“I can’t breathe.” 

These were the final words of George Floyd and Eric Garner, two men suffocated by police because of the color of their skin. These three simple words became a rallying cry for social justice across the country because we — as Black Americans, brown Americans, LBGTQIA Americans — are being suffocated by policies and politicians who profit from our subjugation. 

We are being suffocated not only by police brutality but by a litany of other institutional hurdles, including policies that intentionally limit our ability to access safe, affordable housing. Across the country, people of color are denied access to affordable housing through decades-old practices like redlining and the everlasting legacy of Jim Crow. In Texas, the housing disparities are especially stark.

Because of the color of our skin, how we choose to style our hair, or the names we give our children, we are shut out of housing. The residents of San Antonio need greater access to high-quality affordable housing. We need to be able to stay in our homes and neighborhoods, despite growing gentrification. And there are ways to make this happen by building more housing, fixing our racist zoning laws and providing renters more choices to pay for housing.

Statewide, only 8% of Black Texans own their home, while 58% of their white counterparts are homeowners. This is not to mention that San Antonio has an affordable housing deficit of over 150,000 units. According to a recent report, our city is one of the least affordable cities for renters, many of whom are people of color.

One of the often undiscussed hurdles to renting is the burdensome cash security deposit. A traditional security deposit of one or sometimes two months’ rent can easily double the upfront cost of renting, making moving into a new apartment unfeasible for millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. When 40% of Americans do not even have the money to contend with a $400 emergency expense, how can we ask that they pay up to $1,000 or more on top of rent and other fees just to move in? 

Instead of renters being forced to pay exorbitant upfront fees or risk being kicked out of their homes and communities, they should have the option to take out a lower-cost, affordable security deposit insurance policy — such as those offered by companies like Rhino — for just a few dollars a month. How this works is simple: renters pay a small monthly premium to a security deposit insurance provider, allowing them to move in while holding onto their hard-earned cash. Meanwhile, property owners stay protected from things like unpaid rent and damage.

When more property owners offer renters alternatives to security deposits, we can begin to put an end to the era of racist, outdated and classist housing practices and ensure that stable housing is within reach for everyone in our community. Giving renters the choice to use security deposit insurance can keep people in their homes, allow people to stay in their neighborhoods, and keep communities intact. Accessible housing can become a reality for millions of people, while also freeing up more than $45 billion in security deposits tied up in escrow accounts to instead help pay off student loans, feed families and pay medical bills.

To this day, the words, “I can’t breathe” haunt me because we are all suffocating under outdated, racist policies designed to keep the poor and communities of color down. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when addressing the inequities of the American housing system, famously said, “now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children.” That was in 1966. Despite all of Dr. King’s work and the work of many who followed, we are still fighting. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. It is time that we demand justice. It is time that we demand fair access to housing. Giving renters more options will not overturn the centuries of oppression that Black and brown communities have endured, but it can be an important step toward tangible equity. 

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Kimiya Factory

Kimiya Factory is the president, founder, and Chief Executive Director of the Black Freedom Factory.