America Needs Social Housing

America Needs Social Housing

We must free Black and brown tenants from the rent gouging, health violations, and eviction threats employed by corporate landlords and Wall Street investors.

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Despite every advance humankind has produced since the cave, none are more fundamental to survival than a place to call home.

Home is where we keep our hearts, the comfort standard when welcoming someone, where we write when something worthwhile happens, and where everything starts. Primarily, our homes keep us warm and safe. Shelter defines a society like laws, paved roads, or food and water access—and the United States currently fails this premise.

A new report from Renters Rising and the Center for Popular Democracy Network exposes how systemic racism, historic rent hikes, defunded public housing, corporate control and influence, and Wall Street investors fostered America’s housing crisis. It also provides bold solutions: to create a more equitable housing system, we must massively expand social housing, a public option for housing that is permanently affordable, protected from the private market, and publicly owned or under democratic community control.

I know from personal experience that these solutions can make a big impact on families. Growing up working-class in Akron, Ohio, I recall seeing my mom with tears in her eyes, rushing from one job to the next, trying to figure out how to get us out of the projects. She would catch me watching, wipe her eyes, and finish getting ready for work. This is the burden low-income parents bear: protecting their children from the stresses of housing insecurity.

Early public housing programs excluded, displaced, or segregated Black communities, but the government didn’t abandon public housing until Black families became the program’s primary beneficiaries following decades of systemic discrimination, predatory investment, and disinvestment. White families were able to move out of public housing, benefiting from FHA-backed mortgages, while racially restrictive covenants foreclosed this option for Black families. Fewer whites meant fewer funds, upgrades, or maintenance for those left navigating public housing.

The steam heating unit in the Elizabeth Park projects triggered my asthma, causing seizures. This pushed Mom to organize against Akron’s housing department. We thought we’d won after moving to Goodyear Heights; I felt overjoyed, having a yard with grass for me to cut. Then we discovered black mold in the basement and moved again.

We moved three times in three years before moving into our Habitat for Humanity home. After working our way up the list by building homes for other families, our turn came. I remember picking a blue-green carpet for my first room. I started experiencing ownership and peace. I was 15.

Finally, we could relax. At the time, I didn’t know how having a secure place to return can allow you to spread your wings and imagine new possibilities. But thanks to an affordable mortgage, mom had the flexibility to save—becoming the first person in Summit County to buy their home.

Mom passed in 2009, but my siblings and I still own “the house” in Akron. It’s a source of equity, a safe haven for my family and friends, and a testament to Mom’s legacy. When I visit from Kent, I bring my son so he knows what his grandmother built.

Success stories like ours are abnormal in America. Black homeownership has stagnated since the 1960s, most POC households remain excluded from homeownership, and the foreclosure crisis cut Black and Latinx wealth by over half.

Corporate landlords, backed by government subsidies, currently target these communities. Guaranteeing housing stability for everyone, including renters, is racial justice. America must free Black and brown tenants from the rent gouging, health violations, and eviction threats employed by corporate landlords and Wall Street investors.

Pre-Covid, over 20 million American households endured unaffordable rents. Today, 30 percent of renters can’t pay more than $600 (and the market lost 4 million homes priced in this range through raised rents, conversions, and demolitions). Over 10 million Americans are behind on rent, risking eviction.

The report details the housing crisis and outlines solutions developed by local and global tenant efforts and through the Homes for All Act reintroduced by Representative. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) this week, which aims to increase available public and affordable private market homes. America must:

  • Invest $1 trillion over 10 years to construct 12 million new units that are socially financed, permanently affordable, decommodified from for-profit interests, constructed by public and nonprofit developers, and maintained by unionized workers.
  • Funnel financing away from private developers and investors to finance public housing construction directly under government and nonprofit control.
  • Prioritize lowest-income renters, particularly in communities of color.
  • Empower renters with fixed rents, democratic community control, and transparent accountability systems.
  • Dismantle segregation by building homes in wealthier neighborhoods.

From Finland, Austria, Singapore, and Sweden to New York, Minneapolis, and Oakland, these solutions work, as the report documents. Nationwide, tenants are organizing and making local governments divest from for-profit housing in favor of social housing.

We should all agree: Housing is a human right. The answer is not to make corporate slumlords and Wall Street speculators richer. The answer is to give social housing the funding, resources, and policies necessary to protect our communities.

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