Equitable access to insurance is necessary for all communities to realize the dream of homeownership. Inequality in home ownership is one of the major drivers of the racial wealth gap in the United States; as of 2020, 73.7% of white families own homes, whereas just 44% of Black families do. This gap is a direct result of our country’s shameful legacy of systemic discrimination against Black people, particularly in the realm of real estate and property ownership.
“There is no doubt that Black families and individuals have been the target of historic housing segregation and discrimination that requires extensive reform and inclusion efforts, especially during the pandemic,” said Thomas Silverstein, associate director of the Fair Housing and Community Development Project with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Wealth inequality has its basis in housing discrimination and the country’s failure to address fair access to housing. This must be a focus as we proactively provide access, resources, and craft policy that properly props up fair housing for all communities across the country.”
Though explicit segregation is no longer permitted, the vestiges of these discriminatory institutions remain, such that allegedly neutral policies nonetheless have a discriminatory effect on protected categories. Because Black individuals and families had been historically excluded from accumulating wealth, even facially neutral policies that operate on a person’s income-level have racially discriminatory effects. Nowhere is this clearer than in access to homeowner’s insurance. Without equitable access to homeowner’s insurance, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to address pervasive and covert housing discrimination, including during a pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the unstable housing situation for many communities and families across the country. Local, state and federal governments implemented protections to prevent a tidal wave of evictions with an unprecedented amount of federal emergency rent relief – $46 billion – set aside to relieve struggling renters and their frustrated landlords. Even with federal relief, housing affordability is an enduring struggle for Black and Latino households who are more likely to be housing-cost-burdened. During the pandemic, Black and Latino workers saw higher unemployment rates, leading to these groups being more likely to have fallen behind on rent.
As the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development moves to reinstate fair housing regulations that had been gutted under the previous administration and address systemic racism, longer-term housing affordability must be the focus of current and future fair housing efforts promoting equitable federal housing and tenants’ rights.