Building ladders of opportunity through a better deal for American families
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Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law, a moment he described as one of the proudest of his presidency. “With this bill, the voice of justice speaks again,” he declared. Known as the final great legislative achievement of the Civil Rights Era, this legislation outlawed discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing on the basis of race, religion, gender or creed. Despite this law, racial and ethnic minorities still face fewer housing opportunities than other households. Nowhere is this more evident than in our nation’s public housing developments.

Currently, 1.1 million families live in public housing. These developments are in every corner of our country. For decades, public housing units have been plagued by a chronic lack of funding. From leaky roofs and malfunctioning elevators to mold, mildew and lack of heat or hot water, they are in desperate need of repair and renewal. The neighborhoods in which they’re located are typically unsafe, underfunded and lack a real sense of community. Public housing in America is in nothing short of a crisis.


Instead of addressing the public housing crisis, Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration would rather cut taxes for the wealthy to subsidize a second or third home for their donors. They are handing down a raw deal. President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE’s latest budget proposes millions of dollars in cuts to public housing, leaving tenants to fend for themselves and public housing authorities unable to make necessary repairs. HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonHUD official quits amid Interior Department watchdog controversy Inspector general: Zinke used taxpayer-funded travel for his wife Overnight Energy: Inspector general finds Zinke used taxpayer-funded travel for family | Interior says Trump appointee won't be new watchdog | EPA chief says agency taking climate report 'very seriously' MORE recently proposed tripling the rent for the poorest tenants and cutting credits that help families caring for elderly or disabled relatives afford rent. The typical household affected by these cuts is a mother of two children with an annual income of $2,400 — just $200 per month. After paying rent under this proposal, she would have only $48 for necessities like clothing, diapers or school supplies, as well as food or medical needs that aren’t met by other assistance.

These draconian cuts would not only disproportionately affect the poor, they would specifically make it harder for black and Hispanic Americans to climb the economic ladder. They would perpetuate the racial inequalities Civil Rights Era legislation sought to resolve. Black and Hispanic Americans make up about 13 percent and 18 percent of the total population respectively, but the public housing population is 43 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic. Today, black children are nearly three times more likely than white children to have highly elevated levels of lead in their blood and more than one-in-three homeless Americans are black. A lack of investment in public housing has silenced the “voice of justice” President Johnson promised 50 years ago.

Public housing should be a safety net for all Americans. It shouldn’t punish the poor with work requirements, unaffordable rents and deplorable living conditions. Working families who depend on public housing for a safe and stable place to live deserve a better deal. That’s exactly what Democrats are proposing: A Better Deal for Public Housing and Ladders to Opportunity, a comprehensive approach to provide $70 billion in critical investments to bring public housing into the 21st Century.

The Better Deal for Public Housing focuses on three steps for full revitalization: repair the units, improve the lives of residents, and lift up the surrounding communities.

First, we will address the current maintenance needs in public housing including eliminating lead and mold hazards, making units accessible to residents with disabilities and increasing energy efficiency. We will ensure that they never again fall into a state of disrepair.

Second, we will improve employment opportunities by increasing job counseling, training services, and educational attainment programs for residents. We will ensure more children have access to after-school enrichment programs and other vital community services.

Third, we will revitalize the communities surrounding our public housing facilities by investing in programs to rehabilitate and transform the most severely distressed neighborhoods across the country.

When people have a stable home that they can afford, they are better able to find employment, achieve economic mobility, age with dignity, perform better in school and stay healthy. Ensuring our most vulnerable families have roofs over their heads will grow our entire economy.

Before Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act, he acknowledged that “the roots of injustice run deep,” and that the government needed to act to end America’s history of racism and inequality. Our public housing system should help end this inequality, not perpetuate it. We cannot allow congressional Republicans and the Trump administration to turn a blind eye to painful the economic realities that so many Americans are facing. Instead we must stand with the most vulnerable in our communities. We must provide ladders of opportunity to all hardworking families and commit to building an economy that works for everyone -- defined by better jobs, better wages and a better future.

Jeffries represents New York’s 8th District.