September 25, 2023

No Place Like Home

Where we stay predicts our future. It limits or expands our educational and career opportunities, our circle of friends, our marriage prospects, even our life span. In Houston, where advertised rents can vary from less than $300/monthly for a studio apartment beyond the Sam Houston Tollway in north Houston, to a $65,000,000 listing for an eight bedroom, ten and a half bath estate on nine acres with 24-hour private security at The Lodge at Hunters Creek, near Memorial City, there would seem to be a home for every budget and lifestyle. But these ads offer no relief to the multitudes of homeless citizens. In fact, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development documents African American individuals as having a disproportionately higher incidences of homelessness (40 %) relative to our population (13%) ever since records have been collected. Black families are at even greater risk of being without shelter. In 2020 African Americans accounted for about 52% of that population, with whites accounting for about 35% according to the annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress and since then the despair has increased for Blacks even as it has eased for other ethnicities.


Poverty is a strong predictor of homelessness. From slavery to segregation, African Americans have been disallowed competitive opportunities. The high rate of homelessness is a result of this inequity. In September this year the average rent for a onebedroom apartment in Houston is about $1300. To afford this, one full-time worker would have to earn $8.13 per hour just to avoid eviction and have no money left to buy food, pay utilities, or obtain other necessities. With evictions increasing (they are higher now than before the pandemic) most landlords require tenants who spend no more than 30% of their income on rent, which limits a full-time minimum wage earner in Texas to dwellings costing less than $400 per month.


Although some of the lowest income employees have seen significant raises since 2020, their enhanced pay has not been sufficient to challenge galloping inflation. Capricious incidents such as job loss, chronic or acute poor health, domestic violence, or other emergencies that can quickly precipitate homelessness. Service and hospitality workers, the previously incarcerated, the majority of whom are Black, as well as our Black veterans are most vulnerable to being unhoused, as are those who live with friends or family without being named on a lease. If a partner demands that you leave at 3 a.m. and your name is not on the lease contract, there are no laws protecting your right to remain even if you the one are paying the rent.

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