Many weeks ago, Forbes published an article by Gene Mark called “If I Were a Poor Black Kid”. From The Huffington Post to TheRoot.com, the piece immediately drew criticism for being overly simplistic. Bloggers and journalists alike pointed out the author’s ignorance of issues of poverty, class , and systems of privilege. While I see the problematic aspects of Gene Mark’s advice, I think everyone should have access to resources so they can follow Mark’s advice, regardless of income level. Virginia must knock down barriers for families living in neighborhoods of poverty so they can embrace this advice.
Where you live makes all the difference and Virginia needs to make sure that children in low-income families have access to safe libraries and good schools with resources to make their positive attitudes and determination pay dividends. Unfortunately, low-income Virginians who want to live in neighborhoods with good schools, great libraries and activities for their children, are prevented from doing so because landlords are legally allowed to discriminate against families on public assistance (such as Housing Choice Vouchers or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).
The Federal and state Fair Housing laws prohibit housing providers from discriminating against a person due to his or her race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. Virginia law also extends protections to persons 55 and older. However, people with good credit and steady income may still be denied housing because of their source of income. Those with fixed incomes such as social security, or pensions can face additional scrutiny or restrictions in their housing search due to the source of that income. A multi-regional HOME study found that when landlords were asked whether they would accept a Housing Choice Voucher (formerly “Section 8 Vouchers”), 82 percent of the landlords refused or discouraged use of the voucher.
About 32 percent of all Virginia households – or 946,760 households – are renters. Federal rental assistance programs enable more than 101,545 low-income households in Virginia to rent modest housing at an affordable cost. About 40 percent are families with children. A voucher holder may have good credit, a steady job, and references. However, as the law is currently written landlords may and do reject Housing Choice Vouchers even though the applicants are otherwise qualified. If a housing provider refuses to acknowledge government assistance, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), as a source of income families with children are likely to be disproportionately affected.
Regardless of race, one of the biggest problems of our generation is economic inequality. This article has sparked an energetic debate about equality of opportunity in America. Virginia must protect low income families from income discrimination so that the thousands Virginia’s children can have access the tools they need to help break the cycle of poverty.