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We Fight for Equality. We Fight for Opportunity. We Fight for Racial Justice

By NHT President Michael Bodaken

The horrifying events in Charlottesville quite literally hit too close to home for some of our residents. Friendship Courts sits just three blocks away from America’s latest terrorist attack and was from some reports one of the stated targets of racial violence that descended upon Charlottesville last weekend.

If you are anything like me, you felt inadequate merely bearing witness to the unfolding tragedy.

If you are like me, you wanted to soothe the injured and reassure the frightened.

If you are like me, you are horrified at our President’s false equivalency in describing the peaceful protestors with White Supremacists.

But most of us were not there on Saturday and there is nothing we could have done in the moment to stop those who wanted to harm other Americans because of the color of their skin, their personal or religious beliefs, or because they dared to face down white supremacy; however, there are many things we can do today and moving forward.

It’s incumbent upon all of us to resist the hate and prejudice exhibited at the white supremacist rally Charlottesville. What can housers do? We can resist historically racist segregated housing practices by preserving and improving housing in racially mixed neighborhoods. The New York Times reported just last week that urban renewal policies displaced hundreds of black residents from what is now a thriving middle class Charlottesville neighborhood. That story underscored the crucial importance of saving affordable housing principally occupied by poor African American households in higher income and gentrifying neighborhoods.

The Times observed that there is one important housing resource available to black residents in that neighborhood: Friendship Court, a 100% Section 8 property co-owned by NHT-Enterprise and Piedmont Housing Alliance.  Friendship Court, located just two blocks from “where a white supremacist’s car plowed into a crowd and killed Heather Heyer, is the last remnant of predominantly black affordable housing in the center of [Charlottesville],” (In Charlottesville, Some Say Statue Debate Obscures a Deep Racial Split, New York Times, August 18, 2017).  NHT-Enterprise and Piedmont Housing Alliance have pledged to the residents of Friendship Court that we will rehabilitate and improve their housing in the years ahead. And that they have the right to remain.

 Immediately after the events of last week, Piedmont Housing Alliance took immediate action by ensuring the security of our residents and letting them know that we recognize their concerns and will respond with prompt and appropriate actions. You can read Piedmont CEO Sunshine Mathon’s letter to the residents here. The City of Charlottesville also provided an increased police presence in the immediate aftermath for residents of the targeted neighborhood

Racial justice is really at the core of our policy and practice. Poverty in America is racist. Wealth inequality is racist, and opportunity is often prejudiced towards the privileged. The vast majority of homes owned by NHT-Enterprise are occupied by persons of color because wealth begets wealth and persons of color (and for centuries women) have been systematically barred from full economic participation. Racist policies like segregation, redlining, classification of drug offenses, voter suppression, and the privatization of prisons have all widened the racial wealth gap. Unfortunately, the violence that erupted in Charlottesville was kindled by historic discrimination and the current political rhetoric that demonizes social welfare programs and the people that need them.

In light of what happened in Charlottesville, our work is all the more vital. We need to clearly communicate our values and celebrate the diversity of our nation.  For starters, we suggest The Opportunity Agenda’s memo is a great resource on messaging and activism against bigotry in all forms. The National Housing trust will continue to work to provide housing for all and push state and federal governments to provide resources that support vibrant, sustainable and safe communities. NHT stands with all who   improve their communities and, in doing so, reduce poverty, racism and prejudice.

As Michelle Obama says: “when they go low, we go high.”


*Photo Thumbnail Credit: "The Nation"*