This Black History Month, we celebrate a legal decision whose legacy stretches far and wide in creating more housing options for low-income families. Twenty five years ago, 14,000 Black public housing residents from Baltimore City and a group of concerned civil rights advocates and attorneys united to take legal action against centuries of discriminatory housing policy that confined Black public housing residents to the poorest, most segregated, and most decrepit housing in the city.
These living conditions barred generations of Black families from realizing their personal dreams and aspirations, and still today, families continue to face barriers to exercising their choice in where to live and raise their children.
In 2005, the collective won the lawsuit known as Thompson v. HUD and inspired a model of services that provide support and resources to families seeking affordable housing opportunities in safe neighborhoods with good schools. Since 2012, the Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership (BRHP) has served as the vehicle for this suite of services in Baltimore, as a subcontractor to the Housing Authority of Baltimore to City, to operate the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program.
Through the housing mobility program, BRHP provides rental assistance in the form of a housing voucher and housing counseling services to over 14,000 people, including 8,000 children, in their search and transition to safer, healthier, and economically vibrant communities.
On Feb. 20, BRHP and the ACLU of Maryland commemorated the landmark housing desegregation lawsuit with over 150 members of the community, including Doris Tinsley, one of the original plaintiffs, as well as leaders in philanthropy, law, social justice, business and academia.
The evening consisted of an awards ceremony honoring distinguished local housing developer, CR of Maryland, and education leader and former U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King, Jr.
“Housing policy is education policy,” proclaimed Mr. King, highlighting a common theme of the evening — housing is the foundation for well-being and a determinant of economic, health, and educational outcomes for children into adulthood.
And, as we’ve seen in operating the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, strong schools are a key component of resource-rich neighborhoods and critical to ending inter-generational cycles of poverty.
Following the ceremony, a panel discussion led by Dr. Stefanie DeLuca, Associate Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, highlighted the stories of current and former participants of the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program.
“The program alleviated so much stress off of my life,” said Kevin, who heard about the program in 2015 through his wife. “It made what was unobtainable to me, obtainable.”
Kevin and his wife Kandra shared their experience with the program’s financial literacy workshops and housing search support that afforded them the opportunity to build and improve their credit score and find adequate housing for their family.
“They don’t just take you and throw you into a home. There is preparation,” said Kandra.
Jayna, a program graduate who recently purchased a home, recalled the community support she received in her new neighborhood with getting her children to and from extracurricular activities with a busy schedule as a bus driver. They told stories of navigating the program, its evolution, and its impact in supporting their vision for raising their families.
In the spirit of community celebration and reflection of Thompson v. HUD, Betty G. Robinson, a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Baltimore and former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), charged the audience to continue organizing in the fight for housing as a human right and ensure housing preservation efforts coexist with housing mobility efforts.
We still have work to do in expanding housing choice for all families and we echo Ms. Robinson’s call to face our daily actions and inaction as neighbors, housing administrators, lenders, and government officials that allow for structural racism and racist policies to persist. We do this first by acknowledging that discriminatory policies continue even today.
Although we’ve seen many favorable results with the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, its continued success relies on housing policies and protections that support families in accessing better housing options.
Our families benefit from the knowledge and advocacy of our housing mobility counselors, but many more families are not as fortunate and frequently encounter discrimination in their housing search based on their source of income, family size, and race.
We applaud our region and state for taking meaningful steps towards more equity in housing, with the recent passage of local source of income protections in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, and the HOME Act pending in the Maryland state legislature. And, while these are great steps, they cannot be the only steps.
We must prevent the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from rolling back fair housing laws and allow for future lawsuits to be brought forward demonstrating disparate impact.
We must continue supporting local school redistricting efforts to keep schools diverse and ensure all schools are adequately resourced.
We must support the desegregation of resources by investing in services and other community-based efforts, like affordable housing trust funds, to support those most in need and build up whole families and communities.
It’s been twenty five years since Thompson v. HUD, and we celebrate this milestone with a renewed sense of commitment to facing and fixing the issues that prevent so many families from attaining the high of quality life they rightfully deserve.