Child stability, opportunity starts at home

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 4/23/2018, 6:03 p.m.
Fifty years ago this week, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, became law ...

Children’s Defense Fund

Fifty years ago this week, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, became law after passing Congress in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The act prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex. It followed up the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 by addressing the persistent and pervasive housing inequality undergirded by federal policy that threatened to derail other efforts toward a more integrated and equal society. As he signed it President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “With this bill, the voice of justice speaks again. It proclaims that fair housing for all – every human being who lives in this country – is now a part of the American way of life.”

The hope at the time was that the Fair Housing Act signaled the beginning of a new era; giving all Americans access to safe, affordable housing. But as with so many of the historic promises during the Civil Rights Movement era, we have made great progress but huge implementation gaps and barriers remain. Fair access to housing for all is far from a reality and many Americans still have no access to decent, safe and affordable homes, as gentrification floods the land pushing the poor into shelters and the streets. Recently, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an organization dedicated to achieving more just public policy that assures people with the lowest incomes affordable and decent homes, launched the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign together with partnering organizations to champion federal policies to protect and expand affordable housing.

The campaign includes organizations addressing poverty, economic equality, civil rights, nutrition, health care, education, mental health, and more that recognize how essential quality affordable housing is to their own goals. The Children’s Defense Fund is pleased to be one of its steering committee members. In a 2015 CDF report on the impact of modest improvements in nine existing policies and programs that could help reduce child poverty significantly right now, it found increasing housing subsidies for low-income families would have the largest impact.

We know having a safe, stable home is a basic need for all children. Homelessness, unstable housing and the unavailability of affordable housing all have dire consequences. But the critical demand far outweighs the supply for those most in need.

As NLIHC explains, “There are only 35 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 ELI [extremely low income] households nationwide, and no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest income renters. Just 1 in 4 eligible low income households receives federal housing assistance.”

NLIHC research shows 11 million extremely low income renter households spend more than half of their incomes on housing, leaving them with far too little left over to fully cover other necessities, and there are only 12 counties in the entire nation where a full-time worker earning minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom rental home. In many cases the lack of affordable housing drives families into overcrowded rental units with extended family members or into homeless shelters.