A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda

A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda

A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda

A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda

Synopsis

In the 1949 Housing Act, Congress declared a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family our national housing goal. Today, little more than half a century later, upwards of 100 million people in the United States live in housing that is physically inadequate, unsafe, overcrowded, or unaffordable.

The contributors to "A Right to Housing "consider the key issues related to America's housing crisis, including income inequality and insecurity, segregation and discrimination, the rights of the elderly, as well as legislative and judicial responses to homelessness. The book offers a detailed examination of how access to adequate housing is directly related to economic security.

With essays by leading activists and scholars, this book presents a powerful and compelling analysis of the persistent inability of the U.S. to meet many of its citizens' housing needs, and a comprehensive proposal for progressive change.

Excerpt

Over a half-century has passed since the 1949 Congress promulgated the National Housing Goal: "The implementation as soon as feasible of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family." More recently, Chester Hartman has renewed the argument for a Right to Housing that "would include affordability, physical quality of the unit, and the social and physical characteristics of the neighborhood environment" (Hartman 1998:237; see also Chapter 8). While the overall quality of housing has improved greatly in the last 50 years, many lower-income people are faced with the shortage of low-cost units and the problematic conditions of the neighborhoods where they are located. Even critics of the concept of "housing as a right" concede that there remain substantial numbers of U.S. residents for whom "a decent home and a suitable living environment" is not a reality (Salins 1998). At lowincome levels, particularly for people of color, it cannot be assumed that "a decent home" will automatically imply "a suitable living environment" because of the long history of residential segregation and discrimination in the housing market (Massey and Denton 1993).

Housing segregation and discrimination define and determine much of what happens in neighborhood housing markets as well as what happens to neighborhood residents. Dramatic differences in homeownership by race and ethnicity persist in the United States despite the fact that the overall level of homeownership, over 66 percent, is at an all-time high. (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000). In 2000, 72.4 percent of nonHispanic whites compared with 46.3 percent of blacks and 45.7 percent of Hispanics owned their own homes, as did 53.4 percent of Asians, 55.5 percent of Native Americans, 45.0 percent of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, and 46.3 percent of those who identified with more than one race. By 2002, homeownership was almost at 68 percent, and both whites and blacks had seen their ownership rates increase by 2 percent (JCHS 2003). Since people who do not own homes must rent them, these figures indicate that people of color are more likely to be renters, and affordability and poor quality issues are a severe problem for renters (NLIHC 2003).

These well-documented differentials in housing affordability and homeownership (cf. Bratt et al. 1986; Denton 2001; Hughes 1991, 1996; Stone 1993b) are linked to underlying patterns of housing segregation and discrimination via neighborhoods. Neighborhoods determine school quality, job opportunities, safety, exposure to crime and asset accumulation, among a host of other things (Denton 2001; Jargowsky 1994, 1997; Massey and Denton 1993; Wilson 1987, 1996). That the location of a house is as important as its characteristics and condition has long been a real estate broker's axiom. That individuals' opportunities for success are at least in part a function of the kind of neighborhood in which they live (and by implication the opportunities found there) has long been a commonsense notion referred to when people give their reasons for moving.

However, when discussing the poor, particularly racial and ethnic minority poor, popular discussions focus on their personal characteristics and see neighborhood conditions solely as . . .

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