Fix the Rigged System
By Joseph Beasley
You can’t solve homelessness anywhere in America in a system long rigged against African American housing mobility and economic equality. Yesterday in a well publicized and celebrated announcement, the Atlanta City Council voted to seek $26 million in bonds to match the $25 million the United Way of Atlanta has committed to resolving homelessness in the City. This support is long overdue. This celebration of these commitments rings hollow at best in addressing the systemic housing and economic equality felt by so many here.
It was troubling for me to read those celebratory responses from African American elected officials who should know that the causes of homeless among their own group came as byproducts of America’s legacy of slavery and systemic racism. Over 90 percent of those who come to the Shelter are African Americans. Their remedy will only encourage homelessness and others to come to Atlanta for relief.
For some twenty years or more, I and other members of the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless have fought the very people who now champion solutions for Atlanta’s homeless. Our Peachtree and Pine Shelter became a beacon of hope for thousands of people who sought help, a place to not only sleep and retreat from the day- to- day stress of survival, but to also receive invaluable services that address the myriad physical and emotional issues that often accompany the trauma of homelessness. Unfortunately for the very people we need and wish to serve and for our Board, we were placed in the crosshairs of the same forces of economic development that long ago created a rigged system of housing all across America.
That system, chronicled in a new book released this year by Richard Rothstein, “The Color of Law”, lays blame on housing laws created in the 1930s New Deal by the Federal Housing Administration in their “Underwriting Manual”. That manual said, “Incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.” They created “redlining” maps of every metro area in the country and anywhere where African Americans live or lived nearby, were colored red to tell appraisers these were risky areas for mortgage loans. African Americans were even prohibited from buying homes in the newly created suburbs; Rothstein noted those mortgage rules ran well into the 1960s. Loans to develop these suburbs and the mortgages were all backed by the federal government and none went to African Americans.
The basis of wealth for any group comes through equity and the author notes that today, African Americans on average earn about 60 percent of the average white family income; and only five percent of white wealth. He attributes this disparity directly to government housing policies throughout the 20th century. Everyone knows owning a home is a wealth generator.
Homelessness and job inequality among African Americans is a residue of this rigged housing system.
Only good paying jobs and affordable housing will directly impact homelessness; anything else is just window dressing and hollow.
Joe Beasley is an Atlanta human rights activist and founder of Joe Beasley Foundation, an organization committed to addressing global disparity. Beasley is also a longtime supporter and board member of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.
METRO ATLANTA TASK FORCE FOR THE HOMELESS STATEMENT
June 23, 2017
In light of recent media reports concerning the settlement of the litigation surrounding the Peachtree-Pine homeless resource center, the Board of Directors of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless wishes to issue a clarification and correction. It also wishes to use this occasion to reaffirm its commitment to the core principles of its thirty-six-year mission.
The current board members are Joe Beasley, Jerry Farber, and Chuck Steffen. Carl Hartrampf, former Housing Commissioner of the City of Atlanta, serves as executive director. Many committed and hard-working individuals have served on our Board over the years, and we wish to extend our appreciation and thanks to all of them, especially to former Atlanta City Councilperson Myrtle Davis. No one has done more to promote and defend the Task Force, and to keep the issue of homelessness before the citizens of Atlanta, than our former executive director Anita Beaty and her husband Dr. Jim Beaty. The Board owes this indomitable couple a debt it can never repay.
The settlement to which the Task Force has agreed will provide substantial financial resources to continue our two-fold mission of providing direct homeless services and advocating for policies and programs that attack the underlying causes of homelessness. These are the lack of affordable housing, the shortage of living-wage jobs, and the history of racism that blocks access to both housing and jobs. The Board of Directors will continue its efforts to end homelessness as part of the larger struggle for a just and inclusive Atlanta.
Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless
Atlanta, GA 30308