African Americans more likely to be homeless
In Illinois, they’re more than eight times more likely than whites to find themselves without a home
By Ted Cox
A new study finds that, across Illinois, African Americans are more than eight times more likely than whites to find themselves without a home.
Working from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data, Housing Action Illinois found that African Americans make up 14 percent of the state population, but 30 percent of those in poverty and 59 percent of the homeless.
“We knew that black people experience homelessness more often than white people, but these numbers show just how severe the gap is,” said Sharon Legenza, executive director of Housing Action Illinois. “And the data make it clear that it is an issue in all of our communities — in rural, suburban, and urban areas.”
The policy brief “Black and White Disparities in Homelessness” was released last week by the group. It calculates how much more likely an African American is to be homeless than a white person in a given city, county, or other area. According to an accompanying news release on the report, “Chicago has the highest disparity, followed by DeKalb County and then Rockford, Winnebago, and Boone counties.”
The reasons for that are not simple.
“There are a lot of systemic inequities at work here, including decades of segregation and discrimination and a history of vastly unequal government investments,” said Bob Palmer, policy director of Housing Action Illinois. “But there are clear steps we can take to dismantle these systems and make progress in ending racial disparities related to homelessness. Eventually, if we have the political will and invest our resources, we can make sure everyone in Illinois has a good, stable home.”
In addition to segregation and discrimination, the brief blamed a racial wage gap and increased housing costs. On average, an African American makes 52 cents for every dollar a white person earns statewide, and just 42 cents on the dollar in the Springfield area. As a result, more than a third of African-American households in Illinois, 37 percent, are “cost-burdened” on housing, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of income on it. By contrast, 22 percent of white households are cost-burdened.
African Americans are more likely to be subjected to eviction, which of course can lead directly to homelessness, and mass incarceration, which can have a lasting stigma resulting in homelessness. In Chicago, where the statewide problem was rated most “severe,” 23 of the 25 community areas with the highest eviction rates were majority African American, with the typical eviction brought on by rent being just two months late.
On incarceration, a criminal record is more likely to result in being denied a lease. What’s more, 48,000 U.S. residents “leave the prison system and immediately experience homelessness,” according to the report. That problem is not going away anytime soon, as there are 40,000 Illinois prison inmates, and more than half are African Americans.
Housing Action Illinois recommends increasing the stock of affordable housing units. It urges that fair-housing laws be enforced, and suggests that eviction records should be sealed so that they’re less likely to result in someone being denied a lease or mortgage. It urges local governments to attack racial inequity in all forms, especially in homelessness, including so-called ban-the-box initiatives on applicants being asked whether they have a criminal record.
Chicago and Cook County had the most “severe” problems in African-American homelessness because those are also the areas of the state where homelessness is the worst. But in Cook County, African Americans were just 4.5 times more likely than whites to find themselves homeless. By contrast, DuPage County, McHenry County, DeKalb County, the Quad Cities and northwest Illinois, and Madison County were all areas where African Americans were more than 10 times more likely than whites to experience homelessness, even if there are fewer actual people without a home in those areas than is the case in Cook County. Across the state, African Americans were 8.4 times more likely than whites to be without a home.