Housing is a Key Environmental Justice Issue!
In the past decade, the environmental justice movement radically changed our notion of the environment by interconnecting seemingly separate issues to assert that our environment includes “where we live, work, play learn, and pray.” Environmental justice prioritized people as an important piece of the environment that need protection as well and recognized poor communities of color as bearing a large and disproportionate share of the impacts.
Housing issues are nothing new to communities of color. Segregated neighborhoods, housing discrimination, redlining practices of banks that deny loans to particular communities, substandard housing and community displacement are some of the many examples of environmental people of color have historically faced in the United States. However, over the past few years, numerous environmental justice groups have taken on the charge of housing as a key environmental justice issue and have identified underlying root causes between housing and traditional EJ issues such as toxic dumping in our communities.
There are many examples of why housing is an environmental justice issue. The displacement of long-standing residents has broken generations of community and cultural ties. The tenuous relationship between landlords and low-income tenants (who in many cases have few protections) reflect the often powerless situation of tenants, poor people, and people of color. Neighborhoods and homes located next to polluting facilities like Richmond’s Chevron oil refinery or Oakland’s Red Star Yeast factory have long been the source of environmental justice struggles. In most cases, families in these communities experience higher rates of asthma, reproductive problems and cancer. Within the home itself, lead paint chips and asbestos in insulation have caused developmental disorders in children. Because some households are currently sacrificing nutrition, healthcare, and the needs of their children in order to fulfill housing costs each month, the long term consequences of these sacrifices will have a broader effect on the community beyond just the need for more safe and affordable housing. In this way, excessive housing costs and safety problems have a ripple effect that further impacts communities.
We at APEN know that the housing crisis in the next major environmental justice battle to be waged. What we win here will send clear and hopeful signals to other regions in crisis and lessons on which to build.