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SCDP White Paper: Living For The City Has a Human Cost

Submitted by Giovanni Dortch, Candidate Tennessee

Senate District 33 Democratic Committeewoman

One of the hallmarks of the city of Memphis has been its “affordability.” Much like many "Chocolate Cities” or cities with a majority African American population, Memphis has long boasted a variety of neighborhoods, strong community cohesion, and an abundant housing stock. When the COVID19 pandemic hit the world, daily life shifted to protect everyone’s health. As those with jobs that were digital or computer-based moved to video and computer work, school and socialization, many others could not. That includes a majority of Memphis workers who had jobs that required their physical presence to perform.

In a city that once branded itself “America’s Distribution Center” with a robust shipping industry, this meant many Memphians risked their lives and health daily to work jobs which, in many cases, only paid slightly more than minimum wage and often much less than the actual living wage ($26.30 for one adult and one child) for the state of Tennessee.

Corporations took advantage of the pandemic to beef up their profits through the sale of digital services and software, safety equipment, transportation services and food. Unfortunately, the housing industry was also one of the industries that saw what could only be described as predatory behavior. As Americans lost their jobs, many also lost their homes through evictions and foreclosures due to a failure of our local and federal government to act quickly to shore up its citizens basic needs through national rent and foreclosure moratoriums, a universal basic supplemental income and adequate distribution of unemployment funds.

This loss of housing resulted in a particularly devastating loss for Memphians, as Local 24 news reported in October of 2021, Memphis lost 7,000 single family homes to outside investors who converted the homes into rental properties. This in turn left Memphis residents seeking homeownership a greatly diminished stock of homes to choose from. Outside investors also penalized Memphians seeking homeownership by outbidding single family buyers with astronomical bids that out priced the budgets of the typical single family home buyer. With this squeeze on those seeking to purchase homes came a rise in rental prices by both the massive apartment complexes throughout the city as well as the home rental market.

Housing shortages also impact the rate of homelessness, family instability, and neighborhood cohesion. If we maintain the American ideal that the family is the building block of the nation, then housing families is the stability of the nation. In a city like Memphis, where wages are suppressed, neighborhood and school cohesion provide social supports for entire families. The absence of neighborhood cohesion through safe, secure, and affordable housing presents a challenge to the existing safety nets and community support that is desperately needed in the working class community of Memphis.

As the Democratic State Committeewoman for District 33, my goal is to support the Democratic Party’s goal of increasing the affordable housing stock in Shelby County, advocating for more funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8), supporting homeownership through increased support for first time homebuyers programs and ending mortgage discrimination in the financial institutions that operate throughout our state.

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