The City Council used the 2021 April retreat to deal with the housing crisis in Rocky Mount.
It could not have been more timely. Housing for people of color is always in crisis, as far back as can be documented by Richard Rothstein in his book titled “The Color of Law, A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” which is available at Braswell Memorial Library.
The book illustrated the long history of discriminatory housing laws, unfair banking practices and the collaboration by realtors from coast to coast, leading to either substandard housing for people of color or unaffordable prices.
Black people were prohibited from owning dwellings in certain sections of the city or shepherded into areas of “white flight,” which had become disinvested with high unemployment. Infrastructures were allowed to deteriorate and services reduced. Young people left in droves. The areas became blighted slums.
These forms of structural racism kept Black people from accruing wealth and continued down generation after generation. The situation was aggravated by the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Unable to pay the high mortgages from initially over-rated housing values, people became saddled with high debts while losing their equities and homes.
The pandemic has deepened and widened the crisis. More people will be made homeless once the moratorium on rents and mortgages are over. How many more homeless will be added to the rolls in the country? The situation in Rocky Mount is no different.
Increasing numbers of homeless people are living on the streets or in tents.
In Rocky Mount, communities of color have come together for many years to deal with this problem. Countless studies were done, pronouncements were made on what to do, yet measures taken were inadequate, barely scratching the surface. Over the years, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has decreased funding, the need to find alternate sources becomes more pressing. A general obligation bond was the way out for larger cities in North Carolina like Raleigh and Asheville. We need this, too.
There is talk in the business community of growing prosperity in this city. If we are able to pass the general obligation bond and more homes are built, we need to ensure the affordability not only to right an ancient wrong, but also to prevent gentrification and displacement of the original inhabitants. The inequality gap must be closed. Housing reparation will go a long way to heal the nation.
Dr. Kim E. Koo