There are moments for reflection throughout the calendar year. Black History Month is certainly one of them. Not so coincidentally to some, it’s the shortest month.
With inspiration found on a racially integrated farm in the 1940s, Habitat for Humanity has strived to realize a vision where every citizen has a decent, affordable place to live. At Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County, this starts here in our community.
As recently as 2020, we’d prepared a wealth gap statement to bring awareness to wealth disparities in our community. It’s not surprising that we, like much of the nation, have work to do. For example, we found nearly one-third of Black renters in Tampa pay more than half of their income on housing — higher than any other racial or ethnic group — leaving little in the budget for food, health care, transportation or savings.
Similarly, the gap in homeownership rates between white families (71.9%) and Black families (41.8%) significantly contributes to the wealth gap. Homeownership continues to be the primary mechanism that American families use to build wealth.
In 2021, Hillsborough County government engaged MGT Consulting to produce a community equity profile, which included citizen input. The March 2022 report revealed that “the intersection between economic opportunity and affordable housing was the most frequent intersection invoked during the community engagement.” It further showed that “affordable housing and access to aid programs are the community’s number one concern, but this frequently intersects with county communication and accountability.” Therefore, any new programs must evaluate what types of community engagement provide the appropriate information to create programs that will be utilized for the greatest impact.
On average, Black households started the COVID-19 crisis with higher housing cost burdens, lower accumulated savings and fewer assets that could be liquidated to provide a financial cushion during the shock. These “preexisting conditions” left Black households more economically vulnerable to job losses caused by COVID-19. The result is a greater threat of housing loss during this crisis, stress and negative impacts on children’s school performance.
Hillsborough County and Tampa elected officials can play a role in promoting wealth-building opportunities for minority families through a variety of public policies. When making allocations of housing-related funds, elected officials should carefully consider homeownership’s role in wealth building.
The extent to which Black people participate in homeownership will be impacted by local housing policies and funding allocations. Elected officials should consider the positive role they can play in promoting homeownership wealth building and should correspondingly ensure that a considerable portion of housing funding is aimed at homeownership.
Given our history of local, state and federal policies that significantly (and often intentionally) disadvantaged Black people, their families and communities, and given the clear housing disparities that persist, governments at all levels have an obligation to correct the harm and narrow these divides.
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Below are some broadly accepted housing policy solutions that would begin to help address the needs of the people of Hillsborough County in the 21st century:
* Increase opportunities for Black homeownership.
* Invest in distressed, racially segregated communities to promote inclusive recovery.
* Stop perpetuating segregation: increase opportunities for Black households to rent and purchase homes in communities of opportunity.
* Invest in affordable rental housing.
* Minimize the damage and compounding effect of COVID-19 for Black households.
Habitat for Humanity invites volunteers, donors, partners and policymakers of all backgrounds to join us in raising our voices in support of housing and land-use policy reforms that increase racial equity and can help our communities heal.
Tina Forcier is chief executive officer of Hillsborough County Habitat for Humanity.