerted on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to give more mortgages to low-income borrowers and landlords. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has finally set goals for these institutions to create more affordable housing after pressure from housing protests and national and local organizing.

While these triumphs have set the groundwork for real change in the housing rights struggle, further action must be taken to support the momentum for these organizations. Take a step towards housing justice by signing the Homes For All Campaign Pledge (http://homesforall.org/pledge/); you can also donate or volunteer for GOLES (http://www.goles.org/getInvolved.html) and help our secure the right of affordable housing for all.