Today marks the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act – the centerpiece of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the last significant achievement of the civil rights movement that was passed in the immediate wake of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. Before his death, Dr. King advocated for its passage because he clearly understood that housing was a human right. He firmly believed that access to stable, affordable, and safe housing was the foundation on which all families could build their version of the American Dream to finally make real the promise of this country for everyone.
Yet today, homeownership – or even just a safe, stable place to call home – remains out of reach for many people of color, working families, and others who work hard every day. In the wake of the pandemic and Hurricane Harvey, our region faces a housing crisis caused by soaring home prices and rental costs; low wages; and a history of neighborhood disinvestment and racist neighborhood redlining that denied Black and Latino families the opportunity to afford and own a home. We are still struggling with the effects of those policies today.
In Harris County, there is a vast gap between homeownership rates among Black and Latino families compared to white families, undermining their ability to build intergenerational wealth and deepening economic inequality. Where people of color attain homeownership, their homes are frequently undervalued and twice as likely to receive a low appraisal compared to white homeowners. For example, the average appraised home value in communities of color in 2021 was $257,049, while in white neighborhoods, it was $543,716 – a gap of more than $286,000.
And the effects of historic redlining and neighborhood disinvestment go beyond homeownership and wealth. People in those neighborhoods have shorter life expectancies, lack access to essential resources, and are more vulnerable to flooding and other disasters.
We are working to right historical wrongs and take meaningful action to address our region’s housing crisis so that every family has a safe, stable place to call home. Harris County is making historic, transformative investments with federal recovery funds that respond to our region’s urgent housing needs and create paths to prosperity. Over the next several years, the county will invest over $200 million toward:
- improving the health, safety, and resilience of existing homes through repair programs;
- addressing shortages of affordable, stable housing by building single- and multi-family homes;
- reducing evictions and foreclosures with tenant protections and assistance programs;
- increasing long-term affordability for now and in the future through a community land trust;
- and increasing opportunities for families to build and sustain wealth through homeownership.
To truly move us one step closer to realizing the vision Dr. King gazed from the mountaintop, we need action at every level of government to ensure everyone has access to a safe, stable, and affordable home and the opportunity to prosper. Rest assured, we are doing our part to give everyone a fighting shot at the American Dream.