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Happy Fair Housing Month!

It’s finally April! Flowers will start blooming soon, ushering in a new season and leaving winter in the rearview mirror. But amid that change, we cannot forget that it’s National Fair Housing Month, a time to remark on our progress in housing equality and discuss solutions to the problems we still face today.

Of course, access to housing is among the largest public policy issues in the country. In cities like Denver and Los Angeles, we see thousands of residents left exposed to the elements, and in many cases, unable to secure government assistance or acknowledgement. On top of that, there are wide disparities in homeownership, especially along racial and ethnic lines. And even further, we could highlight narrower issues like hostile architecture, designed to make unhoused life less comfortable.

Another area of concern is the gap in home appreciation value for Black and Brown homeowners.

This discussion begins in the same place as so many others we have: redlining. In the early 1900s, banks systematically denied home loans to Black families looking to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. As a result, Black families often ended up concentrated in one area of the city. This let local officials ignore said area, underinvesting in public works and economic development projects there. Another result of redlining was the general inability of Black residents to sell their homes at a fair rate, hampering efforts to create intergenerational wealth.

Those clusters of Black families still exist today, which you’ve likely noticed in larger cities. These majority-minority neighborhoods are earmarked by fewer trees, higher temperatures, and insufficient job opportunities. But invisible to your eyes is the disparity in home value appreciation.

In fact, since the housing market crash of 2008, white borrowers have seen their home values increase across all income levels. This group’s homes have become 1%, 3%, and 5% more valuable for low, medium, and high-earning families, respectively. On the other hand, home values for Black families have all decreased in the same time span. For low-income borrowers, values have fallen 8%. And for the highest Black earners, values have fallen 2%. The disparity, then, is as pronounced as it is difficult to see.

Additionally, Black families seeking home loans often plan to move into mostly Black areas. This concentration of homeownership by race only furthers the inequities and underinvestment we see as the result of redlining. Clearly, the problem has not totally resolved itself.

Fortunately, there are solutions to these complex issues. Namely, we can build an infrastructure to enforce fair housing laws beyond what the federal government has done. The Trump administration rolled back several fair housing protections. For example, his Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) repealed the 2015 Affirmative Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. This departmental guideline gave HUD funding recipients a tool to analyze local fair housing obstacles and identify patterns of segregation. As of 2018, HUD can no longer gather this insight from its partners. Reinstating that rule would help the federal government aggregate data and craft informed public policy.

Additionally, Congress should approve statutory enforcement of fair housing laws. The burden of enforcing such laws shouldn’t fall to the victim of discrimination, but rather be an equal, accessible right for all. This can help end the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty spurred by unfair housing laws.

The month is just beginning. Let’s spend it in talks about the importance of fair housing and how we can take an idea and make it a reality.

April 1 NF Legislative Roundup: Past Due Policies

Today, we’re looking at some past due policies from around the country, from reparations to hate crimes. Check it out!

Arizona

  • State Election Bills
    • Why we’re watching: Arizona has made headlines the last several months for slowly infringing on the voting rights of minorities. Legislators there are continuing down this shameful path and looking to pass several more discriminatory and misguided bills. This package of legislation includes publishing voter addresses following elections, requiring citizenship checks to vote, and ending early voting.

California

  • Statewide Reparations Program
    • Why we’re watching: In a first-of-its-kind move, a California task force is proceeding with a plan to offer reparations to Black descendants of enslaved people. The panel responsible for this decision is also overseeing the implementation of other, related policies that involve reparations, which can help the Black community overcome the systemic racism they deal with every day – a past due notion if you ask us.

Colorado

  • Denver Co-Responder Program
    • Why we’re watching: Six years ago, Denver began using clinicians to respond too mental-health related crises. Now, a recent study found that the program has been immensely effective, answering 10,000 calls since its inception. Denver residents are arguing that the program should be expanded to continue protecting vulnerable citizens from police brutality.

Federal

  • Emmitt Till Anti-Lynching Act
    • Why we’re watching: Lynching has always been a hate crime – now our laws reflect that. This week, President Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which finally designates the racist crime in the proper way. Legislators have made over 200 attempts to enact this bill over several decades, making it the very definition of a past due policy.

New York

  • EV Charging Infrastructure Investment
    • Why we’re watching: Communities across the country are grappling with the notion that vehicular air pollution disproportionately affects Black and Brown citizens. By investing in electric vehicles, those same communities are demonstrating their willingness to undergo reform in the name of equity. We applaud New York for this idea!

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Looking Ahead to the Midterms

Later this year, we’ll all flock to our voting locations and cast our ballots for the midterms. Every seat in the House of Representatives and 34 Senate seats are up for grabs, alongside entire state legislatures and municipal governments. Over the coming months, candidates will embark on familiar journeys and shake the hands of loyal supporters. Some may even pull off stunning upsets that shake up projections of Congress’ make-up until 2024.

Until that midterms election day comes, here are five key issues we hope remain constant, inescapable themes for candidates. In some cases, communities of color will rely on such attention.

First and foremost, we hope candidates of every stripe are forced to address voting rights on the federal level. Right now, multiple expansive, democracy-improving proposals are stalled in the Senate, which has thus far refused to erase the filibuster from its procedures. It’s truly baffling that parliamentary procedure can trump our God-given right to participate in government, but there is some hope. Late last year, the Biden administration signaled a more all-out push to expand voting rights, including absentee ballots, early registration, and even considering Washington DC statehood.

Immigration is the second issue we hope is seriously discussed later this year. Already, the Biden administration has abandoned its promise to shut down private immigration detention facilities and walked away from settlement talks with the families separated by the Trump administration. Those aren’t encouraging signs about the state of immigration reform, which always winds its way back into our national discourse during election years. We believe everyone seeking a better life deserves a fair shot and that our federal institutions stand in the way. It’s time we reexamine the role of ICE and end expedited removal policies.

The pandemic was a mask-off moment for our country in more ways than one. Perhaps most prominently, it revealed the striking inequities of our housing situation. Since the introduction of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, we’ve regressed in terms of homeownership among Black and Brown residents. Like several other policy areas where we see racial disparities, this is clearly linked to our history of redlining and financial discrimination. Now, with evictions rising as pandemic protections end, it’s important to keep the conversation going about how housing is a fundamental right for all, not a luxury.

Another is the misinformation surrounding critical race theory. It seems every state has somehow hit back against the misunderstood legal framework, which simply states that our institutions are rife with inequity and have been for a long time. In response to conservative fearmongering on the issue, states are banning books and outlawing classroom lessons that teach about our country’s historic injustices. We hope candidates can expose this grift for what it is: misinformation borne from a refusal to seriously consider the racial inequities Black and Brown folks see every day.

Lastly, we hope candidates speak on the importance of electric vehicles. It’s no secret Black and Brown citizens are more likely than their white counterparts to breathe in air pollution from cars. Electric vehicles is the most market-friendly and sensible way to address this disparity. However, a systemic change often requires foundational reform. In this case, Congress must create an infrastructure to charge electric vehicles. An inability of consumers to do so is the leading cause of buyer hesitancy. Supercharging our communities with infrastructure to charge electric vehicles will spike their market presence and address a longstanding inequity.

Of course, we hope the midterms are chock-full with other issues, like paid leave, cash bail, and public education. But if we had to pick five issues out of the thousands our country ought to address, these are our choices. What do you think the midterms will be about? Let us know on Twitter, where you can find us @neighborforward!

March 25 NF Legislative Roundup: Court Cases and Our Rights

This week, we’re turning our eye to some of our nation’s court cases and how the judiciary creates or denies change. Check it out!

California

  • Google Racial Discrimination Allegations
    • Why we’re watching: Google, one of the country’s largest companies and certainly the most ubiquitous, was recently implicated in a racial discrimination lawsuit. The attorney leading the charge, Ben Crump, has filed a class action suit, or joined otherwise several individual court cases together to make the point that racial discrimination is bigoted, wrong, and won’t stand anymore.

Federal

  • College Athlete Discrimination
    • Why we’re watching: The National College Players Association announced that it submitted a complaint to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, alleging several schools discriminate against compensating mostly Black athletes. The data backs up their claim and we hope the courts see as much.
  • Georgia Public Defender
    • Why we’re watching: Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff just introduced the Access to Justice Act of 2022, which would require all 94 federal court districts to have a public defender’s office or other nonprofit located in that district. This is one of those proposals that is so sensible, it’s hard to believe that the law isn’t already on the books, but here we are.
  • Nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
    • Why we’re watching: President Biden upheld a campaign promise when he nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court – the first Black woman to hold that honor. This week, senators grilled her, revealing the often-private discrimination that Black women face, on her old court cases, decisions, and personal life. The display was a shameful one for all but Jackson, who replied with poise, dignity, and intelligence.

Wisconsin

  • Statewide Congressional Map
    • Why we’re watching: The fix is in throughout our country. More plainly, state legislatures have rigged the deck against Black and Brown voters through restrictive laws and unfair maps. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled against Republicans undergoing this process after Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, drew maps for the state. We hope this signals a larger judicial willingness to order the reconsideration of gerrymandered maps.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Indigenous Access to Clean Water

Yesterday was World Water Day, which according to the United Nations, is meant to “celebrate water and raise awareness of the 2 billion people currently living without access to safe water.” Ever since 1993, non-governmental organizations and diplomats alike have treated the day as a call to action to provide the basic, fundamental right to clean water for their constituents.

During days such as these, we too often imagine poorer countries struggling to provide clean water. It’s time we turn our attention toward our own country’s issues in this regard.

As of this year, it’s estimated that around one in 10 Native Americans, of which 6.79 million live in the United States, don’t enjoy access to safe tap water or basic sanitation. Most of the water-poor tribes reside in the Colorado River Basin. Throughout California, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, tribes living on the land stolen from them can’t cleanly bathe or hydrate themselves. This is an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. Lacking access to proper sanitation increases the likelihood of infection.

Despite this renewed importance, we’ve taken few steps toward correcting the issue, which began long ago. Tribes across the Colorado River Basin agree that our country has violated its promise to provide Native Americans with livable land. Several treaties from centuries past, which tribes were tricked and coerced into signing, listed this as a condition. Unsurprisingly, we’ve mostly ignored these historical agreements.

The deck is stacked against those tribes seeking to make a difference. Not enough people know Native Americans on reservations don’t own the land on which they reside. Instead, the federal government holds it in trust. So, tribal leadership can’t use property taxes as a revenue generator to improve their clean water infrastructure.

As a result of these broken promises, Indigenous households are 19 times more likely than their white counterparts to lack indoor pipes for running water. For example, the Navajo Nation is 67 times more likely to live without running water. Most of them rely on hauled water, which is vastly more expensive than piped water. Partially because of these water issues, Indigenous Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19.

Systemic issues, as esoteric and vast as they might seem, always have real-life, devastating impacts.

The solution demands an equally fundamental reform: Giving land back to Indigenous groups. The federal government ceding control of reservations would permit tribes to generate revenue, use their land as private sector capital, and install other revenue-generating measures. Absent massive and consistent federal support, this can break down the systemic barriers between tribes and the private marketplace. All these potential funds can be used to fix and install pipes, which will ensure better health and sanitation, in turn improving the community overall.

Sometimes, the right fix is the simplest one. In concept, it’s an elegant, obvious solution to a longstanding issue. In execution, there’s sure to be legal and political obstacles. But the severity of this inequity and its historical elements demand a massive reformative effort.

March 18 NF Legislative Roundup: Housing Crisis

This week, we focus on some solutions to the housing crisis and a couple other topics of interest – check it out!

California

  • SB 9
    • Why we’re watching: On Jan. 1, a California law took effect that allowed homeowners to build four residential units on a single-family lot – an answer to California’s serious affordable housing crisis. Pasadena, one of many cities that opposed SB 9, passed an ordinance allowing officials to exempt eligible areas by declaring them “landmark districts,” something that Attorney General Rob Bonta says violates the spirit of the law.

Colorado

  • Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth
    • Why we’re watching: We’ve reached an affordable housing crisis, wherein young people of color don’t often have the resources to buy their own homes. In Denver, the Dearfield Fund is fixing that by offering down payments and mortgage assistance to Black individuals who feel they’ve experienced discriminatory housing practices.

Georgia

  • HB 1354
    • Why we’re watching: Our criminal justice system is full of contradictions. At times, it convicts and imprisons the wrong people. Now, erroneously barred Georgia residents will have access to state-mandated compensation between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, disbursed by a panel consisting of wrongful conviction experts.
  • SB 171
    • Why we’re watching: Georgia, in its extensive campaign to alienate Black and Brown voters, residents, and activists, passed a bill that would make some protest activities illegal. While its proponents claim the legislation will make communities safer, it’s a clear response to the protests of 2020 and will instead violate the constitutional rights of people of color.

New York

  • Binghamton Housing Project
    • Why we’re watching: Affordable housing is important on both state and local levels. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York just announced a $8.4 million, 23-unit development in Binghamton. Future tenants will all fall below the 60% mark of the area’s median income, with some preference toward veterans with physical disabilities.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Whatever happened to paid leave?

We have a trivia question for you: What do the U.S., Suriname, and Papua New Guinea all have in common?

If you answered that those are the only three member countries in the United Nations that don’t offer paid leave, you’d be correct! Somehow, the U.S., in all its grandeur, world leadership, and political posturing, doesn’t require companies to offer new parents paid time away from work. We aren’t exactly in shining company here, which is something that several high-profile politicians have made clear recently.

Many tried to roll such provisions into the Build Back Better bill, which is still held up in the Senate. What began as a 12-week proposal was swiftly cut down to four weeks in order to appease the more moderate elements of the Democratic party. In that scenario, the U.S. still wouldn’t join the ranks of countries that have demonstrated real compassion for new parents. Most countries mandate between 12 and 24 weeks of paid leave, with some requiring even more. In fact, most Western democracies require over 24 weeks. So, the bare minimum, as proposed by Congress, wouldn’t scratch the surface of what other nations provide.

Why have our leaders resisted this idea at seemingly every turn you ask?

It’s certainly not the result of reading the electorate – paid leave is among the most popular provisions of Build Back Better. An October You Gov poll found that over 70% of adults support federal investment in paid family and medical leave. That’s more than those who support universal pre-K and free community college. In our increasingly polarized political climate, this is a massive figure.

It’s also not because paid leave is a waste of resources. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that paid leave for new parents improves child development, family health, economic security, and even supports fathers’ involvement in childcare. Much of the group’s research is based on California’s paid leave program, which has been in place for 20 years. The same investigation even found that 12 weeks of paid leave would prevent 600 infant deaths every year.

If passing this policy has both real-life and political upside, why isn’t it a federal law?

Our country has a single-minded obsession with the individual over the group. Rather than write laws that help the most disadvantaged among us, our legislators usually write those that “encourage” the individual to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or whatever nonsense they tell themselves. The reality is such that some people, often entire demographics, need more help than others from the government. This immutable, undeniable truth is the result of institutionally discriminatory policies such as redlining, anti-labor laws, and punitive education funding formulas.

A federally mandated paid leave system, as proposed in the Build Back Better Act, would offset racial disparities in access to such benefits. In 2017, just 15% of all workers enjoyed paid leave. This group is made up of mostly corporate, white workers. In fact, almost 50% of white workers had access to paid leave while the same was true for only 23.2% of Hispanic workers. Similar trends persist when you compare higher- and lower-income jobs. The latter, mostly occupied by minorities, boasted far less access to paid leave than those in the former. The same study also revealed that minority workers, to whom paid leave is available, use it at equal rates to white workers.

None of this is particularly surprising. It’s another symptom of a fundamental disease that is systemic racism. But until our leaders recognize the value in supporting a group that has been disproportionately hurt by the last two centuries of public policy, nothing will change. That’s the bedrock disagreement here, and one we need to hammer to elected officials, candidates, and our communities alike.

March 11 NF Legislative Roundup: Children of Color

This week, take a look at some news and legislation that will affect children of color, in and out of the classroom!

Arizona

  • Teacher Pay Cuts
    • Why we’re watching: Phoenix Elementary School District teachers just learned that their paychecks will be $5,000 short next year, mostly due to a lack of appropriations from their state government. This is a clear signal that Arizona does not care about its teachers, which is a terrible shame, given their importance in childhood development.
  • Curriculum Changes
    • Why we’re watching: Amid the roaring debate about critical race theory and its supposed impact on white students, teachers in Arizona are looking to make American history engaging for their students. However, it’s unclear how many teachers are shying from approaching topics like slavery and Native American genocide while staying in compliance with their elected officials’ misguided erasure of Black and Brown history.

Federal

  • College Admissions
    • Why we’re watching: The Supreme Court is poised to undo decades of affirmative action in universities throughout the country. Under the pretext of “colorblindness,” would-be students at schools like Harvard are arguing unfair admissions standards, simply because such schools want to increase their plurality. We truly hope the Supreme Court doesn’t go down this road of enforcing the racial status quo at elite colleges.

Maryland

  • SB 165
    • Why we’re watching: Maryland, like many other states, has a history of trying children as adults for some crimes. Sen. Jill Carter seeks to change that, citing the impact of the criminal justice system on youth’s development and mental health. This legislation would fix inefficiencies in the judicial system and keep juveniles in the appropriate venue for trial.

New York

  • End of Mask Mandate
    • Why we’re watching: New York City public schools officially no longer require masks, an announcement made just before Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a similar statewide plan. Proponents of this policy cite mask fatigue as its primary rationale, with little mention nor care for the wellbeing of children that are legally required to attend classes in-person.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

 

National Invest in (Some) Veterans Week

Last week was National Invest in Veterans Week, a holiday established in 2019 that seeks to honor and celebrate veterans’ service and encourage investment in their small businesses here at home. While not every state recognizes the budding observance, it’s certainly more established and worthwhile than some of the other weird, quirky holidays we love to talk about. However, its youth and good intentions doesn’t mean we can’t use it to highlight some glaring racial disparities in our society.

Earlier in his term, President Biden signed a bill into law requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study racial disparities in how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) distributes benefits. The bill’s sponsors cited stories from constituents and advocacy of groups like the Black Veterans Project as major catalysts for the legislation. The report is due to the White House and Congress next year.

For the most part, you can probably guess what it will say.

Disparities in VA benefits are well-documented. Early last year, the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health published a report detailing the pervasiveness of VA-related disparities. The investigation found that minority veterans reported more combat exposure, persisting health conditions, and lower overall fitness than their white counterparts. Additionally, white veterans reported greater access to prescription medications from the VA than both Black and Hispanic servicemembers. A 2017 study similarly found that white veterans reported an almost 80% satisfaction with their VA services, while only 11.1% and 5.8% of Black and Hispanic servicemembers reported the same, respectively.

All of this is to say that veteran’s health is not one-size-fits-all. Differences in service experience, upbringing, and underlying health conditions create different levels of necessary care. This is what the upcoming GAO study will reveal. In fact, the GAO has already done so.

In 2019, the GAO published its findings that the VA can do more to identify and address racial disparities. At the time of the study, the department lacked any real infrastructure or capability to report or solve racial disparities in their benefits. The VA couldn’t tell what from their information was self-reported versus what was observed by their staff. This inability, alongside missing data, led the GAO to conclude that the VA cannot ensure the accuracy of race-related information in their record.

Most damming of all, the GAO concluded that healthcare disparities in the context of the VA matched those of our country at large. The issue isn’t that the VA is worse on average than our broader healthcare system. Rather, the issue is that an arm of our government, which is a direct extension of the electorate, is just a mirror of other inequities. The opposite should be true if anything.

A government doesn’t need to use the “bottom line” as a flimsy excuse for poorer care. Instead, it should embrace its mission of serving its constituents and above all else, helping people. But when a governmental agency is so laden with inequality that we don’t even have sufficient data to analyze it, the root problem reveals itself: Our country perpetuates ignorance about racial disparities rather than truth.

March 4 NF Legislative Roundup: A Long Time Ago

This week, we’re looking across the country at some issues and bills from a long time ago and some from this week! Check it out!

Arizona

  • Early Voting Lawsuit
    • Why we’re watching: In yet another move designed to hamper the voting power of minorities in Arizona, Republicans there have filed a lawsuit to end early voting. Last election, 89% of voters used early mail-in voting, so the program is wildly popular. This move would be rather confusing if not for the blatant disdain for Black and Brown voters.

California

  • Fast Recovery Act
    • Why we’re watching: California is debating passage of the Fast Recovery Act, or AB 257, which would create a statewide fast food sector council to set wage and work standards for the industry. If you ask us, this should’ve gotten done a long time ago, given the abuse and working conditions fast food workers suffered during the pandemic.

Colorado

  • Denver Social Equity Program
    • Why we’re watching: When Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana, they failed to create guidelines for equity in licensing growers and retailers. Now, the Denver Social Equity Program seeks to create balance in an industry that white business owners have dominated thus far by guaranteeing licenses for historically underserved communities.

Federal

  • Emmitt Till Antilynching Act
    • Why we’re watching: Just after a jury convicted Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers of hate crimes, the House of Representatives resoundingly passed the Emmitt Till Antilynching Act, which would make lynching a federal hate crime. The bill was named after Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old Black child tortured and murdered a long time ago in 1955. This is the House’s first of nearly 200 attempts at passage to be successful. 

New York

  • Less Is More Act
    • Why we’re watching: In September, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Less Is More Act, which prevented police from jailing people from some minor violations, in response to the crisis at Rikers Island. Now, several lawyers are claiming officers and the judicial system have largely ignored this law and are requesting the release of over 90 detainees on those grounds.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

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