Contributed by -

Congresswoman Maxine Waters


During the March on Washington, millions arrived in our nation’s capital to demand decent and equal housing and sustain the fight for economic inclusion for Black people in America. Just a few years later, in 1965, civil rights leaders expanded their movement North, beginning in Chicago, Illinois. 

During this time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined others in grassroots civil rights investigations, where Black people used White pseudonyms to inquire about homes for sale and rent throughout Chicago’s segregated neighborhoods. The practice of using alternative identities to seek housing—an ongoing civil rights enforcement tool known as fair housing testing—worked to expose the racial discrimination perpetuated by government housing policies and systemically inflicted on Black Americans, immigrants, and other people of color. 

More than 52 years ago, Dr. King recognized the important role fair housing played in achieving racial equity, unlocking economic inclusion, and securing a fair democracy. Sadly, our nation continues to face challenges to fair housing today. 

Together, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people represent 29% of the total U.S. population, but 67% percent of people experiencing homelessness. The affordability crisis is also hitting these communities hard. As it stands, Black and Latinx renters are disproportionately struggling to afford rent and are facing evictions at two times the rate as White renters. What’s more, the Black-White homeownership gap sits at a 120-year high, and modern-day redlining persists, with Black neighborhoods experiencing systemic appraisal bias and devaluation

Our nation’s worsening housing crisis and rapidly widening racial wealth gap illustrate how unequal housing and exclusionary housing policies and practices operate as stumbling blocks to racial equity and economic advancement for communities of color in America.

What history tells us is something that civil rights movement leaders before us knew all too well: the struggle for democracy in America is directly linked to the fight for fair and affordable housing. 

This Congress has been forced to reckon with the fragility of our sacred democracy. The future of our country depends on our ability to protect our democracy and the fundamental right to vote. 

The Build Back Better Act, which Democrats in the House of Representatives passed in November 2021, remains the best federal solution we have to provide fair and affordable housing and, in turn, strengthen our nation’s democracy. 

The bill includes more than $150 billion for investments in fair and affordable housing. It provides holistic solutions that will give every community the opportunity to fully participate in our nation’s democracy through housing stability. 

For years, we’ve watched elected officials double down on efforts to limit mail-in voting, access to polling stations, and other geographically-targeted voter suppression tactics to weaken the public’s political power. 

These efforts, which disproportionately affect people of color, are aided by ongoing patterns of neighborhood segregation and unequal housing. 

Today, many American neighborhoods are actually more segregated than a generation ago, and your zip code can dictate your access to a myriad of opportunities, including education, health care, employment, as well as your ability to vote. 

During every election cycle, we watch as voters of color, especially those in predominantly Black precincts, wait in long lines for hours simply to cast their vote. We’ve watched state and local officials across the country slash the number of voting locations in communities of color or even shut them down altogether, forcing voters to wait in mile-long lines to cast votes. 

These tactics not only discourage people from voting, but also prevent those who cannot afford to miss work, family responsibilities, and more from doing so. 

We’ve also watched Republican-led state legislatures implement and strengthen prohibitive voter ID laws that disproportionately impact people of color, including those experiencing homelessness who don’t have a permanent, fixed address or the required personal documentation to vote.

Voting is one of our country’s most fundamental rights, but the lack of fair and affordable housing exacerbates obstacles to exercising that right. It is clear that our nation’s worsening housing crisis and neighborhood segregation are a threat to American democracy and the right to vote. We can protect this sacred right and address this crisis by immediately passing voting rights reform and the Build Back Better Act.

The Build Back Better Act would help end homelessness, reduce the cost of rent, increase access to homeownership, and help close the racial wealth gap. Specifically, the more than $150 billion investment would increase the number of affordable homes by more than 1.8 million, lower rents for over 700,000 renters, and expand the dream of homeownership for more than 600,000 households, including many mortgage-ready millennials. This bill will finally give families the opportunity to improve their savings, build wealth, secure good-paying jobs, open businesses, send their children to college, and retire with dignity.

As Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, I will never stop fighting to preserve our country’s democracy and to secure fair and affordable housing for all. If we fail to address the soaring housing costs that continue to outpace wages, and that disproportionately force people of color into eviction or homelessness, we are effectively shutting millions of families out of the opportunity to one day own a home or build intergenerational wealth. 

It’s past time we recognize that decent and equal housing is the centerpiece of a fully functioning and healthy democracy. Congress must pass the Build Back Better Act to stabilize families across the country now to realize the prosperous democracy our nation deserves.

Our Partners

Key partners supporting the National Urban League's mission for State of Black America Report

Subscribe our newsletter!

Scroll to Top