“Black History Month must be more than just a month of remembrance; it should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead.” —Marty Meehan
February 20 was World Day of Social Justice, and this year the United Nations announced a theme of “closing the inequalities gap to achieve social justice.” The homelessness crisis is a social justice issue, and it’s one that disproportionately affects black people.
The housing and homelessness crisis inherently is racist. It always has been.
During Black History Month, we focused on the parts of black history that continue to impact black and African American communities: the ever-widening wage and wealth gap between black households and non-Hispanic white households, the plummeting rate of black homeownership, lower now than it has been since 1968, and the growing number of black individuals and families that these factors have forced onto the street.
We see the racism of the housing and homelessness crisis when black Americans make up 13% of the overall population and 52% of families who experience homelessness. We see it when the rate of black homeownership is over 30% lower than it is for white families: a 50-year low. We see it in a 2016 study showing that median black wealth per household was $17,100, while for white households it was $170,180. That’s a 10-to-1 ratio. These statistics aren’t built overnight, but rather they result from generations of pervasive inequity. We all must acknowledge this history in order to change it.
The scars of racism and wealth inequality certainly are apparent here in Los Angeles. Homeowners surrounded by neighbors suffering and dying on the streets resist the construction of shelters and affordable housing in their neighborhoods, concerned that the proximity of people experiencing homelessness, among whom black Americans are vastly over-represented, will make their homes less valuable. In reality, affordable housing units remain consistently rented in any financial climate and residents are able to build personal wealth, providing more security and tax revenue to communities than market-rate housing. Closing the racial wealth gap that was built over centuries of discrimination and systemized oppression will require broad, bold changes on a national scale. As we approach one of the most pivotal elections we may ever see, it’s up to us to make sure that we elect lawmakers who are committed to making housing accessible to all.