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Affordability is a Violation of Fair Housing

April is Fair Housing Month!

This month commemorates when the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) was signed into law, more than fifty years ago in 1968. As a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination for individuals seeking housing on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, familial status, or disability. 49 states have also expanded the law to include other items such as sexual orientation, gender identity, and source of income.

While the FHA prohibits outright discrimination, it is only one policy meant to overcome an array of discriminatory practices that result in intersectional inequities across race, class, sex, and ability in the United States. The build-up of discriminatory policies and institutional racism over our history has created systemic economic vulnerability and wealth gaps. Counter to the common narrative of progress, research has demonstrated that the racial wealth gap in the United States is actually growing, not shrinking. Our economy simply creates too many low-paying jobs.

Because of these wealth gaps, 20% of Black households, 18% of American Indian or Alaska Native households, and 14% of Latino households fall into the “extremely low-income” bracket for the rental market (Source). More than half of Black and Hispanic families were paying more than a third of their income for housing in 2019. Landlords can still legally reject or evict tenants because of poor credit or low income, so affordability continues to be a barrier to safe shelter for those most in need. Nearly one in ten black families reported being at risk for eviction in 2019, and the eviction filing rate was higher for black households, and higher for women, especially women of color.

The Fair Housing Act is meant to prevent discrimination in obtaining housing, but the National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that there is a shortage of nearly 7 million affordable homes for our nation’s 11 million lowest-income home renters, who are more likely to be people of color, women, disabled, or elderly.

The affordability crisis may not be outright discrimination, but the lack of policies, programs, and funding to ensure affordability for home-seekers is as much of an institutional barrier as other forms of discrimination.

Creating Affordable Housing

To counter the barrier of affordability, Fourth Economy worked with Ramsey County in Minnesota to create pathways for access in their Economic Competitiveness and Inclusion Plan. They’re already actively working on the formation of a Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) levy dedicated to creating more affordable housing in target areas in the county. Other strategies – like establishing transparent policies for projects receiving funding from the county or growing the portfolio of multicultural housing developers – focus on the needs of Black, Indigenous, People of Color in housing access and affordability, and put equity at the center of their economic development.

As we celebrate housing fairness this month, we must remember that affordability is one of the biggest barriers faced by our nation’s citizens.

There is no state in our union that has an adequate supply of affordable housing for the lowest-income renters. Decades of discriminatory practices will not be absolved by blanket federal acts alone. We must work at the local level to proactively attend to our community’s needs. Each community has different needs and challenges that reflect the economic opportunities available and the conditions of the local housing market. Regardless of the different drivers, the end result is still the same – an affordability gap for people who are systemically made vulnerable by our unwillingness to enforce existing policies, and even more so by our unwillingness to support new policies that would increase access to affordable housing for everyone.

How are you working on ensuring fair housing access in your community? Get in touch!


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