Where you live matters. Because of systemic racism and historic discriminatory housing policies, there hasn’t been equal access to stable, affordable housing or quality health care, education, and family-sustaining jobs. The pandemic has exposed how Black and Indigenous people and other communities of color bear the brunt of inequity at many levels—housing inequity is the most glaring.

The need has never been greater for a comprehensive, equitable affordable housing framework that is people-centered to protect tenants; preserve communities; create healthy, thriving neighborhoods; and produce supportive housing more effectively.

That’s one of several messages Cecile Chalifour, head of community development real estate in the West region for JPMorgan Chase, and Jacqueline Waggoner, vice president and Southern California market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, shared in a recent conversation on achieving racial equity, especially in housing.

Leroy Hamilton

The Challenge

Waggoner: COVID-19 has heightened the systemic inequalities that have persisted for years. For example, before the pandemic, one in three families in Los Angeles County was spending more than 50% of their income on a place to live, while 66,000 men, women, and children experience homelessness. Before the pandemic, we were already experiencing an uptick in homelessness—it increased by 12.7% from 2019 to 2020.

The homelessness crisis has been a long time in the making. For decades, we haven’t been building housing that people can afford at the rate needed. We’re half a million units short in Los Angeles County alone.

This has created a persistent disparity in access to stable housing, especially for people of color. In Los Angeles County, Black people make up 8% of the overall population but 34% of the population experiencing homelessness. If you don’t understand the needs of the population being served, then you’ll never solve the problem. It’s time we acknowledge race-neutral housing strategies have fallen short.

Chalifour: JPMorgan Chase is continuing to make major investments in affordable housing—we invest in communities and people, not just real estate. People of color face different hardships, and existing tools for affordable housing come short of addressing those differences. To deliver more opportunities and prevent racial inequities from being perpetuated, we have to acknowledge this. The pandemic has only made it more urgent that we ask ourselves how the major public and private investments made in affordable housing could be tailored to address the needs of people of color.

Those questions expand outside of affordable housing, so the firm has executed a training on redlining for all its commercial real estate staff. To prevent racial inequities, it always comes back to yourself, and it starts with knowing history, understanding how we got where we are and why what we do matters. In particular within real estate and finance.

The Way Forward

Waggoner: Enterprise recently hosted a national tour of an interactive exhibit called Undesign the Redline that has helped jump-start the conversation around the legacy of housing discrimination. It’s been a game-changing tool for level-setting the issues and sharing how historical and sustained racist policies and practices have gotten us to where we are now.

We need to acknowledge history to create a strategy that moves us forward together. And, moving forward toward racial equity involves bold changes in capital, systems, and policy so that we can fix the imbalance and inequity in our communities.

Chalifour: We have many diversity and inclusion initiatives at the firm, including Advancing Black Pathways. Some of it is supporting organizations like Enterprise, or the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California’s training to open the field to diverse, emerging developers. I encourage people to reach out to others in the field with ideas and experiences. There are many initiatives emerging that are moving us all in the right direction!

To learn more about affordable housing, visit jpmorganchase.com.

Jacqueline Waggoner, vice president and Southern California market leader at Enterprise Community Partners
Cecile Chalifour, West division manager at JPMorgan Chase