“Housing is a right in America,” President Biden said last month as he signed an executive order promising to address racial discrimination and inequality in housing. On Tuesday, the administration announced an extension of the federal foreclosure moratorium through the end of June.
While this temporary measure is a necessary Band-Aid on a gaping economic wound, housing is not yet a right in this country — far from it. Mr. Biden’s emphasis on redressing racial inequity in housing provides a welcome contrast, though, to the long history of the federal government’s housing policies, which created barriers to safe, affordable housing in all 50 states, especially for communities of color.
Of course, the American housing crisis long predated the pandemic, and the United States has never made the provision of housing a national priority. The crisis has only been compounded during the last year: Somewhere between 10 and 40 million people may be at risk of eviction in the coming months, in a time of deep racial inequity, volatile personal incomes, a surge in small business failures and diminished public access to many government benefits.
Mr. Biden’s speech points to a pathway out. In a moment of economic upheaval and fragility, there is an existing program that can help. Housing vouchers offer the potential for a solution to the residential instability and deep inequity in our country. Housing assistance can help stabilize communities that have been hard hit by generations of racially predatory practices like redlining and disinvestment. Expanding housing vouchers to everyone who needs them would be a key step toward recognizing the role that stable housing plays in life outcomes from health to employment and education.
If ‘Housing Is a Right,’ How Do We Make It Happen?, Eva Rosen, New York Times, Feb. 17th, 2021, available here