Throughout this summer, I seemed to be involved, read information or met people who are connected with housing issues. And then I realized that there is a very strong connection between diversity work and housing.
Where a person or family lives is one of the most critical aspects of their lives and could determine access to jobs, training and needed services. Centrally located affordable housing offered without discriminatory practices near available transportation can be the single determining factor for someone to better their lives and advance out of joblessness or poverty.
In April, I was privileged to attend the annual Fair Housing Conference cohosted by the City of Raleigh, NC Fair Housing Hearing Board. Some of the key points presented by various speakers and panelists included:
• One successful model is non-profit corporations teaming with municipalities and neighborhoods to build and manage affordable housing that positively impacts neighborhoods. One such example is CASA in North Carolina. Some of their recent projects have targeted veterans and people with disabilities.
• Another best practices is when city or town governments work creatively across departments (like community affairs and transportation) to come up with solutions for city residents.
• There are certain populations that have an extra hard time find housing. These include ex-prisoners trying to productively re-enter society to start a new life, and immigrants who could face language barriers in filling out the paperwork and understanding lease agreements.
• Blatant discrimination against particular groups is still a reality in the United States. This poignant and shocking video (link) about discrimination against Muslims by an apartment complex in Texas was shown to conference attendees.
• There are a number of passionate and very knowledgeable groups and leaders who are working tirelessly to address the housing issue. One who was honored at the event was national housing leader and consultant Stella Adams. See also the NC Justice Center’s Consumer Protection and Housing Project.
The closing speaker for the conference was Bryan Greene, the US General Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. He highlighted some of the excellent work being coordinated out of the US Federal Government. Some of his key points included:
• There are still many issues around fair housing that HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) needs to continue to address into the future. This work is nowhere near over.
• The area of disabilities accounts for the largest number of complaints filed with HUD (45% of the total.) The most common issues are lack of accommodation (e.g. parking, assistance animals, etc.) and allowing modifications to units.
• Other hot areas of housing discrimination include familial (especially against single parents with children) and religious (especially against Muslims)
• Segregated communities are harmful for our country whereas fully integrated diverse communities will build a stronger nation.
In Part 2 coming next week I will expand into the connections between housing issues and my core area of diversity expertise – the LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender – community, including Bryan Greene’s comments about this area.