#BlackLivelihoodMatters: Why Racial Justice Movements Must Fight For Affordable Housing
This is the moment when Americans need to understand how our public systems, public housing and public safety currently co-exist.
July 03, 2020 at 5:19 pm
The murder of George Floyd has set in motion one of the largest civil rights movements of our time. Since then, the senseless death of many others — Breonna Taylor, Rashard Brooks, Elijah McClain, to name a few — have only intensified the movement for racial justice.
Now, activists are organizing not just around police brutality, but also institutions that propel systemic racism through established, public infrastructure.
This is the moment when Americans need to understand how our public systems, public housing and public safety currently co-exist. They are tied by systemic racism in a relationship that only further oppresses the people — specifically minorities — at the moment they need help the most.
George Floyd’s humble origins in the Cuney Homes, a public housing community located in Houston, and his murder at the hands of Minneapolis police link two broken parts of the American infrastructure meant to serve people in need. And, that’s not a coincidence.
Public safety and public housing are both designed to help Americans when they need it most. However, Black Americans, especially, have seen time and time again how traditionally income-segregated public housing has failed them and public safety has targeted them. The list of unnecessary deaths does highlight an important factor in this conversation — that public safety and affordable public housing are connected. As such, they must be changed together to root out the systemic racism that allowed George Floyd’s murder.
It is no secret that the disenfranchised and those that have less usually get the smaller piece of the system and, subsequently, the arm of justice swings against them. Traditionally, because of racial bias, affordable public housing is seen as a blight or problem space in a community. That’s why public housing in so many spaces is confined to what we now call “pockets of poverty.” HHA has made it their mission to reverse this. Using education and information along with innovative mixed-income communities, HHA is helping turn the tide as the country calls for change.
In reality, that information is or should be common knowledge by now. We know now — through studies and statistics — that affordable public housing improves crime rates. Therefore, aggressive over-policing of the areas is not only unnecessary, it is the direct result of implicit bias and racial profiling.
We also know that affordable public housing does not decrease property values. These attacks on affordable housing before it is even built in a community comes from NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) groups who are oftentimes racist and empowered by stereotypes and white privilege. NIMBYs keep the communities and the people in them segregated. Their work only perpetuates the environment that breeds that type of police brutality that killed George Floyd.
What affordable housing and mixed-income housing does is provide a diverse community so that kids can grow up where they are exposed to actual people, and without the systemic bias that other communities have.
The key is eliminating the racist barriers to engagement in the community, engagement amongst community members — within the housing development and outside amongst the neighboring community. This engagement must also happen with public safety officials, police and the community as well. When kids grow up in these mixed-income and diverse spaces, they are safer, smarter and much more empathetic to the needs of people who do not look like them.
That’s how we begin to rebuild our communities for the future.
Police brutality is linked to a larger system of oppression that must be reversed before anyone can advance. This means not only dismantling the system but also reimagining what public safety means and how its purpose is inherently entangled with affordable public housing.
Once we root out the racism in both areas, we can begin to build the diverse, safe spaces that Black children and families can thrive in. We can then build communities where men like Ahmaud Arbery can jog in their neighborhood, where women like Breonna Taylor can feel safe in their own bed at night, where children like Trayvon Martin can feel safe walking home and where people like George Floyd can breathe freely.
LaRence Snowden is the board Chairman of the Houston Housing Authority. He has been serving on the board of commissioners at HHA since 2012. Snowden is also the assistant vice president of research for Texas Southern University.