Housing stability for both renters and homeowners is the single most important contributor to an individual’s overall well-being, from health outcomes to economic stability.
And yet the Latinx community faces significant barriers to acquiring and maintaining housing stability. Even more so during this global pandemic.
Language is one of the most common barriers that many in our community face, particularly immigrants from Latin America. Additionally, a long history of discriminatory policies has created a sense of distrust between the Latinx community and the government, causing many to choose not to participate in government programs.
During these times of COVID-19, many find themselves facing a greater degree of dual hardships: Latinx individuals disproportionately serve in essential worker roles, exposing themselves and their families to COVID-19. This risk puts both their health and their income stability in jeopardy.
Throughout COVID-19, my staff at Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) has continued to work hard to address these issues and connect our community with housing opportunities. CPLC was founded in 1969 to combat discrimination against Mexican-Americans. Today, we continue to use our cultural competency to offer bilingual services, helping monolingual Spanish-speaking clients navigate the system in their native language.
CPLC is a trusted resource for the Latinx community. It represents our roots, and we continue to be deeply embedded in the communities we serve. As a result, Latinx community members feel comfortable coming to us for help attaining housing stability.
We provide the following comprehensive direct services to renters and homeowners to promote housing stability:
- Eviction prevention assistance for renters;
- Mortgage foreclosure prevention assistance for homeowners;
- Housing counseling services for renters who want to become homeowners, as well as people experiencing homelessness who want to become renters;
- Access to food boxes;
- COVID-19 testing;
- Utility assistance;
- Workforce development;
- Childcare services; and
- Behavioral health services, including support for victims of domestic violence.
We recognize at CPLC that federal housing policies continue to perpetuate longstanding discrimination. We are actively advocating for specific policies to create a more equitable playing field.
It’s important to acknowledge that fair housing laws have been heavily enforced since the 1960s. However, while these laws strive to create “equal” opportunity, they neglect to take into consideration the needs of individuals facing multiple barriers to housing. These barriers to housing may include low income, domestic violence, previous foster care, and a number of other factors that put individuals at a disadvantage.
For these individuals, “equal” opportunity is not enough because they are not starting with the same advantages. Instead, we must focus on creating “equitable” opportunities that take into consideration our different starting places.
We are currently advocating for the implementation of source of income laws that increase the availability of rental units for voucher holders, as well as small area fair market rents – rather than the current general Fair Market Rent structure – to create equity. Both of these policies are designed to help individuals move outside of low-income, low-opportunity areas, thus escaping generational poverty that comes through a lack of opportunity.
The existing Fair Market Rent structure in particular is somewhat like a modern-day version of the discriminatory practice of redlining, through which individuals living in low-income ZIP codes were denied access to capital. By basing Fair Market Rent on the average rent per county, rather than ZIP code, the current policy pushes people to low-income, low-opportunity areas.
While we remain focused on advocating for these policies, my team at CPLC has also pivoted to providing services safely during this health crisis, which continues to disproportionately affect the Latinx community.
We have expanded our phone bank to offer more of our housing services remotely and have shifted our intake process and homebuyer education classes online, minimizing the risk of exposure while expanding access for the community. We have also grown our eviction prevention assistance program in scale to keep people housed during this time of need.
It is imperative that we reduce barriers to housing stability – the foundation of health and economic opportunity. The continued wellness of our nation at large is contingent upon the ability of all people to live a dignified life, regardless of race, ethnicity, or ZIP code.
David Adame is president & CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa