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Tennessee’s housing crisis is severe, but it affects Black residents harder: Opinion

Initiating structural and policy-based transformations on a broader level is the only way to address the rapidly worsening housing crisis and bring some justice to oppressed residents of the South.

“The ache for home lives in all of us.”  The wonderful Maya Angelou may have been referring to the universal need for an emotional safe space, but for the residents of the South, this ache has unfortunately become a lot more immediate and palpable.

Affordable housing is one of the biggest problems that America continues to face in the wake of the pandemic. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in October 2021 highlights that 49% of Americans overall cite affordable housing as a major problem in their local community.

The housing crisis has clearly reached severity levels high enough to worry Americans more than other fundamental life-threatening problems. The percentage of U.S. adults who say this is a major problem where they live is larger than the shares who say the same about drug addiction (35%), the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 (34% and 26%, respectively), and crime (22%).

Think of it this way — if you’re a minimum wage worker in the South, it’s almost impossible for you to even afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Perhaps even more disturbingly (although not surprisingly), the housing crisis, critical as it is, is not distributed equally among the country’s population.

Impact of unaffordable housing on Black communities in the South

Southern cities in the US show a clear disparity in the impact that the housing crisis has had on communities from different demographics.

There are several factors that play into this difference in impact:

Different rates of upward mobility

Take this excerpt from an October 2021 study by economist Raj Chetty:

“There are large gaps in upward mobility across the income distribution. These disparities exist in virtually all regions and neighborhoods, with Black boys experiencing lower rates of upward mobility than white boys in 99 percent of census tracts in the United States.”

Southern cities suffer from severe racial and economic disparities in upward mobility. This makes housing in these cities very unaffordable for residents that belong to minority communities.

It’s important to note here that these minority communities cut across each other’s borders.

Take Tennessee, for example. Recent data from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition indicates that out of the 26% of tenants who come from extremely low-income households in the state, 24% are disabled, 21% are senior citizens, and 37% are in the labor force — a ringing reminder of the intersectional nature of socioeconomic oppression.

From The Tennessean, Aug 23, 2022.

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