Can We Have Equitable Education without Fair Housing? Some Ideas About How to Support Healthy, Equitable Neighborhoods and Schools

My Capstone students are diving into articles about neighborhoods, gentrification, fair housing, and more this week as they get started working with our community partners in various areas of the city. Students are working in St. Johns at the James John SUN School Summer Program, in Gresham and SE Portland in the 9th Grade Counts and Puentes programs, at New Columbia with the University Park Day Camp, and in the heart of the city with the Upward Bound Program. While our learning is primarily about education, the intersection between place and education is a strong one and must be examined.

Because of our current class reading and discussion, I’m reblogging an earlier post about the four-part article series run in the Oregonian on the fair housing crisis in Portland because it’s the topic of some of our discussion this week. One of my students asked the same question that I have been pondering every since reading this article series — what can we do about it?

I put together a preliminary list of some ideas and wanted to share them here as well.  Here is how I responded to my student in our class discussion forum when she posted on her outrage at the unfair housing situation and her desire to do figure out how to do something about it:

I had a similar reaction to this series of articles — despair and then wondering what to do. Even after talking to colleagues and friends, I’m still not exactly sure what the best course of action is. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts:

  • Be aware of what’s going with Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland): There are sometimes volunteer opportunities and public forums through this organization.
  • Volunteer or advocate through an organization like NW Housing Alternatives: This organization supports low income residents in finding housing but also in resident services (parenting classes, homework clubs for kids, etc.). A former Capstone student of mine works with this organization now, so let me know if you’re interested in connecting.
  • There’s an upcoming talk on July 10 at the Kennedy School: They’ve been hosting conversations related to issues of place, race, neighborhoods, and local history all year long.  This would be an opportunity to jump into a bigger conversation related to fair housing and equity. This should be a fascinating conversation, and you could get hooked up with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, which is leading the discussion.
  • Join your neighborhood association so that you can be part of bigger conversations about place and equity.

Education is much more my area of expertise, so I’d love to hear other suggestions on how to get more involved in advocating for fair housing in our city.  Please post your ideas here!

The Oregonian’s Brad Schmidt recently published a four-article series called “Locked Out: The Failure of Portland-Area Fair Housing.”   To get a taste of the article, read this quotable moment: “taxpayer money meant to help break down segregation and poverty is instead reinforcing it.”

On a personal level, I’m outraged because the money that I pay in taxes is actually undermining the work I do in the classroom and the community.  On a community level, I’m outraged because systemic racism and classism continue to play pivotal roles in decisions made about neighborhoods, housing, quality of living, access to resources, and access to strong schools.  

I often hear education advocates and activists say that the movement for equitable education is the civil rights movement of our time.  Maybe the call for fair housing practices and equitable neighborhoods (and access to resources) will become the civil rights movement…

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