Racial Equity Considerations for Affordable Housing Advocates

By: Danielle Hubley, Advocacy & Education Manager, Partnership for Strong Communities 

When we think of access to safe, stable, and affordable housing, we must also think of its inextricable relationship to racial inequities in our country. As a direct result of intentional racist policy decisions, Connecticut remains one of the most segregated states in the United States. Through a history of redlining, disinvestment, and the concentration of poverty, housing has been used as a gate keeper that has kept Black, Indigenous and other People of Color back from the opportunities that have been afforded to white individuals and families.  

So how do we flip the script? If inequity is a biproduct of our system’s current design, how do we begin driving change that moves our system to address the inequities it has caused? This was the conversation the Partnership had with leaders and advocates who serve on the Connecticut Racial Equity Network (CT-REN) on June 5, 2024.  

Bobbi Riddick, Community Impact and Equity Program Manager with the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness kicked off and facilitated the conversation by reviewing the community agreements for this meeting: a practice that is prioritized at the beginning of every meeting to embed and enlist the practices of equity, diversion and inclusion into the work being done in that meeting space. She also introduced the Connecticut Racial Equity Network, and their vision to center racial equity in efforts to address housing and homelessness disparities in Connecticut. The network provides a platform for partners to share, collaboratively develop, and coordinate anti-racist policies and procedures that advance racially equitable housing outcomes.  

Brennden Colbert, Training Program Coordinator with Advancing Connecticut Together began by defining the acronym J.E.D.I. – justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (or belonging), a framework for building advocacy and tables that create space for everyone to be a part of the change making conversation. 

Most new housing developments require a percentage of those units to be affordable. In the past – mainly in major metropolitan areas, there was a harmful term called the “poor door”. When this legislation was passed, landlords and housing managers would require those seeking low-income housing in their housing complex to use a door in the back of, or on the side of the building, because the landlord did not want those individuals to have access to the same door as those who were paying full price. When we talk about affordable housing, housing subsidies and the Fair Housing Act, remember that it’s more than just the terms we use…when you are working on these things, understand that it means something deeper than what you may think.”– Brennden Colbert 

Building off this terminology, Precious Edwards, Health Equity Coordinator with the town of Manchester spoke about how the policy that has driven inequities for communities of color throughout American history is still impacting families and individuals today. She used the stark reminder that redlining was outlawed in 1968, the same year her mother was born. Yet even though it was made an illegal practice, the damage had already been done, and no action was taken to remedy the damage that had been caused. Precious also discussed the social determinants of health, and the importance of helping people meet their most basic human needs. We need shelter, food and access to clean water before we can begin to move out of survival mode, and to build a more stable, healthy life.  

This opened the door for Stephanie Lazarus to jump in – Stephanie is a Fellow for the Consumer Leadership Involvement Project with the Corporation for Supportive Housing. She spoke about how in her own life and in her work to help house folks experiencing homelessness “being unhoused is such a traumatic event for the individual”. We expect people to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps”, get a job, find an apartment, and pay their rent, without any real consideration for their mental health or well-being. If you did not know where you or your family were going to sleep tonight, would you be most worried about an upcoming job interview? Or would you be more focused on keeping you and your family safe for the night?  

Stephanie also spoke about her experience helping folks during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. With the cost of rent soaring, many folks out of work and concerned for their health and safety, it was exceedingly important for housing providers to be listening to the needs consumers were presenting when seeking assistance.  

Angel Cotto, Research Supervisor with the Youth Action Hub at the Institute for Community Research added to Stephanie’s remarks, noting how folks with intersecting identities may experience more disparity than others. For example, the LGBTQ+ community is more likely to experience barriers to accessing safe, stable and affordable housing because of how they identify. A black, trans woman will have to jump more hurdles than her white, cisgender woman just to access the same resource.  

Angel reminded attendees that when we come into a space, we bring our whole selves, and how important it is to consider all people bring to the table, especially when they are living through a crisis situation like not having access to a stable place to call home.  

“A lot of people want your advice, want your thoughts, want to include you in different spaces. We’re asking people to sit at tables that [other] people are getting salaries for – we’re asking people with lived expertise to contribute to creating programs – we’re essentially asking people to do our jobs, and we’re either not paying them equitably enough, or we’re not paying them at all…I’ve seen so many different advisory boards, research, surveys…where people are being paid in pizza. We cannot ask people with lived expertise to join these traumatizing conversations, to be our consultants, to design our programs…while they are still experiencing housing instability…and not at least paying them for their time.”- Angel Cotto 

While we have a lot of work ahead of us in course-correcting our history of discrimination and oppression, we can at least start to address the inequities left in its wake by making sure we are creating opportunity for folks with lived experience to step into professional spaces, to be paid for their time and expertise, and to make sure we are designing future policy based on their recommendations, experience, and guidance.  

Click here to view a recording of the event and to access presenter slides. 

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