September 03, 2020

The Future of Housing, Panel Three of Securing the American Dream for Working Families

Today, U.S. Rep Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) convened the third panel of Securing the American Dream for Working Families, a three-day conference in partnership with Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Deb Haaland (D-NM). The Future of Housing, hosted by Rep. Ilhan Omar, featured Nelima Sitati Munene, Executive Director of Acer INC; Thomas Silverstein, Counsel, Fair Housing and Community Development Project; and Tara Raguveer, Homes Guarantee Campaign Director.

Topics covered included a housing guarantee, racial inequalities, rental assistance and cancelation, and housing as a right vs. a commodity. Omar reflected on the unique opportunity the COVID-19 pandemic has presented legislators to address overdue changes in the nation’s housing systems. “Before the COVID 19 pandemic began, we were already facing a shortage of affordable housing and lack of access to the resources for our housed and unhoused communities,” said Rep. Omar. “This pandemic has only heightened these issues, and has made it clear that housing is a fundamental human right that should be afforded to all people. Right now, staying inside and socially distancing can save a person’s life. But not everyone has the ability to do so, and many are on the verge of losing that ability. I firmly believe that housing is a right and not a privilege. Due to COVID, we are uniquely positioned to create real change that will positively impact our communities.”

Raguveer explained the importance of recognizing guaranteed housing as a human right instead of a commodity. “For us, a home’s guarantee is simple. We live in the richest country in the history of the world. We can and we must guarantee that everyone has a safe, accessible, sustainable, truly and permanently affordable home, period. But this simple premise of course is one that’s complicated  by what I like to call the conspiracy of the profiteers that has stifled our imagination. It lead us to believe that housing is a commodity, and that it can’t be a human right. And that it must be delivered by the private market.”

Silverstein elaborated on peoples potewntial ability to imporve the quality of their lives with housing being provided. “In a really important way, a homes guarantee would provide a platform for recognizing basic human dignity and the potential for humans flourishing in ways that are simply not possible in our housing market as it exists today in the United States of America,” he said. “When people are worried about how to make rent and are saying that the rent eats first, they are not able to make bets on themselves, to take chances, to leave jobs that are demoralizing and unsatisfying; to pursue their dreams and passions. If we want to have a society where working people can build happy fulfilling self-actual lives for themselves. They need to have the peace of mind that their basic right to housing is respected.”

Sitati talked about how homelessness is classified as anyone who may be without housing or will be at risk of being without shelter within fourteen days. She echoed that many citizens in America our working while being classified as homeless. “We are in a housing crisis because we have some people who are working two jobs and still are at risk of being homeless. We have some people who are working that are actually [classified as] homeless because they do not have their own housing; they are couch hopping and actually don’t have a place of their own to call home.”

Today marks the final day of the three-day conference addressing the future of work, the future of wealth, and the future of housing with academic experts and advocacy leaders, identifying solutions that will help more families make ends meet without the fear that a crisis ­– whether that be­ a sudden illness, a job loss, or an international pandemic – will wipe out their forward progress. All three panels can be viewed online here.