The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “Other America” speech at Stanford University on April 14, 1967, a sobering look at racial disparity in which he called on Congress to pass fair housing legislation. One year later, a week after the great civil right leader’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (The Fair Housing Act) on April 11, 1968.
Fifty-four years later, affordable and decent housing remains an elusive dream for many Americans, most especially for Black Americans, in every state in the nation, including Iowa. For instance, before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 29% of Davenport’s Black households owned their own homes, compared to 67% of Davenport’s white households. Nationally, the Black homeownership rate is 41%, the Equity Coalition of Davenport reported last fall.
Ryan Bobst, in an excellent guest opinion in The Quad-City Times (4-17-22), identifies the two main purposes of the Fair Housing Act. The first is to “prohibit discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex (and as amended) disability and family status. Second, it strives to reverse housing segregation and promote truly integrated and balanced living patterns.”
The law was the “federal government’s first major step toward reversing decades of government-sanctioned housing discrimination,” but said Bobst, strategic initiatives and grants manager for Humility Homes and Services in Davenport, serious questions about its effectiveness exist today. In an interview with The Catholic Messenger, he said, “Across all of our programs, 30% of the people we serve identify as Black or African American” while Black Iowans represent approximately 12% of the population in the Quad Cities.” For people who cite eviction as the primary cause of their homelessness, a disproportionate number are Black. “More people getting evicted are people of color,” Bobst said.
A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) provides evidence in a new report titled “The Affordable Housing Gap Analysis” (released April 21, 2022). “While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed overt discrimination,” the NLIHC said, “subtler forms of housing discrimination continue to constrain the options of people of color.”
Among the legislative principles of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) is this one: “Every person has basic human rights and is entitled to basic human necessities, such as food, housing, clean water and air, education, health care, and productive work for fair wages.” The U.S. bishops say, “[E]very person has a fundamental right to life and right to those things required for human decency.”
Now it is time to act on our faith tradition’s commitment to ensuring basic human rights, such as affordable and decent housing. The “Build Back Better Act,” which the U.S. House passed last November, provided for such measures as $150 billion for affordable housing to address the shortage of 7 million rental homes affordable and available to the lowest-income renters. However, the bill stalled in the Senate. We should ask our U.S. senators from Iowa, Joni Ernst (ernst.senate.gov) and Charles Grassley (grassley.senate.gov) to sponsor alternative legislation that would allow their fellow Iowans and other Americans on modest or low incomes obtain and maintain affordable and decent housing.
At the state and community level, we ought to advocate for policies and collaboration between private and public partners to reduce the affordable housing shortage and increase vulnerable householders’ ability to sustain homes and livelihoods. The Quad Cities Housing Cluster’s long-term vision to address affordable housing needs, Silos to Solutions, could serve as a statewide guide for advocacy and action. Bobst and Ashley Velez, executive director of Humility Homes, helped with development of the strategies that serve as Silos to Solutions’ blueprint. It calls for:
1. New construction, rehabilitation of existing properties no longer on the market or fit for habitation, and bringing affordability through rental subsidies.
2. Preservation — Maintain, improve and/or rehabilitate 95 percent of existing affordable units to ensure availability and quality.
3. Protection — Reduce eviction rates through coordinated efforts to provide tenant education and advocacy, minimize unsafe living conditions, distribute homeless prevention funds and resolve landlord-tenant disputes through mediation.
4. Provision — Provide services that help individuals and families maintain housing stability.
5. Payment — Increase the (region’s) Local Housing Trust Fund.
6. Partnership — Engage community partnerships, program participants, and citizens to foster dialogue and generate action on affordable housing.
King warned in his speech 55 years ago, “I can see no more dangerous trend in our country than the constant developing of predominantly Negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This is only inviting disaster. And the only way this problem will be solved is by the nation taking a strong stand, and by state governments taking a strong stand against housing segregation and against discrimination in all of these areas.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor