Lament: Housing Disparity and Racism

By Shancia J.—

Challenge: 

Housing advocates struggle to debunk stigmas that suggest that inviting low-income households and families of color into wealthy suburban communities depreciates property values. One instance of this challenge hits close to home, here in Connecticut.

During the summer of 2020, many Americans have faced housing insecurities due to unforeseen economic hardships related to COVID. In response to this disparity, states and local governments have chosen to increase the availability of affordable housing options. Local officials have worked to secure resources, land, and zoning ordinances as practical measures to stabilize the housing market and combat high rates of homelessness. However, there has been sharp disagreement among community members and many have opposed the creation of public, affordable housing in their neighborhoods.  As a result of such housing tensions, particularly in Connecticut, mayors have sought advice from the state and the federal government. In response to this urgent concern, as recently as July 29, 2020, a prominent federal government official tweeted, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low-income housing built in your neighborhood…” This statement ignited racist rhetoric and anxieties in suburban towns with predominantly White populations who now believe that the creation of new affordable housing will increase crime rates, reduce property value, and encourage minorities (particularly Blacks) to move into their suburbs. 

Scripture: 

This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all. (…)
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, “I am in the light” while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness. (I John 1: 5 and 2: 7-11)

Reflection:

In 1 John 1-2, the evangelist reminds readers that God is light and affirms that those who love live in the light. The message of God’s illuminating power and love continues to prevail in the life of the Church and society. As Christians, we are called to love and to let our light shine; especially during times of hatred, ignorance, and unproven fear. We are called to love our neighbors and even strangers, regardless of their identities and creeds. And, in doing so, we not only draw closer to the light of God, but we also display holiness and refrain from sin and hypocrisy. The discriminatory attitudes and stigmas in our communities are informed by the propaganda of hatred and ignorance. Regardless of a family’s household income, every family deserves justice, hospitality, and love. 

As the world continues to endure the pandemic of COVID and its blatant exposure of institutionalized racism, the Church can no longer remain silent as hatred and ignorance impede the housing endeavors of low-income households and vulnerable racial groups. The Church is called to be a steward of truth and action in the world and it must be willing to engage in ministries of justice, hospitality, and love. Additionally, Episcopalians are further commissioned by national church leadership and clergy to welcome all persons. Most importantly, Jesus Christ practiced a welcoming and loving ministry. He welcomed children, the poor, sinners, the sick, Gentiles, the distressed, the tax collectors, and women. He welcomed into His holiness and grace all those who were despised and marginalized. Many communities can be motivated by the Episcopal Church’s slogan of welcoming hospitality to cultivate housing equity.

Action: 

How can we, as Christians, undertake redemptive action to counter this resurgence of racism in our local communities? Along with affordable housing advocates, how can we also find ways to correct the misconception that “personal peace and prosperity” is defined in terms of “separate but equal”? In seeking peaceful solutions to housing tensions, how can Christians actively take an anti-racist stance and healing action to respond to this challenge in our society? 

Here are some suggestions (see further information below):

  • Practice Christian ethics through hospitality and wisdom, when you are faced with or become aware of housing discrimination. 
  • Know the facts and engage in healthy discussions with opponents of housing equity.
  • Engage opponents with questions rather than anger or disappointment. 
  • Continue the dialogue, if possible.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Creator, we thank You for giving us the gift of life and the wisdom to create communities. Your wisdom is a light of truth which illuminates our minds and faith. We are connected to you not only by birth but also through the Grace and Truth bestowed upon us through the manifestation of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and the blessings of the Holy Spirit. Each day, let us remember the generosity of your gifts, as we pray and promote housing equity and justice through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Scripture for the road: 

Whoever says, “I am in the light” while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. (I John 2: 9-10)


Information and questions for further reflection: 

First and foremost, it is the federal government that funds public housing construction and maintenance. If low-income housing units are unkempt, this disparity is directly related to the government’s inability to maintain its properties and the civic duties of its residents. The accountability of property maintenance is a dual relationship between the landlord (the government) and the tenant. According to Connecticut’s landlord and tenant laws, a landlord must provide habitable housing for his or her tenant. The tenant, in return, must maintain the cleanliness of the dwelling unit, refrain from destroying and altering the property, and pay their rent (Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 47a-1 to 47a-74). The landlord, in the case of public housing, is legally responsible for the maintenance of the property. 

Questions: Does the federal government plan to improve the maintenance and aesthetics of existing low-income housing infrastructures? Particularly during the COVID pandemic, how can the government ensure social distancing and sanitary common areas? 

Secondly, public housing in the United States of America no longer exists in the capacity that the government will fund constructions of 100% public housing/low-income housing units. According to legal housing scholars, within the last decade, drastic decreases within Housing Urban Development (HUD) has forced local housing authorities to partner with private and non-profit developers to provide mixed-income housing options. Thus, the highly stigmatized new constructions are mixed community developments which promote diversity not only in race but also in economics. The creation of mixed -income housing options support a wide range of incomes such as recent college graduates, government workers, seniors, single parents, and families–who will obtain access to newly developed and efficient homes. 

Questions: In response to the contentious statement, housing advocates must ask what is meant by “low-income housing” and what are the demographics of households categorized as low-income?  

Image source (“not welcome mat”): Taken from Patrick Barnard (Mortgage RB)

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