Homeownership is considered the American dream, but for millions of people who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), the reality of the US housing system is more of a nightmare. Built on a foundation of racism, discrimination, and exclusion, with roots stretching back to the birth of this nation, it has been used both intentionally and unintentionally to limit BIPOC living options and life opportunities. Racism is so deeply embedded in this system, in fact, that housing justice and racial justice are inseparable. That’s why, for a funder collaborative like Funders for Housing and Opportunity (FHO), racial equity is central to our mission of housing equity. We can’t solve the growing housing crisis unless we also address racial inequities, repair harms, and restructure systems to ensure positive life outcomes for all people.

The organization I work for, Trinity Church Wall Street based in New York City, is one of FHO’s 13 member organizations, and we’ve seen this injustice play out too many times in our city. Sadly, it’s no accident that 90 percent of the people living in New York City homeless shelters are people of color even though the city’s total population is less than 60 percent BIPOC. Nor is it surprising that two out of five people returning to New York City from prison, most of whom are people of color, go directly into a homeless shelter—or that those who are housing insecure quickly end up back in prison.

Clearly, housing instability is not the fault of individuals making bad choices but of systems behaving badly. Nor will addressing racism in just one part of the system, such as the mortgage industry, cure the whole system. As Susan Thomas, president of Melville Charitable Trust and founder of FHO, observes: “Just fixing one of the spokes on the wheel does not fix the wheel.”

What does it look like to target the whole wheel of racial and housing injustice? FHO is built on the conviction that philanthropy should:

  • Target strategies for improving housing and opportunity to those who are most impacted;
  • Move beyond providing services—which are important but, on their own, unlikely to produce lasting change—to also changing policies, narratives, institutions, and structures;
  • Center the needs and priorities of people with lived experience in what we do and how we do it; and
  • Shift more power to those who have been most disadvantaged.

Read the full article about racial justice and housing justice by Bea de la Torre at Stanford Social Innovation Review.