VOICES: The work of housing justice is ongoing in Dayton and the nation

After focusing on redlining in the Dayton region during the first symposium in 2021, the University of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, Wright State University, and other Dayton partners hosted the second Imagining Community Symposium. This year’s conference theme, “Imagining Community: Housing Justice and Flourishing Neighborhoods,” continued the first event’s conversations. As noted by many scholars, one must understand the history of redlining in our community to understand the current housing injustices and disinvestment in Black and Brown communities across the United States, including Dayton.

Many in the Miami Valley are struggling with housing insecurity. A 2019 State of Ohio report indicated that 1 in 10 Ohioans face some form of housing insecurity each year. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the housing crisis in our communities. The symposium featured art exhibits, an exhibit on eviction at the Dayton Metro Library, workshops, panels, and presentations highlighting some of the community problems, such as racial disparities in health outcomes and the trauma children face from eviction often caused by unjust housing systems and practices. Sessions also included opportunities to imagine solutions such as increasing affordable housing options, the civil right to counsel in eviction, and housing as a human right.

The symposium opened with a diverse panel of community activists and scholars, including Guy Jones, Shelly Corbin, Taylor Curtis, Faheem Curtis-Khidr, and Ernesto Rosen Velásquez, who spoke from various cultural lenses and lived experiences about the meaning of “home.” Other keynote speakers included Dr. Tim Thomas, University of California-Berkley, who discussed research on racial disparity and eviction filings. He shared data on Dayton showing that Black and Latinx renters have higher eviction rates than white renters. He concluded by talking about public policy and the importance of lived experiences, data, and public officials in affecting change in our community.

Dr. Aaliyah Baker University of Dayton Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Administration shared some of her personal journey and research examining Black families and segregated housing and educational inequities in the United States. During the symposium, community members with lived experiences of housing injustice shared their stories. In a session on eviction, Destiny Brown shared her recent experience of being homeless with four children in a local shelter during the pandemic. Another presenter, Kass Greenberg shared his experiences with disability and housing insecurity. During the various sessions, conference participants often shared their stories of housing insecurity, including stories of homelessness, eviction, and foreclosure.

These stories serve as a stark reminder of the numbers of people facing housing insecurity in our communities. Dr. Lawrence Brown, author of the book Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America, facilitated a workshop using a Dayton-based simulation he designed for the symposium. Participants were able to experience the simulated neighborhood effects of residential segregation and discuss strategies for change. Dr. Brown and Dr. Nancy McHugh, Executive Director of the University of Dayton’s Fitz Center for Leadership and Community, helped facilitate a community dialogue on Saturday, February 18, to discuss possible next steps. The group discussed many issues, but specifically, the need for more inclusive leadership training opportunities in Dayton was noted.

One of the closing panels of the symposium included Shenise Turner-Sloss, Debra Lavey, Addison Caruso, Tara Campbell, Joel Pruce, and Shelley Inglis who shared their ideas and vision for a Housing Bill of Rights. They reminded the participants that the work of housing justice is ongoing in Dayton and the nation.

The Biden Administration recently announced the Blueprint for a Renter’s Bill of Rights in January. The City of Dayton recently passed source of income legislation preventing landlords from discriminating against tenants who may have government-provided housing vouchers for rent assistance. Across the United States, cities are passing the civil right to counsel in eviction court, giving tenants the right to counsel. Cleveland and Toledo have passed such legislation in Ohio.

The Eviction exhibit, based on Matthew’s Desmond book, Evicted, will be at the Dayton Metro Library’s main campus until April 23. The exhibit will close with a Sinclair Community College theatrical production based on lived experiences of community members facing housing insecurity collected through a Facing Project sponsored through a Mellon/American Council of Learning Societies Community College Fellowship received by Kathy Rowell, Sinclair Community College. For more information about the exhibit and closing event, see the Dayton Metro Library website.

For more information about this symposium or how you can become involved in future symposiums contact Dr. Nancy McHugh, Executive Director of the Fitz Center, University of Dayton.

Katherine R. Rowell is a professor of sociology at Sinclair Community College.

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