On the Black agenda: housing must be a human right

BY:Karamo Muchuri Sulieman| September 5, 2023
On the Black agenda: housing must be a human right


Homelessness and the lack of affordable, safe and decent housing is tearing at the African community. Why is this an issue after so many years of struggle for equal and fair housing? Why is this an issue after the formation of the Housing and Urban Development, a cabinet level department with an annual budget? What is the reason for the lack of housing? Why have we failed to build housing in the United States?

First, let’s deal with homelessness. People are homeless for several economic reasons. The first and most obvious is lack of employment. Under most state laws in the United States, all able-bodied individuals are required to work in order to receive SNAP and other benefits. On its face, this may sound like an acceptable proposition. However, the rate of unemployment in the United States is not only unfair, but it is also one of the most hidden calculations.

Upon first glance, we have a healthy unemployment rate in the United States of 3.5%. Some analysts consider this almost full employment. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a similar healthy report of 3.5%. Based on this figure, one might believe that the picture for people living in Pennsylvania is an easy and pleasant one.

However, the vision of roses slowly dissipates when we reach the urban area. Philadelphia has an unemployment rate of close to 4.7%. In 2020, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate was approximately 17.7%. One might surmise from this that the rate of unemployment has gone down significantly in the city of brotherly love. This would be logical, except for one factor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count certain individuals in the unemployment statistics. “It is important to note,” Maya Dollarhide writes in Investopedia, “that the unemployment rate only reflects the number of people who are unemployed and actively seeking employment. It does not include people who have given up on finding work or who are underemployed.”

As we gaze deeper into the abysmal hole of unemployment, the situation looks bleaker. Those who quit their jobs voluntarily are not considered unemployed. If, after four weeks an unemployed person quits looking for work, he or she is no longer counted. The statistic does not account for a person’s race or nationality. Therefore, it cannot be used to assess any value like racial, national, or even sexual discrimination.

For example, the rate for unemployed African Americans in the U.S is 5.8, a substantially higher figure than the overall unemployment rate of 3.5%.

The same patterns seem to surface in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania boasts of having a 5.7% African American unemployment rate for the second quarter, the lowest figure for African Americans in decades. But what does this really mean for a state that was also listed as having a 3.6% unemployment rate for white people during the same period? What it possibly shows is a persistent and constant discrimination against African American people. For example, in the District of Columbia, the ratio of unemployed African Americans to whites was 6.3 to 1, the highest in the land.

And what do these statistics mean for homelessness? If one is unemployed, it means a significant loss of income. Gradually, one loses their place of habitation. If you don’t qualify for welfare benefits, there is a good possibility you will not be eligible for cash assistance, either. Without cash assistance or social security payments, it is highly likely you will not be able to pay your rent. At the end of it, you find your only hope for shelter is in a homeless one.

According to a 2020 government report, approximately 568,000 people in the U.S. experienced homelessness in 2019, “with African Americans making up about 40% of that total.” Homelessness has been growing among the African American community. It is increasingly difficult for African Americans to house themselves due to lack of income, discrimination, and the high cost of available housing. Add to that the embarrassingly low U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

This becomes the crux of the problem; little pay and no money for rent or mortgage. The biweekly salary for the minimum wage worker is $580. Rarely do employers pay 40 hours a week. Therefore, the pay is usually a lot lower. A large percentage of African American workers are minimum wage. The answer seems to be to employ more African American workers and pay them better, but the U.S. Supreme court has just recently ruled against Affirmative Action. The right-wing court seems to feel the answer lies with the state legislature and the U. S. Congress. Most of those bodies, however, have been packed with conservative (anti-worker) legislators by means of gerrymandering and corruption. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has been found to take gifts and money from billionaires.

Meanwhile, public housing is closed across the land, and once-affordable housing options like the University City Townhomes are sold off to the wealthy, while the poor are forced to seek habitable quarters in a tent.

Should this bring tears to our eyes? It should. Capitalism tells us it will always provide a better opportunity to make a faster buck. However, time and again, we as workers in the United States learn that we cannot become wealthy selling apples on the street.

But we are still learning. Capitalism is an anti-human system. Many of us workers are left with $580 in our hands every couple weeks, minus taxes and social security, and are forced to pay rents well over $1500. The humiliation becomes still greater when we attempt to purchase a house. We need a trillion dollars, not for tanks or Bradleys or Himars, but for affordable housing for everyone. That is key to the Black agenda for the United States.

Image: Save the UC Townhomes march by Save the UC Townhomes (Twitter)


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