What Does Housing Justice Really Mean?

It means we deserve to live on stolen lands for free.

[People walk through the streets holding housing justice signs]
The goal of housing justice is to meet all communities’ needs, not merely the needs of the privileged. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

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I’m enraged every month when I have to pay rent while white people occupy our Indigenous lands without our consent, and the U.S. government breaks its trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations.

Housing is a fundamental human right, but far too few in this country have this need met. I want a future where housing is free for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), for people with disabilities, for people who don’t make much money. I want a future where the people who accumulated their wealth on stolen land are made to honor tribal sovereignty.

The United States wouldn’t exist if not for the oppression of BIPOC. We built this nation through the loss and pollution of our lands, and by enslavement, genocide, rape, and the exploitation of BIPOC and immigrant labor. We’ve already paid dearly, so we deserve to live on these lands rent- and mortgage-free.

Organizations, leaders, and politicians throw around “justice” as a buzzword, with little thought to what it truly means on an intersectional level. As those who are privileged (white, cisgender, able-bodied, having secondary education, or more) now grapple with the reality of this nation’s bloodstained past and present, we need to ask ourselves what a just future looks like for housing. There isn’t a single sociopolitical issue, including reproductive rights and justice, that doesn’t have an impact on access to safe, affordable, accessible housing. As we’re seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, people without adequate housing are more likely to contract the virus. It’s no coincidence that the communities suffering the worst from the pandemic are also underhoused.

The goal of housing justice is to meet all communities’ needs, not merely the needs of the privileged. It means high-quality, safe housing for all genders, races, ethnicities, disabilities, ages, and more. It means the end of housing discrimination, as we fight until every last one of our people is housed as they need. It means pouring resources into urban areas and into the vast, rural lands of this country equally.

Housing that fails to even meet basic needs like clean running water is all too common in rural areas and on tribal lands. It isn’t a coincidence that areas with more pollution in the air we breathe, water we drink, and land we live on are likely inhabited by BIPOC and low-income people. Just look at the issues in Cancer Alley in southern Louisiana, in West Virginia, or in the ongoing fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I’ve met too many people whose land and water have been destroyed by resource extraction. They’re sick and dying and often unable to move elsewhere because their homes are unsellable. No one wants to live with pipelines or mines in their backyards, including the industry executives building them.

BIPOC, with Indigenous people leading the way, have some of the highest rates of disabilities and chronic illnesses; there are higher rates of health disparities for 2LGBTQIA+ people as well. Meanwhile, disabled people have significantly higher rates of houselessness than the abled. Housing justice must include full disability access, and that doesn’t simply mean elevators or wheelchair ramps: We need readily available disability access across housing programs, management companies, realtors, and all others in this industry. This includes staff fluent in American Sign Language, Braille throughout buildings, more disability parking spaces, ramps, elevators, door openers, and other access measures that aren’t blocked, broken, or stolen from us by the abled.

Housing justice must ensure our 2LGBTQIA+ community members have queer-friendly housing. We need to think about our queer elders, and those with disabilities and illnesses that require in-home health care, assisted living, or nursing homes. I look to the work of organizations like SAGE, which created a queer-friendly housing development for our elders in New York City. Queer-friendly shelters for our community, especially for our youth, trans, nonbinary, and Two Spirit people, must also be readily available. If these spaces aren’t fully queer-positive, barriers to housing will continue and housing justice won’t be fully realized. It sickens me to see 2LGBTQIA+ youth living on the streets without any safe respite, often having to turn to sex work as a means of survival.

Despite all of my fancy degrees, I still had to do survival sex work in my past. I walked a tightrope every month, terrified of how to earn enough money to keep a roof over my head and not be arrested and evicted by the state. We need to end housing discrimination against sex workers and the formerly incarcerated.

For every issue I’ve raised here, there are scores of other injustices threatening our right to housing. Multiple intersections of oppression have created this country’s scarcity of housing, and so it’s easy to get bogged down. But we can’t allow the issue’s complexity to stop us from fighting for the future we deserve.