Income inequality is an often overlooked topic that we’re unknowingly desensitized to. Many of us see it blatantly in our cities while we take the subway to school or work and notice someone huddled by a heater. We see it in our parks when benches have oddly placed arm rests and in public restrooms that are open to customers only. However, income inequality rears its ugly head in more subtle ways, and is cyclical in ways that the average renter and homeowner of the middle and upper classes find difficult to comprehend.
When we are all urged to work hard and climb the ladder to success, it becomes easy to turn a blind eye to just how prevalent the problem of income inequality is in the United States. The issue of income inequality doesn’t lie in working harder; it lies in a system created to encourage downward mobility rather than real opportunity for financial strength and prospering.
What Does Race Have to do With Income?
Racial disparities in income and the effect on housing is an unfortunate relationship that’s essential to acknowledge when looking for places to rent in your own city or town. The most powerful tool we have in the fight against racism and oppression within our everyday lives and the greater system surrounding them is education. It’s up to us as knowledgeable renters to investigate our place within it.
The proof of this relationship is seen in the numbers. Within the last 30 years, the median wealth in the U.S has dropped by $3,766 for Black households, while increasing by over $36,000 for white households. A $3,000 decrease may not seem like much, but when compared to white households having wealth of over $100,000 and Black households having wealth under $4,000, the divide is obvious. The same goes for Hispanic households, where homeownership rates have increased by over 40%, but are still way behind the rates of white households. What does this have to do with housing, and why do people of color tend to own so much less?
The Importance of Being an Educated Renter
One massive part of long-term investing and family net worth is homeownership. Due to gaps in salary, education, and a lack of representation in corporations and higher-paying jobs, the ability to become a homeowner has diminished for many communities of color. In fact, the gap between Black and white homeowners is now 30% higher than when housing discrimination was first made illegal in 1968. Instead of being encouraged to buy homes, families are often left with no choice but to buy or rent in cheaper areas. This further extends the cycle of poorer education in areas with less resources, less job opportunities, and further downward mobility.
Why is this our problem as renters? You’ve likely heard the word gentrification before, and it is one of the more subtle ways that income inequality seeps into our cities. The emergence of cute cafes, higher end boutiques, and expensive college campuses give landlords the chance to charge higher rent, and causes thousands of people to be displaced every year. With rising gentrification in the world’s largest cities comes more people kicked out of their homes and higher rent costs for everyone. This leads to further ignorance surrounding not only the struggles communities in urban areas face, but also the erasure of various cultures and community efforts in order to adhere to middle class, white tastes in housing. Combine the evictions with the racial wealth divide, and you find the cycle of income inequality affecting Black people goes unnoticed as primarily caucasion, wealthy tenants take over neighborhoods.
What can Your Impact be?
The good news is that, as members of several communities (your neighborhood, city, school, workplace, among many others) as well as consumers, we have the ability to boost our community’s spirits and create motivation to support local businesses and demand equality for all of our neighbors.
For one, do your research! Every city has its own policies on topics such as public housing, renting laws and rights, and eviction. Using your resources -- such as WYL, Next City, and the Urban Displacement Project can help you get a better grasp on gentrification in general, as well as where to find resources for your city. After doing some research, the most important step is communication. It can be awkward talking to your neighbors, but doing so gives you an opportunity to grow relationships, a neighborhood support system, and a newfound optimism in the process of preserving your community. While social media can be a great source for bringing people together, sometimes a simple knock on the door and an invitation for conversation is more effective.
After garnering support from some community members, use a guide to find out how and what your community is standing up for. A unified purpose and a guided mission is key to successfully voicing everyone’s needs and priorities, whether through contacting elected officials or holding protests in your area.
Another large way you can support various communities is through your power as a consumer. Shop at small businesses, and try to prioritize Black-owned stores and restaurants. Whether it is through ordering online or exploring in your own area, financial support in the form of purchasing from Black-owned stores creates a more intentional shopping experience for you, a new customer for a local or small business, and has various other positive impacts for economical, societal, and environmental factors. Make it a goal to visit a Black owned bookstore, for example, to support a business and personal growth. All kinds of different stores, restaurants, and venues can be found in hundreds of different directories, both online and on your phone’s app store: try out Chez Nous for inclusive businesses globally, and I Am Black Business to explore all kinds of businesses.
Transparency in Housing
As renters, we have a responsibility to foster loving, diverse communities and neighborhoods by advocating with both our voices and our pockets to encourage better renting decisions, ethical landlords, and more transparency about the housing crisis in America today.
Jenna Zenouzi, an activist and current undergraduate business student at Temple University, has dedicated herself to lifelong learning and creating viable solutions for businesses to enhance their customer relations and ultimately strengthen their commitment to CSR. She is committed to organizations such as MindVersity and WYL and believes that education is key to achieving progress in any movement or effort. In her free time, she enjoys painting, reading, and crocheting, and is aiming to complete her BBA at the Fox School of Business by 2023.
*Contributions are solely guest opinions and don’t reflect the opinions of or are endorsed by WYL, our staff, clients or other interested parties.