Redlining continues to impact communities, who can access housing, and how racism, homophobia, and transphobia have become a driver of homelessness and its criminalization.
Though discrimination in housing was officially outlawed decades ago, enduring discriminatory government policies, criminal justice practices, and illegal real estate practices continue to cause segregation and unequal access to safe and affordable housing for marginalized communities, leading to adverse health effects. The Racial Justice Challenge will help you build your understanding of how racism and systemic discrimination impact housing, and therefore health.
The practice of redlining was used to segregate communities based on race or ethnicity. Redlining prevented Black Americans in particular from building generational wealth through home ownership and ensured that neighborhoods would remain segregated even today. Discriminatory housing practices persist even decades after passage of the Fair Housing Act.
Because wealth has been systemically stripped from communities of color, Black and Indigenous people in particular are more likely to experience homelessness because their networks are less likely to have the resources to support them if they face unemployment, intimate partner violence, a medical emergency, or another financially destabilizing crisis. Learn how this crisis is especially effecting people of color, single women and mothers with children, BIPOC women and LGBTQ individuals.
Criminalization of Homelessness
According to Forbes, arresting and incarcerating unhoused people costs taxpayers $83,000 per person per year. Yet, because of the powerful stigma against unhoused people, many communities choose to continue to criminalize homelessness rather than address its root causes, such as racism, lack of affordable housing, gender-based violence, homophobia, transphobia, and a lack of mental health care. Homelessness and the criminal justice system are intricately linked in many ways that create and perpetuate homelessness.
LGBTQIA+ Individuals and Homelessness
LGBTQ+ people experience being unhoused—both for a lifetime or recently/short term—at disproportionately high rates because of deeply engrained systemic discrimination - evident in intersecting discrimination in health care, including mental health, public stigma, lack of economic security related to other intersections of discrimination, and more. It was not until 2021 that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would investigate discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity under the Fair Housing Act. Prior to this decision, 21 states allowed discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity.
Access to Housing
Although overt discrimination in the housing market is no longer legal, there are still systemic barriers in place to prevent marginalized people from building wealth through homeownership or even achieving housing stability through the rental market. Disparities in the appraisals of homes owned by people of color, racial disparities in evictions, and the refusal of landlords to rent to people with housing choice vouchers all work to ensure that communities remain segregated in much the same way they were when redlining was still legal.
The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Kaiser Family Foundation have all recognized that housing is one of the "social determinants of health"-- one of the key "conditions…where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risk." A lack of access to safe, affordable housing, therefore, is a public health crisis that both creates and exacerbates health problems and inequities for individuals, families, and communities.