Racism has created and continues to perpetuate deep housing disparities, including right here in Madison. We can work together to bring about change.
In the work we do every day at The Road Home, we see how racism has created and continues to perpetuate deep housing disparities, including right here in Madison. Sometimes, homelessness is the result of current implicit or explicit bias not to rent to a family because they are black, or not to give a loan to help on the path toward homeownership. Neighborhoods and communities are shaped by these decisions, and intertwined with centuries of systemic injustice in our education system, criminal justice system, healthcare system, employment practices, and financial system.
We want families in our programs, our staff, our donors, our partner agencies, our funders and our community at large to know The Road Home stands against racism. We also know actions are more powerful than words. We will continue working every day to fight injustices in housing and every aspect of life, including the right to feel safe in your home, to jog in your neighborhood, to birdwatch in a park, and to, simply, live. We ask everybody to hold us accountable in our efforts as we all move together toward change.
Racial Housing Disparities
Racial housing disparities are evident in our community. The graph below which uses numbers from the Dane County Homeless Consortium, shows that while in 2018 only 5% of Dane County is Black, 48% of the homeless population was. The percentage is even higher when only considering homeless families with children. In 2019, 84% of families in our housing programs identified as people of color.
2018 Dane County Racial Disparities
Across the country, Blacks are about five times more likely to be homeless than whites. And COVID-19 is causing the housing gap to widen even further. Research shows that structural racism is a direct cause of this gap. A recent report concluded, “The impact of institutional and structural racism in education, criminal justice, housing, employment, health care, and access to opportunities cannot be denied: homelessness is a by-product of racism in America.” Research also demonstrates that the impacts of historical segregation and rental housing discrimination is still evident today.
While it is important to track the impacts of structural racism and collectively take action to reverse these, it’s also important not to use these numbers to make blanket assumptions about individual Black members of our community. Although Blacks are overrepresented among Americans living below the poverty line and among the homeless population, the great majority of Black Americans live in stable housing. In 2019, over 80% of Black Americans across the US lived above the poverty line.
How we are taking action
The Road Home’s commitment to decreasing racial housing disparities stretches back many years. Here are some of our past actions:
- 21 years of explicitly discussing cultural responsiveness when interviewing for new staff
- 13 years of sponsoring the YWCA’s Racial Justice Summit and requiring staff attendance
- 4 years of regular “Equity Moments” at all-staff meetings to foster dialogue and learning
- 1 year of a Peer Support Specialist position who better reaches, supports, and amplifies perspectives of those with lived experience of homelessness
Yet we know we still have work to do. Some of our ongoing efforts include:
- Sharing explicitly our statement and call to action on anti-racism with families, donors, volunteers, partners, and others
- Signing on publicly to larger initiatives against racism such as Wisconsin Public Health Association’s statement that racism is a public health crisis
- Prioritizing a commitment to equity and reducing disparities via our board, leadership, and organization-wide strategic screening tool for decision-making
- Updating volunteer training with information on demographics, disparities, structural racism, cultural responsiveness, and resources for additional learning
- Staff launching and leading new system-wide Homeless Services Consortium committee focused on elevating voices of those with lived experience
- Working (in small groups, for white staff) through “Me and White Supremacy” workbook
- Using our social media and other communications to educate audiences on racism, systemic injustice, and opportunities to work towards change
If you are interested in increasing your understanding of housing inequities, here are some resources that can help:
New Data Suggests COVID-19 is Widening Housing Disparities by Race and Income (Urban Institute, May 29, 2020)
Breaking Down the Black-White Home Ownership Gap (Urban Institute, February 21, 2020)
Racial Disparities in Home Appreciation: Implications of the Racially Segmented Housing Market for African Americans’ Equity Building and the Enforcement of Fair Housing Policies (Center for American Progress, Michele Zonta, July 2019)
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Matthew Desmond, 2017)
Time for justice: Tackling race inequalities in health and housing (Brookings, Dayna Bowen Matthew, Edward Rodrigue, and Richard V. Reeves, October 19, 2016)