By Branden Garcia and Destiney Williamson
Housing is a human right. One cannot live safely without shelter. Every person should have easy access to a reliable place to sleep, protection from the outside world, and a dependable location to store one’s personal belongings. Despite a sense of division across American politics, the idea that people should have access to affordable, stable housing enjoys widespread support; a poll conducted by the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign found that 85% of Americans believe ensuring everyone has a safe, decent, affordable place to live should be a “top national priority.” Eight in ten people say that the president and Congress should “take major action” to make housing more affordable for low-income families. Affordable housing is defined by the Federal Government as housing that does not take up more than 30% of a household’s income. Within the Greater Boston Area’s low-income neighborhoods, 30% of a household’s income will barely cover half a month’s rent. Communities that experience prejudice, job discrimination, and marginalization–especially immigrant communities–are all at a greater risk of facing these hardships.
Upon arriving to the United States, immigrants have to contend with a system that actively discriminates against them even while they provide valuable labor. Professors Jody Vallejo and Lisa Keister detail how immigrants have been forced to endure “a historical legacy of structural racism and discrimination in U.S. financial institutions,” resulting in paying higher interest rates while being more often denied loans than white people even after working towards good credit. Immigrant workers are often dissuaded from reporting abuses that they suffer due to language barriers leaving them in a state of isolation and instability. The inequities the U.S. immigrant community face go hand-in-hand with how the American economy depends on immigrant labor. According to a 2019 study by the Migration Policy Institute, “Immigrants constituted 17 percent (28.6 million) of the civilian labor force (166.3 million).” At least 17% of the current American workforce and its production capacity relies on immigrants, yet inaccurate stereotypes which label these workers as “job-stealers” persist despite studies not finding that local immigrants depress wages of non-college or college-educated workers. In fact, many studies have found that immigrants benefit the economy in many ways. Immigrants have made and continue to make great contributions to this country with their presence, even increasing labor market interactions and efficiency as well as lessening the cost of transportation by simply making metropolitan areas more dense.
As it can be clearly seen, immigrant communities face unique economic and social hurdles. Housing is steadily becoming more expensive while families continue to struggle to keep up as they are already grappling with wage inequalities. In Massachusetts, this problem is overwhelmingly common. In 2017, the average Massachusetts worker would have to be paid $27.39 an hour to even afford a standard 2-bedroom rental apartment without spending more than 30% of their monthly income. But, the Massachusetts minimum wage remains at a low $13.50 an hour. This wage gap vividly displays that the current average Massachusetts minimum wage worker needs two full-time jobs to afford a standard rented apartment! How is this reasonable? This is just looking at a two bedroom apartment, imagine the strain this puts on large families who have other priorities as well such as childcare, educational costs, and more. The Greater Boston areas are plagued by high housing prices limiting multi-family production. Unsurprisingly, housing costs have risen faster than the income of residents in Greater Boston and discrimination, resulting in resident’s paychecks going towards their housing and sacrificing funds for essentials such as food, utilities, clothes, etc. some things that the average family will have to scrap together to get by. This absolutely displays the need for affordable housing, but in a nation and state that does not push businesses and companies to pay its workers a liveable wage, this does not seem feasible.
We as a community need to do better. We as a nation deserve better. Though we acknowledge that as a society, we are doing better to increase the equity in housing and income inequalities, there is still much to do. President Biden has repeatedly discussed and failed in increasing the federal minimum wage to $15, but as we have analyzed, that simply is not enough. We call for: increased funding in low income and marginalized communities while revisiting and revising zoning laws which dictate where property can go on land. Zoning laws have also limited the amount of housing allowed near commuter rail stations in Greater Boston communities; more affluent whiter neighborhoods having perfectly clear land that could be expanded upon for more housing. Lastly, we call for increased funding to community-based organizations, such as La Colaborativa and The Neighborhood Developers to better assist their communities and address the inequalities in housing.
Branden Garcia is a current senior at Chelsea High School in Chelsea, MA. Working as the Chelsea Youth Commission Secretary at Chelsea City Hall, he is very involved in the wellbeing and advocacy of the Chelsea community. As a youth, he aims to educate others in the Chelsea community on how to advocate to create change for the betterment of all and make the city of Chelsea as equitable as possible.
Destiney Williamson is a current senior at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School in Chicago, IL.