Each April, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) celebrates Fair Housing Month—a time dedicated to educating people about housing rights and emphasizing the importance of ending housing discrimination.
According to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, this year’s theme is “Fair Housing: More Than Just Words.” It reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to advancing housing equality.
“Fair Housing Month is a time to recommit to our nation’s obligation to ensure that everyone has equal access to safe, affordable housing,” Fudge said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, housing discrimination still exists, from individuals and families being denied a place to call home because of the color of their skin or where they come from, to landlords refusing to allow persons with disabilities to keep assistance animals, to individuals being denied a place to live because of who they love. In this moment of unprecedented crisis, fair housing is more important than ever,” she continued.
Last year, the agency received over 7,700 allegations of discrimination. An overwhelming majority of cases concerned disability or race, according to HUD data.
This is partly the reason why Fair Housing Month 2021 will focus on securing housing opportunities for all. In addition, HUD will highlight its new enforcement priorities for mortgage lenders and protections for people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
While HUD will hold several fair housing events this month, state lawmakers across the country are working to increase housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. And demand for the legislation has never been higher.
According to HUD’s 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, over 580,000 people sleep rough every night. This total represents a 2.2 percent increase from the prior year and was primarily driven by the pandemic. It also represents the most significant year-over-year spike in homelessness since the 1960s.
Here are several statehouses leading the way for homeless rights to support this Fair Housing Month.
Connecticut Right to Housing
Connecticut’s state Housing Committee recently introduced a bill that would establish a statewide right to housing.
As defined by the bill’s text, the right to housing includes, but is not limited to:
- Protection from housing loss
- Access to safe housing
- Access to affordable housing
- Adequate rehousing assistance
- Recognition of special circumstances that often prevent people from finding stable housing
The bill passed out of committee by a 12-3 vote margin in March. It is supported by organizations and nonprofits such as the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Journey Home, and Family Promise of Central Connecticut.
San Diego’s Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities
Across the country, San Diego Supervisor Nathan Fletcher is asking the city to consider creating a Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities. The purpose of the agency would be to centralize responsive services.
“Centralizing our work involving people experiencing homelessness in one department will make us more effective at putting the unsheltered on a path to safe, secure housing and make us a better regional partner,” Fletcher said. “Taking this step signifies a renewed commitment to addressing homelessness, not just in the unincorporated areas, but across the region.”
Addressing Homelessness in Washington
Washington’s Democrats recently introduced a $58 billion biennial budget, which is intended to prevent the state from slipping further into a housing and homelessness crisis.
It budgets over $920 million for mortgage and rental assistance. $166 million would go to low-income families. It also apportions $88 million to provide utility payment programs.
Another $26.5 million will go toward the state’s Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program, which assists low-income families who cannot work because of either illness or disability.
Meanwhile, Seattle and King County are due to receive $26 million from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The funds will go toward a range of programs from hotel-based shelters to permanent housing for people exiting homelessness.
According to the latest Point in Time Count data, King County saw its unhoused population swell to over 11,000 people in 2020. More than half of the population sleep outside.
Securing Housing in Baltimore
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is promoting a plan to establish a city agency dedicated to housing, eviction and foreclosure prevention, and community revitalization projects.
The agency would assume responsibility for complying with an agreement Baltimore struck with HUD in 2016 to settle decades of discriminatory housing practices. It would also coordinate functions that are currently split among several agencies.
Baltimore’s city council must approve the plan before it is implemented.
Urgent Affordable Housing Needs in Springfield, Illinois
Democrats in Illinois’ General Assembly are contemplating ways to address the state’s housing affordability crisis.
In January, the National Council for State Housing Agencies found over 540,000 households in the state could not pay rent. In total, that represented about $1.2 billion in back rent.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Realtors reports home prices have increased 30 percent statewide over the last five years. That includes a 3.4 percent year-over-year increase between 2019 and 2020.
Illinois lawmakers have introduced a slew of bills to combat these trends. They include providing additional emergency rental assistance, lifting the state ban on rent control, and subsidizing future affordable housing construction.
“Now we need to look at: what do you do to provide additional subsidy support? How do you preserve the affordable housing you already have? And how do you bring additional relief to homeowners and small landlords? I think that’s really what we’re thinking about right now,” said Delia Ramirez, who represents Chicago’s 4th district.