Memphis, Tennessee has a long history of racial bias and economic inequality, and often, these forces have worked hand-in-hand. Memphis is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to stand with African American sanitation workers in protest of inequitable wages and unsafe working conditions in April 1968. While it has been 54 years since Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Black Memphians still find themselves fighting against the injustices of racism and economic inequality. Today, the continued convergence of these two problems has manifested itself quite conspicuously in housing availability. This reality prompted the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) to interrogate economic and racial discrimination in housing, with a specific focus on the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program—otherwise known as “Section 8.” Together, LDF and NFHA conducted a study of Memphis, Tennessee and the greater Shelby County area where Memphis is located, examining the local rental market and performing a fair housing testing audit of housing providers to assess attitudes and identify policies and practices that impede the ability of voucher holders to secure safe and affordable housing.
Conducted over three years, Bad Housing Blues: Discrimination in the Housing Choice Voucher Program in Memphis, Tennessee looks at economic and racial discrimination in housing, investigating the local rental market, assessing attitudes, and identifying policies and practices that impede the ability of voucher holders to secure safe and affordable housing. The report finds that there is significant discrimination based on source of income in both Memphis and Shelby County. The report found barriers to securing safe and affordable housing for Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) holders included “No Section 8” policies; Housing Choice Voucher tenant quotas; steering or restricting access to housing; and employment, minimum income, and payment requirements. Source of income discrimination disproportionately affects renters of color, women, and people with disabilities. Because of this, source of income discrimination perpetuates racially segregated communities and neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. The results seen in The Bad Housing Blues: Discrimination in the Housing Choice Voucher Program in Memphis, Tennessee offer a glimpse into source of income discrimination experienced across the country.
Where you live matters. Your address determines almost everything about you because place and race are inextricably linked to opportunity. When people are offered equitable resources and opportunities to secure safe, affordable housing, they have boundless possibilities and our communities benefit.