In the scramble for affordable housing, disparities remain

A place to live that’s safe, affordable, decent—something that’s possible.

For millions of low-income people across the country—but especially for survivors of domestic violence, and even more so people of color—finding an affordable place to live can be achingly difficult to come by, even with financial and navigational help from domestic violence agencies. April is National Fair Housing Month, commemorating the passage in 1968 of the landmark civil rights legislation making discrimination in housing transactions illegal.

Yet more than half a century later, the statistics still tell a story of deep need – marking the intersections of intimate partner violence, homelessness, housing insecurity, and systemic racism.

Among those numbers:

  • While Black people make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, about 37% of those experiencing homelessness are Black, as are more than half of houseless families, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
  • The 18th annual Domestic Violence Counts report. a one-day national count of domestic violence services, conducted on Sept. 6, 2023, by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), found that survivors made 13,335 requests for services on that day that went unmet because of insufficient services. More than half of those requests (54%) involved housing, including requests for emergency shelter, hotel stays and transitional housing.
  • More than 90% of homeless women have experienced physical or sexual abuse at some point, and 63 percent have experienced intimate partner abuse as adults, NNEDV reports.
  • For some, violence from a partner is a precipitating cause for becoming homeless – with some survivors leaving without money, jobs, or financial resources to start fresh. NNEDV cites studies finding that 38% of people who experience domestic violence become homeless at some point in their lives and that a quarter to a half of homeless women report that domestic violence was the primary cause of their becoming houseless. In time, some survivors return to their abusers because they have no other place to live.

Recognizing that safe, affordable housing is a crucial need for many survivors of intimate partner violence, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) and shelters across the state are doing what they can to help, using available federal funding.

In 2023, ODVN’s Relocation and Safety Assistance Program provided 699 domestic violence survivors and 928 of their children with relocation assistance, spending more than $551,600 for security deposits, rent, utilities, moving expenses, and other costs. The average spent per survivor was $748.65.

Of those receiving this assistance, 93% were women, 62% had children, and about half were people of color – including 39% who were Black and 3% Hispanic. About 35% of these survivors called themselves homeless and nearly all were housing insecure – with 90% living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

ODVN’s REACH Rapid Rehousing Program, which provides short-term rental assistance to those who meet eligibility criteria, assisted 928 survivors in 2023, about half adults and half of the survivors’ children. Of those served, about two-thirds were white, and one-third were survivors of color.

For people experiencing housing instability, the day-to-day struggles can include the scramble to pay the rent every month; the weight of prior evictions; a chronic shortage of affordable housing; spending so much just for housing that there’s not enough left over for food, transportation, utilities and health care.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, families are generally considered “cost-burdened” if they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and are severely cost-burdened if they spend more than half their income on housing. In 2022,  more than 42 million households, nearly one-third of all households in the U.S., fell into the cost-burdened category, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

For reasons with deep roots in this country’s history of systemic racism and discriminatory practices in housing, education, employment, and more, that burden falls even disproportionately on people of color. And some with intersectional identities face additional barriers to accessing or affording decent housing – barriers related to disability, sexual orientation, immigration status, gender identity, and more.

One measure of these disparities: data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2022, 57% of renter households led by Black people, 54% led by Hispanic people, and 50% of households led by multiracial individuals were cost-burdened – meaning they spent more than one-third of their income on housing. That’s significantly higher than the 45% rate for White renters. And one-third of Black renters were severely cost-burdened, spending at least half their income on housing.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Black households are more than three times as likely as White households to be extremely low-income renters – with 19% of Black households, 16% of Native American and 13% of Latino households falling into that category, compared with only 6% of White households.

For those providing domestic violence services, helping survivors find safe, affordable housing often presents as an urgent, immediate need: they need an apartment to rent, right now, and a way to pay for it.  Yet for advocates working on access to affordable housing in their communities, it’s also vital to understand the systemic, intersectional forces such as redlining, discriminatory banking practices, and governmental policies that have played a role in keeping people in poverty, without access to jobs and education and decent housing, sometimes for generations.

One clear example: racial disparities in rates of homeownership. In 2023, just under 74% of White households in the U.S. owned their own homes, compared with just under 46% of Black households, less than half of Hispanic-American households (49.8%), and 63% of Asian-Americans, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A blog post from the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Economic Policy states that the gap between Black and White rates of homeownership “was the same in 2020 as it was in 1970, just two years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which sought to end racial discrimination in the housing market.”

As domestic violence survivors across Ohio know too well, particularly women of color, in 2024 the struggle for affordable housing remains real.

ODVN is offering future training opportunities to dive deeper into the barriers that impact survivors’ access to housing. Mark your calendars now and join ODVN on July 25th for the training session, “Housing Advocacy with Domestic Violence Survivors.” In this training, participants will gain strategies to advocate alongside survivors in the current housing crisis and promote equitable access to resources. Stay tuned for registration details and visit www.odvn.org/training.

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