Access to affordable, quality rental units is also rapidly declining, leaving many to live in unsafe, substandard housing. Low-income, majority Black neighborhoods in Memphis disproportionately bear the brunt of not only the highest number of evictions, but also lasting financial and health strains.
Discriminatory housing in Memphis, unfortunately, is not new. The city had a history of nation-high eviction and substandard housing rates long before COVID-19. The pandemic worsens these conditions.
The current housing crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19, stems from the cascading results of the racial wealth gap – a gap shaped by decades of structural inequality and policy discrimination. With a Black homeownership rate of 35% in a city ranked highest statewide in cost-burdened homeowners and renters, the outcomes of this gap are especially prevalent, according to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.
Utility bills are a major contributor to cost burdens. Study after study shows low-income families living in older, substandard housing or those who face financial hardship often have higher energy costs and lasting negative health impacts. Expensive housing costs squeeze make it difficult to afford other life essentials like groceries and health care.
Affordable, weatherized housing is also central to withstanding extreme conditions. Weatherized infrastructure — insulated housing that retains heating/cooling — not only helps families endure the shock of extreme weather but reduces energy costs. Yet, low-income households in Memphis are paying an average of 13.2% of their income toward utility bills.
United Housing Inc., along with our colleagues and partners in the housing and nonprofit industry, call on the City of Memphis and City Council for continuous annual investment in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to increase neighborhood wealth building and prosperity.
The development of a local funding stream through the Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund would create the only flexible, permanent and dedicated fiscal resource for nonprofit developers in the city. BLDG Memphis’ executive director Deveney Perry has emphasized how ongoing investment in this fund would develop communities by building affordable, energy-efficient and safe homes.
The Affordable Housing work group, co-chaired by Damon Williams, executive director of the Frayser Community Development Corp., and myself, echo BLDG Memphis’ call to action.
The Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund may be the tool to continue the eviction settlement program, mortgage relief programs, weatherization, home repair and other programs catalyzed by increased COVID-19 funds. It is crucial that these funds continue to be made available post-pandemic as these housing issues existed prior to 2020.
Housing is critical infrastructure. Substandard homes hurt families, hurt neighborhoods and will hurt our city long-term. We need to invest in our existing residents and housing stock.
*This article was originally written by Rachel Stark, grant and communications manager at United Housing Inc., and published by the Daily Memphian.