The Emancipator – Racism Underlies Homelessness

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By Citlalli Florez

BOSTON, MA – While more than 582,000 Americans became unhoused in 2022, not all Americans are likely to experience homelessness—Black Californians are four times more likely than white residents to be unhoused, a trend seen across the country, according to a California Statewide study of people experiencing homelessness released by the University of California San Francisco.

And, writes The Emancipator in The Boston Globe, “American cities embody explicit racist covenants between government policies, banks and the real estate industry. Race-based residential segregation, also known as redlining, has roots which translated over from Jim Crow era ideologies.”

Over a century ago, Black families were well dispersed throughout city neighborhoods. During the Great Migration, Black migrants traveled north in search of work which caused panic in predominantly white communities, said The Emancipator.

The publication adds, migration resulted in violence and the creation of Black enclaves which pushed segregation practices, and these practices were codified through redlining during the 1930s.

“In many metropolitan areas including Chicago, San Francisco and Cleveland, neighborhood segregation today follows that same perimeter: White households are concentrated in wealthy suburbs, while Black households are located in economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. Even as some of those dividing lines erode, the result isn’t racial integration but the displacement of Black households out of cities or into homelessness,” added The Emancipator.

Even if the lines created were to dissolve the result would be displacement of Black households out of cities or into homelessness. Having the ability to own a home is also a means for white families to build wealth and a cause of generational poverty for Black families who don’t have the same opportunity, The Emancipator writes.

The racial wealth gap, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is expected to widen. White families had an average of $184,000 in wealth compared to Black families holding an average of $23,000. Most white households are found to own their home compared to less than half of Black households.

The Boston Globe writes, “Such financial resources help to soften the blows of unexpected life events and can help family members who changing economic circumstances affect their housing. Absent those resources could result in being left without a home in the face of a financial emergency.”

The Emancipator story notes Black households are still steered into segregated Black neighborhoods, offered higher interest rates, subprime mortgages and denied loans 1.8 times more than white families, and Black renters are more likely to be evicted or threatened with eviction. Court mandated evictions appear on tenant screening reports which lessens the likelihood of landlords offering housing.

The Emancipator writes treatment Black and white people receive from police and the over-policing of Black communities are linked to changes in public policy which promote more policing, more arrests for minor drug offenses and longer prison sentences in communities of color.

The prison to homelessness pipeline disproportionately affects Black Americans. Incarceration is a legal reason a landlord may use to deny housing and can limit access to public housing. Because of this, people who are released from prison find it more difficult to find housing, the article notes.

A criminal record could also be a barrier to finding employment which also results in Black job applicants being disproportionately impacted. In a study conducted by Devah Pager from Northwestern University, white job applicants with a criminal record were more likely to be interviewed for a job than Black job applicants with or without a criminal record.

Incarceration affects economic security as well with costs that families must pay such as court debt and commissory support.

As stated by The Boston Globe, “a criminal record impacts employment opportunities, which impacts the amount of rent someone can afford from what often ends up being lower wages. Without a good job, you can’t afford a good home. And without a home, everything else falls apart.”

The public education system also still follows the ideology of the Jim Crow era, especially as American schools resegregate, The Emancipator states, adding schools get federal funding through state and local property taxes—due to this, Black schools in underserved communities are underfunded and under-resourced.

The Emancipator story in the Globe adds, “Education powerfully determines one’s life course, lifetime earning potential, economic security and quality of housing. The federal minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, or about $15,000 a year, while the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment was $1,769 per month in 2022, doubling and tripling in more expensive metropolitan areas. The arithmetic is obvious: most full-time, minimum wage workers cannot afford rent.

“Like the racial wealth gap, the earnings gap is large and persistent. In 2022, Black full-time workers earned $881 a week on average, compared to $1,101 per week for White workers. Black households are more likely to be rent-burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income to rent) and severely rent-burdened (paying more than 50 percent of their income to rent), leaving Black families more likely than White families to make trade-offs between essential daily needs like housing, utilities and food.”

Other factors which impact homelessness, according to the story in the Boston Globe, include deep poverty, trauma, limited family wealth, and a shortage of affordable housing. White Americans face hardships as well, but racism has pushed Black families into homelessness more often because they do not have the same protections.

This article was based on “How Racism Underpins the U.S. Homelessness Problems by Kara Young Ponder from The Emancipator in the Boston Press. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/11/09/opinion/how-racism-underpins-us-homelessness-problem/

About The Author

Citlalli Florez is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently majoring in Legal Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Art Practice. She intends to attend law school in the future with the purpose of gaining skills to further serve her community.

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