Normal Public Library
Habitat on the Hill by Sheri Bruun
I have often heard our Executive Director, Jim Walters, talk about the importance of Habitat For Humanity being part of the conversation around affordable housing. I agree with him wholeheartedly and recently got to sit at a BIG table for this conversation.
In February, I attended the Habitat on the Hill Conference, which brought representatives of Habitat affiliates from all over the nation together to talk about affordable housing. Normally, this would have been held in Washington DC with many sessions, opportunities to meet other Habitat staff and supporters in person, and conversations concerning how to encourage our lawmakers to understand the importance of, and how to help with creating affordable housing.
The same conversations took place, but due to the pandemic, it was all done remotely.
The final aspect of the conference is meeting with legislators from our local communities to engage in conversation and press for action. What really sparked my interest this year was the conference’s focus on systematic racism that works against affordable housing for all.
The conference began with a keynote from John A. Powell, an internationally recognized expert in civil rights and civil liberties and professor of law and African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He has studied and written extensively on fair and opportunity-based housing as well as many other areas concerning equality. Opportunity-based housing pursues housing policies that create the potential for low-income people to live near existing opportunity, as well as policies that tie opportunity creation in other areas to existing and potential affordable housing. Powell suggested we define opportunity through the access to education, transportation, healthcare, food, economy, justice and communication.
He further suggested that opportunity maps be created when considering developing housing opportunities within communities. He also said that justice is the public face of love. I believe making sure that our community offers fair and just housing opportunities, is the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Powell’s point that had the greatest impact on me was, though there are many things lacking in our society presently, the one most prevalent is the COURAGE GAP: the courage to care, the courage to understand and the courage to act. I believe we must all step up to fill in this gap no matter what our own housing security is because not all our neighbors have secure, equitable or fair housing
In subsequent sessions we discussed non-neutral barriers to home ownership: down payments, security payments, length of having a job, how to measure FICA scores, etc. These structures are never neutral. We must look at the outcomes to determine neutrality. Presently 73% of white Americans own their own home while only 44% of African Americans and 49% of Latin Americans own their homes. This suggests there are racial barriers within the process of homeownership. Many of these practices were developed decades ago with a lens of exclusion. Much of the technology developed to evaluate homeowner risk was developed with a bias and is now an industry standard. Biased information going in will create a biased outcome. Credit scores, down payments, and mortgage insurance determine the risk to the lender not the potential success of the borrower.
Listening to so many experts in this field was incredibly enlightening. I have a long way to go to close my own personal COURAGE GAP because I have much more to understand, but I’m so thankful to be a part of an organization that is working hard to educate and advocate for the necessary changes to bring affordable housing and homeownership to communities all over our country.