We live in an interconnected society. The actions of our neighbors, our peers, and our communities are being documented across social media, newspapers, and television. We cannot escape it. These actions have profound consequences. Whether we are examining the protest movements for racial justice, or the assassination of black men by law enforcement, we feel the impact of these events in our living rooms. The things that are happening now remind me of a fable that I had heard many years ago as a child that told the story of a nation being lost for want of a nail. You are probably familiar with it:
For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, a horse was lost
For want of a horse, a regiment was lost.
For want of a regiment, a battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the war was lost and a nation.
And all for the want of a nail.
What can we learn from that parable?
- First, things do not occur all at once, change takes place over time.
- Second, taking this concept to its natural conclusion, it illustrates the point of small past actions can have tremendous impacts on our present. Likewise, small changes in our present can have huge impacts on our future.
I’m sure at this point, you are asking yourself what does this have to do with the concepts of housing and equity? A lot quite frankly, but you are going to need a bit more information. When we examine housing policy in the United States today, we find huge disparities along racial lines in terms of home ownership, the value of property, and the ability to obtain a mortgage. These disparities still exist even when accounting for things like geographic location, down payment, and income (Martinez & Glantz, 2018).
These racial disparities in housing did not occur by accident. They are a result of a history of practices constructed and implemented at the state, local and national levels. As a matter of law, overt practices of discrimination as it relates to housing have been outlawed since the late 1960s. However, both the legacy of housing discrimination and the ongoing practices by financial institutions have, knowingly or unknowing, rendered the promise of the American Dream meaningless to millions of Americans. This flies in the face of our Constitution and the promise of our Founding Fathers. In the Preamble to the Constitution, justice was the first thing our founders wanted to establish for our society. By definition, justice refers to a value proposition centered around notions of equity. Equity is a foundational pillar that embodies the premise that everyone should have the same prospects for success (Johnson & Svara, 2015). Disparate treatment along racial lines that impedes the ability to own a home undermines this notion of justice that is inexorably linked to the foundation of our society.
Applying the parable to this concept, we find that past denial of homeownership to African-Americans has led to a huge gap in wealth vis a vis White Americans. According to the Urban Institute, the gap between African-American and White homeownership rates is 30.1 percentage points based on 2017 data with a 71.9 percent white homeownership rate and a 41.8 percent African American homeownership rate. This disparity contributes to issues in the African American community related to crime, health, education, and public safety. If we as a society have any interest in resolving the appalling legacy of maltreatment of African-Americans, housing justice should be at the top of our collective list.
Dr. Ty Dooley is an Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of Illinois Springfield. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Arkansas, a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Memphis, and he received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Central Arkansas. Dr. Dooley was honored with a Center for Online Learning Research and Service Faculty Fellowship in 2014 for his research in the area of human capital development. Dr. Dooley’s research has been featured in the Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, Youth & Society, Teaching Public Administration and e-Mentor. He is an active member of the American Political Science Association, American Society for Public Administration, and a former Southern Regional Education Board and Benjamin Lever Doctoral Fellow. Dr. Dooley has appeared as a political analyst on the Arkansas Education Television Network’s Arkansas Week and Minority Matters.
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Johnson, N. J., & Svara, J. H. (2015). Justice for All: Promoting Social Equity in Public Administration: Promoting Social Equity in Public Administration. Routledge.
Martinez, E. & Glantz, A. (2018). How Reveal identified lending disparities in federal mortgage data [White Paper]. Reveal from the Center of Investigative Reporting. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/revealnews.org/uploads/lending_disparities_whitepaper_180214.pdf