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Exploring Housing Segregation in the West

This year we are diving deeper into what equity means within our organization, our work, and how we can truly be accountable to support an equitable future in Western communities. CB team member Jillian recently shared one podcast episode from How to Citizen, hosted by Baratunde Thurston, called “Building Bridges” that got us thinking. 

Listen to the podcast here.

It speaks to Tonika Johnson’s process of exploring housing inequality and segregation in Chicago, called the Folded Map Project, by comparing its north and south sides using paper maps of the city and folding them to demonstrate the stark differences in housing and quality of life. Tonika Johnson is a local Chicago artist who through the Paper Map Project has inspired people to meet fellow Chicagoans they would otherwise not connect with across the other side of the map. This proposed exercise made us reflect on how we could explore housing segregation in small and rural Western communities.

We thought about our home region (Glenwood Springs and the surrounding areas) and how we might explore a deeper understanding of what housing segregation and racial inequities in housing look like right here. While we may not be able to fold a map along a grid structure geographically in our communities, we knew the underlying ideas behind this project still apply.

Inspired by Tonika’s work and the podcast episode, we started wondering about some important questions like: 

  • In what ways is housing segregated in our region? 
  • Is the available housing stock equitable across different communities?
  • What if community members from these different neighborhoods got to know one another? 
  • How does housing segregation create or reinforce social segregation along racial lines? 
  • Is this housing segregation likely to continue with new affordable housing projects? 
  • How are these issues being talked about in our communities? 
  • How are they being addressed, if at all? 

Our other coworker, Bud, recommended we check out the Racial Dot Map, a free tool offered by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. 

There is a common misconception in smaller and rural Western communities that “we don’t have racial equity problems here”. Our experience tells us that statement is wrong, and this map certainly reinforces this. Our home region is racially segregated and when you layer the type of housing, rental vs. owned housing, density, quality of housing, and more, it is clear that our Western communities are certainly racially segregated and inequitable. 

With this reinforced understanding, what can we do about this? First of all, we work with our partners to address these issues, but we are by no means experts. We are on a learning journey ourselves to better understand and act in the interest of equitable housing outcomes in the region. 

We believe that community members and those who experience a place and its issues, have all the wisdom and expertise to find the right solutions for themselves. So our job is to ensure that housing projects are led by the community, particularly individuals and groups who are experiencing substandard housing, lack of access to homeownership, lack of available housing, and inequitable conditions. Not only is reshaping housing about more equitable outcomes in communities of color, it is about our civic health as whole communities that can acknowledge oppression and move forward toward a more just future. 

We are working to learn, and do, more to support an equitable and just housing future in Western communities. At Community Builders, we have a lot to learn and many ways to grow. We encourage you to learn from stories, explore data, and have conversations about housing segregation in your city, town, or area and we hope this window into one small way we are doing the same is helpful. We want to continue to learn with you, please reach out and share your reflections, experiences, lessons, and questions about this topic with us.

*This blog was produced for Day 9 of the 12 Days of Housing. To access content from this holiday housing campaign, click here.

  • Equity
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  • Housing

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