The guide you have in front of you isn’t the same guide we would have written a few years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic; the 2020 racial reckoning after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor; and the wildfires, heatwaves, floods, and Texas freeze of 2021 have left an indelible mark on the cultural, social, and economic context in which we work.
Even as protesters and politicians escalated their attacks on our democracy, unprecedented governmental action in the form of eviction moratoriums, rental assistance, forbearance protections, stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, healthcare coverage, and the most important infrastructure law in a generation thrust the power of public policy to center stage.
The pandemic not only surfaced the country’s dire health inequities but exposed the direct connection between housing and health. The uprisings over racial violence broke open a new conversation about racial inequity, creating space to think differently about how local public funds are allocated and the types of investments that truly keep people healthy and safe. The ongoing climate crisis, once a subject of national denial, reached a tipping point, pushing politicians across the spectrum to take new steps to decarbonize local and state economies. In some places, there are more robust efforts to ensure that people bearing the brunt of climate inequities, including workers, are central to a just transition. Local communities and the nation have much work to do; public policy and regulation will be critical to success.
As housing and community development practitioners and investors, you can play a critical role in remaking the policy context you work in and shaping the cultural narratives that create political possibility. You and your colleagues know how racism has woven itself through our financial and political systems, shaping the unjust housing policies and unstable financial systems—too often supported by public policy and regulation—that create health disparities and economic precarity and constrain your own work.
No amount of strategic deal making will overcome the power of these systems. Your efforts to reshape the political and cultural context are essential to expanding the realm of the possible and undoing the effects of centuries of structural racism. We have written this guide with those goals in mind.