Black America's Housing Crisis:

More renters than homeowners, homeless population jumps 12%

Charlene Crowell | 2/3/2020, 3:25 p.m.
No matter who you are, or where you live, there's a central concern that links consumers all over the country: ...

This trend of fewer homeowners has also impacted another disturbing development: the nation's growing homeless population.

Citing that homelessness is again on the rise, the JCHS report noted that after falling for six straight years, the number of people experiencing homelessness nationwide grew from 2016–2018, to 552,830. In just one year, 2018 to 2019, the percentage of America's Black homeless grew from 40% to more than half - 52%.

That independent finding supports the conclusion of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's report to Congress known as its Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

While some would presume that homelessness is an issue for high-cost states like California, and New York, the 2019 HUD report found significant growth in homeless residents in states like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, and Washington as well.

According to HUD, states with the highest rates of homelessness per 10,000 people were New York (46), Hawaii (45), California (38), Oregon (38), and Washington (29), each significantly higher than the national average of 17 persons per 10,000. The District of Columbia had a homelessness rate of 94 people per 10,000.

And like the JCHS report, HUD also found disturbing data on the disproportionate number of Black people who are now homeless.

For example, although the numbers of homeless veterans and homeless families with children declined over the past year, Blacks were 40% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019, and 52% of people experiencing homelessness as members of families with children.

These racial disparities are even more alarming when overall, Blacks comprise 13% of the nation's population.

When four of every 10 homeless people are Black, 225,735 consumers are impacted. Further, and again according to HUD, 56,381 Blacks (27%) are living on the nation's streets, instead of in homeless shelters.

The bottom line on these research reports is that Black America's finances are fragile. With nagging disparities in income, family wealth, unemployment and more – the millions of people working multiple jobs, and/or living paycheck to paycheck, are often just one paycheck away from financial disaster.

Add predatory lending on high-cost loans like payday or overdraft fees, or the weight of medical debt or student loans, when financial calamity arrives, it strikes these consumers harder and longer than others who have financial cushions.

And lest we forget, housing discrimination in home sales, rentals, insurance and more continue to disproportionately affect Black America despite the Fair Housing Act, and other federal laws intended to remove discrimination from the marketplace.

The real question in 2020 is, 'What will communities and the nation do about it?'

For Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University and author of the new book, "Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership", federal enforcement of its own laws addressing discrimination and acknowledging the inherent tug-of-war wrought from the tension of public service against the real estate industry's goal of profit, there's little wonder why so many public-private partnerships fail to serve both interests.

In a recent Chicago Tribune interview, Professor Taylor explained her view.

"You don't need a total transformation of society to create equitable housing for people," said Taylor. "We have come to believe that equitable housing is just some weird thing that can't happen here, and the reality is that we have the resources to create the kinds of housing outcomes that we say we desire."

"The way to get that has everything to do with connecting the energy on the ground to a different vision for our society — one that has housing justice, equity and housing security at the heart of it,' Taylor continued. "The resources and the money are there, but there's a lack of political will from the unfortunate millionaire class that dominates our politics... I think, given the persistence of the housing crisis in this country, we have to begin to think in different ways about producing housing that is equitable and actually affordable in the real-life, lived experiences of the people who need it."

Amen, Professor Taylor.