NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

LIVE from New Orleans: America’s housing crisis is an issue for everyone, everywhere

It’s already been a busy and inspir­ing day at Net­roots Nation in New Orleans!

The first pan­el I went to this morn­ing was titled Hous­ing Touch­es Every­thing Pro­gres­sives Care About, So Why Aren’t We Talk­ing About It?

Mod­er­at­ing the pan­el was Chantelle Wilkin­son, the Nation­al Cam­paign Coor­di­na­tor for Oppor­tu­ni­ty Starts at Home. The pan­elists were Mike Koprows­ki, the Nation­al Cam­paign Direc­tor of Oppor­tu­ni­ty Starts at Home, Andreane­cia Mor­ris, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Hous­ing NOLA, and Alli­son Bovell-Ammon, Deputy Direc­tor of Pol­i­cy Strat­e­gy at Chil­dren’s Healthwatch.

To set the stage for the con­ver­sa­tion, they first showed a video from Oppor­tu­ni­ty Starts at Home which dis­cussed how fed­er­al hous­ing assis­tance is under­fund­ed and that many sec­tors need to come togeth­er to push for poli­cies that pro­tect and expand afford­able hous­ing. Lead­ers from orga­ni­za­tions focused on issues such as health care, hunger, edu­ca­tion, and civ­il rights spoke about how afford­able hous­ing is key to ade­quate­ly address­ing the caus­es they are fight­ing for.

Wilkin­son then gave a short pre­sen­ta­tion on Oppor­tu­ni­ty Starts at Home.

Their long term goal is that “through more robust and equi­table fed­er­al poli­cies, we will end home­less­ness and ensure that the most vul­ner­a­ble low income house­holds can afford the rent.” Hous­ing touch­es every aspect of life.

Koprows­ki said ignor­ing hous­ing is not good pol­i­cy for progressives.

As he put it: “You can’t ful­ly accom­plish the oth­er things on the pro­gres­sive agen­da with the foun­da­tion of afford­able housing.”

Kopros­ki high­light­ed the two major issues when talk­ing about hous­ing: afford­abil­i­ty and seg­re­ga­tion. Seg­re­gat­ed neigh­bor­hoods mean seg­re­gat­ed schools and less access to oppor­tu­ni­ty for peo­ple of col­or and peo­ple liv­ing on low incomes. “Hous­ing seg­re­ga­tion is the moth­er or all inequities,” Koprows­ki said, and not­ed how the issues of afford­abil­i­ty and seg­re­ga­tion are inex­tri­ca­bly linked.

Mor­ris agreed that issues of hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty are root­ed in racism, from things like the GI Bill and redlin­ing, which served to block peo­ple of col­or from being able to get loans and buy homes in most neigh­bor­hoods. She con­tin­ued by point­ing out the hous­ing is “held up as the ulti­mate prize, when it is in fact a basic need.”

Mor­ris talked specif­i­cal­ly about the sit­u­a­tion in New Orleans, a city that has far more renters than home­own­ers. New Orleans has an over­all vacan­cy rate of twen­ty per­cent, and in some neigh­bor­hoods it’s as high as 30%.

“Why the hell does New Orleans have an afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis? We have a bro­ken sys­tem that refus­es to address this,” he told attendees.

Low vot­er turnout and per­ceived vot­er apa­thy, Mor­ris said, are par­tial­ly because peo­ple are work­ing two and three jobs to be able to pay for their hous­ing, and also because can­di­dates and elect­ed offi­cials are not talk­ing about the things that peo­ple need, like hous­ing. “Peo­ple will show up and vote for pro­gres­sive can­di­dates, if pro­gres­sives start talk­ing about hous­ing. If no one is talk­ing about your needs, you don’t have a lot of options.”

Bovell-Ammon point­ed out that pro­gres­sives care a lot about health­care, as we should. But argued that we should real­ly care about health, not just access to health­care. We should focus on the things that make peo­ple healthy, which includes shel­ter. Every­one should have a place to call home.

Hous­ing is one of the items that is referred to as the social deter­mi­nants of health. The rea­son the Unit­ed States spends so much on health­care but has some of the worst health out­comes in the devel­oped world is because of our poor per­for­mance on social deter­mi­nants of health.

“If we real­ly care about health, then we should also care about hous­ing,” said Bovell-Ammon. She gave an exam­ple of a client with heart fail­ure who did not have sta­ble hous­ing, but was bounc­ing around stay­ing with dif­fer­ent friends and fam­i­ly. No mat­ter all the med­ical inter­ven­tions they pro­vid­ed, he was not get­ting bet­ter, but once they helped him to gain sta­ble hous­ing, his health improved enor­mous­ly. “Health sys­tems can’t do it alone,” she declared. “We can’t man­age chron­ic ill­ness­es if peo­ple don’t have a sta­ble place to live.”

Wilkin­son then posed the ques­tion as to why a cross-sec­tor aspect of the cam­paign is impor­tant. Kopros­ki said that we can’t work in silos because the real world does not work like that. He used to work in edu­ca­tion, and real­ized that the best thing that could be done to improve edu­ca­tion is to address neigh­bor­hoods of con­cen­trat­ed pover­ty. The silos that peo­ple have been work­ing in have not been cre­at­ed overnight, he said, and that it is going to take time to break them down.

But that break­down and inte­gra­tion is already start­ing to happen.

“Peo­ple from oth­er sec­tors are start­ing to real­ize that they can’t accom­plish their goals with­out peo­ple hav­ing safe, decent, afford­able hous­ing,” Koprows­ki said, not­ing that most orga­ni­za­tions in the Oppor­tu­ni­ty Starts at Home coali­tion are not hous­ing orga­ni­za­tions that work on end­ing homelessness.

Wilkin­son then sug­gest­ed that afford­able hous­ing is trig­ger phrase in some ways. “Why is that?” she asked. “Does some­one lose if we have more afford­able housing?”

Koprows­ki said that gen­er­al­ly our coun­try has con­nect­ed in their mind afford­able hous­ing with neg­a­tive stereo­typed root­ed in race and class priv­i­lege. We need to debunk the myths around afford­able hous­ing com­ing to a neigh­bor­hood bring­ing down prop­er­ty val­ues and increas­ing crime, he said.

“Pro­gres­sives are being hyp­o­crit­i­cal,” Koprows­ki con­tin­ued. Some of the most pro­gres­sive cities and neigh­bor­hoods are not only not fight­ing for afford­able hous­ing, but are active­ly pre­vent­ing the expan­sion of afford­able hous­ing, he point­ed out. As a res­i­dent of the greater Seat­tle area who works in the issues of hous­ing and home­less­ness, I was nod­ding vig­or­ous­ly in agreement.

When asked if pro­gres­sives are real­ly liv­ing their val­ues when it comes to hous­ing, Mor­ris replied with an emphat­ic “No.”

She ref­er­enced New Orleans as a prime exam­ple, a solid­ly blue city that is in the midst of a hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis. The rea­son for the cri­sis comes down to pol­i­cy choic­es, she said. “Den­si­ty is a dirty word among cer­tain progressives.”

She said peo­ple use their priv­i­lege to fight increased den­si­ty or hav­ing afford­able hous­ing locat­ed in their neighborhoods.

“Afford­able hous­ing is the last fron­tier in dis­crim­i­na­tion,” she said.

An audi­ence mem­ber asked if hous­ing is some­thing where local and state poli­cies can make a big impact, or if it’s some­thing that real­ly needs to be addressed fed­er­al­ly. Mor­ris replied that it is both.

Fed­er­al changes are real­ly need­ed, but they are not going to hap­pen with this pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion, so we have to make changes local­ly. Get­ting rid of biased zon­ing poli­cies, invest­ing in state hous­ing trust funds, and using fed­er­al resources effec­tive­ly are things that can all be done at the city and/or state level.

“It’s incred­i­bly impor­tant to get to fed­er­al change, but we have to start locally.”

Koprows­ki agreed that we need a response at all three lev­els, city, state, and fed­er­al. “The mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem is such that no one lev­el can solve this prob­lem alone.” How­ev­er, he not­ed that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment large­ly cre­at­ed the prob­lem of home­less­ness and lack of afford­able hous­ing, espe­cial­ly due to major dis­in­vest­ment under arch­con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can Ronald Reagan.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has failed to address this grow­ing cri­sis in our coun­try, and that real­ly needs to change in order to ade­quate­ly address the prob­lem. This is an issue where pro­gres­sives can and should be leading.

You can learn more about the issue of afford­able hous­ing and home­less­ness on the Oppor­tu­ni­ty Starts at Home web­site.

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