Renter Nation stands up for right to safe, affordable, quality housing

By Brian Knudsen

Thousands of renters, fair housing advocates, and tenants-rights activists are descending on cities across the country this week to stand up for the right to safe, affordable, quality housing for everyone.

As rental rates continue to soar, safe quality housing becomes even further out of reach for many renters, particularly for communities of color and women. Now, more than ever, we see the housing affordability crisis as a racial justice issue.

The Fair Housing Act of 1964, signed shortly after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was designed to end discrimination in both the home buying and rental markets. Unfortunately, communities now yield the same discriminatory results with different tactics, while also decreasing affordable housing opportunities and driving up rental rates.

An egregious recent example is the case of Westchester County, New York, where for eight years county officials failed to comply with a federal consent decree that they integrate their suburbs and allow affordable housing developments. The county repeatedly submitted flawed zoning analyses to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), refusing to concede that exclusionary policies fueled discriminatory and unfair housing patterns.

At a time of increasing rentership across the country, the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to HUD, furthering neighborhood segregation and blocking renter households from having equal access to affordable housing in neighborhoods near good schools and jobs, rich with transportation options, and free from environmental hazards. Guaranteeing decent, secure affordable housing with access to opportunity is, emphatically, a racial justice issue.

According to PolicyLink, a national research and action institute dedicated to advancing economic and social equity, renters now comprise over a third of the United States population, up 27 percent since 2000. At the same time, more than half of these 107 million U.S. renters are rent burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent and utilities. Over 60 percent of women of color in the U.S. face such burdens, the highest of any group.

It would appear that the contemporary political environment is deteriorating. Deep divisions manifest in unresponsive government. Anger and rancor spill over into violence in public spaces. The Westchester case and Trump administration proposals to deeply cut HUD funding suggest profound hostility among segments of the population to using the levers of government to advance fairness, justice, and collective rights. In such contexts, movements like the Renters Week of Action move to the forefront. Activists should use this moment not only to press for new demands, but also to fight to preserve and ensure the enforcement of the existing fair housing regulations and laws to expand access to affordable housing for those to whom it has been structurally denied.