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The COVID-19 pandemic is similar in many ways to more regional natural disasters. One of the ways it is similar is that its consequences are falling more heavily on Black and Brown people, but the relief on offer is often not reaching, or best serving, those who need it most. Soon after COVID-19 took hold, Andreanecia Morris of Housing NOLA saw a national Katrina unfolding, and reached out to some of her fellow state and regional housing advocates who understood the racial equity dimension of housing work and the pandemic to strategize with each other about how to respond to this moment and build a better foundation for housing work going forward. Shelterforce spoke with the group on a video call about how they understand the importance of this moment, what’s happening in their states, and their vision for a better way forward.
Miriam Axel-Lute: How are your organizations—or your members, if you’re a membership organization—interacting with, responding to, or participating in the responses to the police violence and the uprisings that are going on?
Andreanica Morris: I’m with Housing NOLA in New Orleans. It’s been interesting to live through this new moment where we finally said, “Enough is enough” when it comes to systemic racism. We were already dealing with the results of systemic racism because of the disproportionate effect that COVID-19 was having on African Americans and Latinos, the more vulnerable populations. And then, you add to it the unfortunate murder of, not one, not two, but three: while what happened to George Floyd certainly lit the match, it goes without saying that Breonna Taylor’s murder and Ahmaud Arbery’s murder certainly also contributed. And then the fact that Breonna Taylor’s murder isn’t even being classified as a murder.
That speaks to the heart of the housing issue, because it’s a racialized and gendered issue. Poor Black women with “too many children” is the image that is conjured [by “affordable housing.”] It’s a huge impediment to getting the work done.
We have been continuing our work because we know that one of the things that’s necessary to end systemic racism is that communities are actually strong.
Sixty percent of our annual city budget is spent on “public safety,” in a city with an affordable housing crisis. Almost half the people who lived here pre-COVID can’t afford to live here, [there’s] almost a 20 percent unemployment rate because of COVID-19, and we’re still prioritizing “public safety.” Louisiana still happens to be the mass incarceration capital of the world. So where we have obvious proof that this isn’t working, we’re still leaning on it. Education has been defunded, public health has been defunded, and housing has never been a huge priority.
So, [the response] is invigorating. It makes you somewhat optimistic, in a very strange way, because there is still hope. And it also feels a little bit naïve.