For most of my life, I have lived in mobile home parks. Growing up in a trailer, my mom always reminded me that our “home” wasn’t really ours and that it could be taken away. “Esto no es de nosotros, algún día vas a tener una casa que no te puedan quitar,” she told me.
For me, the American Dream was not about graduating college and getting the corner office. It was buying a home. However, that dream gets farther from reality every day as the country faces a persistent and escalating affordable housing crisis.
Throughout our complicated American history, gentrification has been a major factor keeping many of our family members from achieving the homeownership dream. Along with bans on rent control, these policies have consistently affected Latinos and have perpetuated a legacy of exclusionary zoning laws rooted in racism and other factors.
Local policies that require minimum lot sizes specified for single-family housing have been chief amongst the laws contributing to the housing crisis. While it’s illegal to build more dense housing (duplexes, triplexes, and quads), there is a natural supply constraint and less supply paired with increased demand as the US continues to grow, causing prices to increase.
For my family, that always meant that we were priced out of rentals. We couldn’t afford to rent a single-family home, let alone purchase one, so that automatically limited our options. As I grew older and the reality of me purchasing a house became closer, it seemed like home prices jumped astronomically. A few years ago, I made the decision to move back in with my mom so I could save for a down payment. It’s become commonplace for millennials like me to move back in with parents due to exponentially increasing prices.
Beyond rents, owning a home has become even more of a challenge. In the last few years, economic factors have made the path to homeownership much more difficult. Interest rate hikes by the federal bank intended to reduce inflation also affected the housing market, creating yet another barrier by way of increased mortgage rates and monthly payments.
According to PolicyLink, a full-time minimum-wage worker cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment in 99 percent of US counties. When more than 30 percent of your income is going just to housing, that leaves less on hand for groceries (of which prices have also been greatly affected by inflation in 2022), healthcare, and other bills.
This seriously hurts people’s ability to achieve upward mobility in life. Out of control rents eliminate the possibility of saving for a home, one of the main avenues for building generational wealth, which white communities have had a leg up on for decades.
With purchasing a house being the center of my family’s plan for investing, my family didn’t see many other options. As we continued to rent, we also were faced with having to deal with landlords who, frankly, didn’t care about our safety.
According to Oregon Public Housing, city inspectors in Portland documented over four hundred housing code violations at a low-income, majority-Latino apartment complex that included health and safety hazards, including loose electrical outlets and missing smoke detectors in dozens of occupied units.
These factors—discriminatory zoning laws, lack of rent control, unsafe living conditions, among others—erode the Latino community’s opportunities for success and a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
There are several policy choices and community organizations efforts that can alleviate and eliminate the housing crisis—many of which are being carried out across the US to great effect.
The GES Coalition, a Denver nonprofit of resident-organizers, has created a land-trust that aims to beat real estate investors at their own game by providing land to longtime residents. In one community, land that was seized for a highway expansion has been purchased by the land-trust with $1.5 million in unused federal money and will allow for the several new homes.
Minneapolis is leading the way in righting the wrongs of the past. In 2018, the city eliminated single-family zoning and minimum parking requirements for new developments—a wildly successful pair of policy choices that have resulted in more housing centered near public transit with only a 1 percent increase in rents overall between 2017 and 2023.
House Bill 1110, signed into law in May 2023, brought together an unlikely combination of groups including Democrats, Republicans, and business and labor groups to add more than two-hundred thousand new housing units statewide while also creating greater density around public transit hubs. On top of that, the benefits of infill housing (making an area denser) include more cost-effective and energy-efficient housing as well putting people closer to where they work, shop for groceries, and enjoy leisure time.
Youth Housing Coalition
As a first-generation homeowner and Latina, I founded the Youth Housing Coalition. A nonprofit that educates and trains young housing advocates on what they can do to tackle this issue. From advocating for policy changes to leveraging accessory dwelling units to create your own small scale real estate development, we aim to be a platform for marginalized communities to have their fair chance at the American Dream.
The diversity of housing should reflect the diversity of people who make up our cities—our voices need to be heard, and it’s up to us to ensure that those in power are listening.
Jennifer Borrero is a global ambassador for the United Nations Association and the Founder of Youth Housing Coalition, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization providing training in sustainable development to youth. She is a futurist with a passion for championing Latine representation. In 2015, she began working on international human rights issues in Nicaragua; since then, she has specialized in advocacy for affordable housing and youth activism across the globe. She currently serves on the disaster action team with the Red Cross, traveling to provide humanitarian aid when natural disasters strike.
Her work sits at the intersection of political theory, sustainability and social justice. Borrero’s ultimate goal is to highlight innovative solutions to global problems while building community across cultures.