This summer, President Donald J. Trump suspended a mandate created by the Obama administration in 2015. This mandate, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), gave much-needed teeth to the 1968 Fair Housing Act by creating an accountability process for federal grant recipients to track and report patterns and causes of segregation and disparities in housing access. Recipients also had to demonstrate genuine effort in alleviating the problem, with actionable goals to promote integration and equity in housing communities.
By suspending the mandate, Trump removed accountability for correcting these wrongs of the past, perpetuating segregation and inequality in housing. In a July 29 tweet, he said, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood … Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”
I live in one of these low-income homes with my two children, because right now, I am low-income.
The lie that affordable housing means “there goes the neighborhood” has been perpetuated in government housing policy for more than 100 years, and it must be stopped.
Just because I am low-income right now does not mean I will rob you, or that my kids will. And no, we don’t sell or do drugs. Low-income does not mean I am going to neglect the place we now call home or cause irreparable damage to our house.
If you were my next-door neighbor, you would regularly see my kids and me mowing the lawn and caring for the place where we live. I am teaching them that if you have a home, you have an obligation to keep it up, inside and out.
The rent at our former apartment was so high and the living space so small, I could barely keep food in the fridge, and we could hardly breathe — and I was working a full-time job. Now, not only can I fill the refrigerator, but my kids have a huge backyard to play in. This major improvement in our human condition came about because of affordable housing.
However, my story is like a unicorn in the affordable housing world, and it should not be. I am fortunate to have a friend who is a strong advocate of fair housing and who happens to own property. She offered a home for my children and me at an affordable rate, based on my income.
Home is everything. Affordable housing is a stabilizing necessity. And when home was not affordable, as a single parent my daily struggle was heartbreaking. I couldn’t sleep. I cried because I felt inadequate as a mother and a provider for my children. No matter what I did, there was never enough money — not even to cover the basics.
To live in a place within my budget would have forced us to live in areas where drug dealing and abuse, prostitution and violence are everyday realities. But I was not having any of that. Just like “Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia,” I want the best for my kids. Although the apartment I initially rented was out of my budget, I was able to stay afloat at first. But when the car broke down, I fell behind on rent. Our barely stable financial situation was compromised, and I continue the work to recover from it now, a year and a half later.
We live in the city, but if I’d had access to affordable housing in one of the suburbs that the president claims he is rescuing from intrusion by families like ours, we would have access to a better-supported school system. My kids would have the good fortune of growing up in a quiet neighborhood like I did as a child. And they would have access to better-quality programs designed to give students a bit of an edge by enhancing their learning experiences.
I count my blessings and thank God every day for the home we have, and my landlord and friend who made it possible. I am happy, and the kids are happy where we live now. When negative assumptions are made about low-income housing and families, I want you to remember us. My children and I are human beings who want the best, just like everyone else.
My low-income status doesn’t define me or tell the whole story of who I am. I am also college-educated, love coffee and could live at the beach. I feel at home in Barnes & Noble and Target. I am a Barbie enthusiast, love Aretha and Dolly about the same, and I am a major fan of conscious hip-hop. I am an unapologetic optimist, and laughter is my religion — despite my struggles with depression. But if I was able to start a business with a million dollars from my dad, like the president did, my life would likely look very different. Maybe I’d be the president of the United States.
The late Congressman John Lewis said fair housing continues to be a part of the civil rights struggle. The president rescinding AFFH simply takes us backward, furthering the divide among us.
We all deserve better.