Equity vs. Equality in Housing

Equity vs. Equality in Housing

By Richard Milk, policy and planning officer for Opportunity Home San Antonio

Opportunity Home’s mission is to improve the lives of residents by providing quality affordable housing and building sustainable, thriving communities.

Equity, one of our core values, is key to succeeding in our mission. For Opportunity Home, equity means delivering services in a way that results in fair and equal outcomes. Our commitment to equity also means understanding the history of housing discrimination, the larger systems that continue to drive inequity today, and the innovative partnerships that will be required to address those challenges.

Equity vs equality

Equity and equality are two types of fairness. “Equality” means ensuring fairness by treating everyone the same, regardless of ancestry, gender, religion, or any other difference. “Equity”, on the other hand, means focusing on fairness of outcomes, since equal treatment does not automatically lead to fair outcomes. 

Equity in regards to housing means addressing the challenges that prevent equal access to affordable housing. For example, one of those challenges is a great inequality of income.  Opportunity Home addresses that challenge by calculating rents based on what families can afford. If a family’s income or family size changes, the rent changes accordingly.  As a result, income does not become a barrier to a home. We are looking at applying the same standards of fairness to other aspects of our programs, including admissions, occupancy rules, and evictions. This will ensure that race, ethnicity, gender, age and other protected classes are not unfairly influencing housing outcomes. 

How Did We Get Here: The Correlation Between Housing, Poverty and Race

Many of the factors that have led to today’s unequal access to housing are rooted in discriminatory practices of our past. The National Housing Act of 1934 created two federal agencies, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC). Its primary purpose was to improve housing standards and conditions, reduce foreclosures on family homes and provide a method of mutual mortgage insurance. Unfortunately not everyone benefited equitably from the provisions of the National Housing Act — African Americans and other minority groups were explicitly excluded from these benefits. For instance, the FHA would designate certain neighborhoods as risky mainly on the basis of the race of the people living there and deny federal mortgage backing on homes in those areas. This meant that people of color were effectively not able to apply for a mortgage except through predatory lending systems. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped to end these practices of redlining, but the damage had already been done:  locking millions out of homeownership for generations has contributed to the disparity in inequities we see today in wealth building between races. 

The discriminatory policies and racial biases of the past are still affecting access to affordable housing today. For example, Black women are five times more likely to only be approved for subprime loans when they purchase a home compared to white men, even with the same income and credit history. Subprime loans come with a higher interest rate, which also means a higher monthly mortgage payment. These higher payments can lead to more defaults, greater risk of losing the home, and a damaged credit rating, making it very difficult to be approved for a lease on an apartment. Because of these biases and persistent discriminatory practices, people of color are disproportionately affected by housing instability today.

Critical Shortages of Affordable Housing

Today there is a critical shortage of affordable housing across the country, especially for low-income families, and especially for people of color. Since the 1980s there has been a 70% reduction in funding for public housing. This means fewer public housing properties are being built, and less investment is being made in the properties that do exist to make them thriving communities. 

Families in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program rely on public subsidy as well as the private rental market to find housing.  There are currently not enough vouchers to meet the demand for them, forcing families to wait for years on waitlists. Unfortunately, securing a voucher is not a guarantee that there will be a landlord willing to rent to them.  The laws in Texas compound this issue, as it is legal to discriminate against potential tenants based on their source of income, such as a Housing Choice Voucher.

Creating a more equitable housing environment will take a coordinated effort between Public Housing Authorities, community partners and government agencies.  

Community Partnerships

We recognize that striving for equity within our agency is not enough. We understand the importance of looking outside the agency and engaging the education, workforce, and justice system partners in our community in equity conversations, because decisions our partners make impact the clients of Opportunity Home and vice versa.

Cathy Albisa, vice president of institutional and sectoral change at Race Forward, an organization that addresses systemic and structural racism, agrees with this approach, and says,“The best solutions really come out of more productive partnerships between government and community, so that the experience and the insight from all of the stakeholders can be put together in one place and you can come up with good outcomes.” She also believes it is important to look at the kind of services and support the community needs to thrive, such as career services and mental health services. 

Government Support

Partnerships between housing authorities and community partners are an important step towards creating more equitable housing, but without state and national government support, it is very difficult to make significant changes. Housing authorities, their community partners and nonprofit agencies need to engage in conversations with government agencies and bring their innovative ideas to the table to show what is possible in a way that can create change at the state and national level. 

While the institution of racism was created well before our time, we are dealing today with both the historical legacy and current realities of racism. Our task is to build on existing equitable practices and expand that way of thinking about fairness to improve outcomes across our organization, across the housing system, and across related systems. None of us made these systems, but our coordinated efforts and commitment can improve them to be more fair and equitable.

Listen to this episode on the Beyond Housing” podcast where we dive into candid conversations with local and national leaders, activists, and industry experts on issues and policies impacting housing.

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