According to NY1, 54% of individuals leaving state prison and returning to New York City rely on the shelter system. This temporary, reentry housing solution, intended only to bridge gaps, is plagued with overwhelming systemic issues and, at times, can seem permanent. For people returning to the community, limited housing options and somber federal administration decisions lead to despairing outcomes.
I’ve been involved with The Fortune Society since 1998—initially as a participant, and now as an Advocacy Assistant in the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP). I have seen firsthand how essential safe housing is for people looking to rebuild their lives. I currently reside in a transitional facility, with plans to use rental assistance once I leave. I am in the process of grappling with the bureaucratic nightmare to obtain approval to move out of the temporary residence and step into my own, forever home. Permanent housing will provide the space and independence to explore the next phase of my life path during reentry, and I’m excited to make the transition.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which manages federal assistance for housing, was created during the peak of the civil rights era, and has historically operated to fight segregation, reduce discrimination, and empower low-income families.
Based on their track record, I always imagined that when the time came, HUD would have a strong interest in helping me: a single, modestly older man of color who earns a very humble salary, was impacted by the legal system, and is proudly over a decade in recovery. Obtaining permanent housing would allow me to advance my life forward and grow in my community. HUD’s work has been critical for addressing some of our nation’s terrible injustices and aligning the country with better values, so why would anyone want to change that now?
The decision to remove the language that references “inclusive communities free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement serves to insinuate that this agency no longer has an interest in defending protected classes, and gives license to landlords to discriminate with no fear of repercussion.
This language is essential to the discussion and legislation of affordable housing. Without it, HUD could soon devolve into a system that further marginalizes our most vulnerable populations. I fear there would soon be an atmosphere of “anything goes” in terms of who would be able to access affordable housing. This cannot be allowed. I hope that city and state governments take action and protect residents with stronger fair housing policies. To truly expand access to housing in an equitable way, legislation and funding allocations ensuring that all communities are inclusive and free from discrimination in any form are necessities.
Coming home from incarceration is overwhelming, especially after serving a long sentence. There are a number of questions and issues to grapple with, involving best practices for obtaining employment, maintaining sobriety, and following society’s rules and laws. Safe, clean, affordable shelter is one of the most fundamental human rights, and lack of access can add further trauma to the reentry experience. Hearing proposed threats to the few rights and protections we have compounds already difficult situations. Luckily, through Fortune, I feel better equipped and resilient enough to navigate these potentially debilitating situations and advocate for myself and others.
Any movement away from anti-discrimination principles or changes that could be perceived to water down protections in any way should be considered unthinkable. But with the Trump administration, we have learned that when it concerns the 99% and how we are treated, the unthinkable has become very thinkable, indeed.
*Article by George, Advocacy Assistant at The Fortune Society