The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing threats facing Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people in the housing market. Before the pandemic, these groups were more likely to experience housing instability, housing cost burdens, and homelessness because of decades of structural racism and discriminatory housing and labor practices. With the Supreme Court striking down the federal eviction moratorium last week, many of these families could soon face the threat of eviction and the destabilizing effects that come with it.
In June, the Urban Institute hosted a virtual event to explore how changes in local and federal policy can improve housing stability, housing affordability, and wealth building opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.
Researchers, policy experts, and practitioners at the event discussed that housing stability is key to achieving racial and ethnic equity. They emphasized that stability is not simply about the capacity to increase rental and mortgage emergency assistance uptake in the short term, it’s also about fundamentally changing housing systems and improving government capacity in the long term. Given the increased urgency to focus on eviction policy after the recent end of the federal moratorium, these takeaways are important to reiterate.
Experts at the event highlighted three key ways to improve both housing stability and racial equity for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities in the long term:
1. Focus on affordable housing to make progress toward racial equity
Black, Indigenous, and Latinx renters are more likely than white renters to have extremely low incomes and to experience housing instability, as a consequence of historic racial and ethnic discrimination in housing and labor markets. Even before the pandemic, almost 900,000 renters were evicted each year, with people of color—particularly Black women and single parents—facing the highest eviction risk. Evictions are detrimental to building household wealth because they can cause long-term credit damage.
Even before an eviction filing, housing precarity can lead to missed rent payments, lower credit scores, and the inability to save money. These factors create additional challenges to buying a home, which is a key way many families build wealth. As a result of these disparities, the gap in homeownership rates between Black and white households is the widest it’s been since before the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Expanding access to affordable housing for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx renters can close these gaps in housing stability and create more wealth-building opportunities like homeownership.
2. Boost capacity at every level of government to alleviate housing instability among Black, Indigenous, and Latinx households
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, federal funding for affordable housing and government capacity to provide housing support was low. Spending on most federal housing programs was either flat or consistently decreasing in the years leading up to the pandemic, even as demand for affordable rental housing was increasing. Providing sufficient funding for affordable housing can ensure that Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities don’t bear the brunt when crises, like the pandemic, arise.
States and localities are now receiving large cash infusions through federal relief funding to address the most urgent housing issues, including almost $47 billion in emergency rental assistance, as well as State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (PDF) that allow for affordable housing development and housing counseling services.
Although this funding could be a crucial first step in stabilizing households, the ability to quickly and equitably distribute these funds relies on government capacity and programs with experience deploying rental assistance funding in emergency situations. Ensuring there is local administrative capacity to allocate and deploy funds to the households most at risk of losing their homes—often Black, Latinx, and Indigenous households—is just as important as distributing the funds quickly. With the opportunity to address the housing crisis through federal funding, state and local leaders can learn how to equitably and quickly deploy these funds, which will serve community needs in the long run.
Beyond the stimulus funds to immediately stabilize families, continued funding to address housing needs will be critical to improving these capacities and supporting stability and wealth-building opportunities. Long-term increases in funding for the development and preservation of affordable housing can help reduce long-standing racial disparities in housing stability and homelessness.
3. Transform systems to ensure they are creating the most equitable outcomes
Improved government capacity also means reflecting on how public dollars are spent and making changes to ensure equitable outcomes. The pandemic shed light on the housing crisis, but inequities in the housing system have existed for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than returning to the state of government services before the pandemic, policymakers could consider steps to fundamentally change processes. For example, by improving contracting procedures to ensure small, community-based organizations can successfully compete to help allocate rental assistance resources, community leaders can create more equitable outcomes based on residents’ needs.
Creating a more equitable housing market will require introspection into existing systems and resources, conversations that call out racism as the root of historical inequities, and policy and program changes that eliminate those disparities and ensure everyone can afford a stable home.
The Urban Institute has the evidence to show what it will take to create a society where everyone has a fair shot at achieving their vision of success.