It appears that President Donald Trump wants white suburbia to vote for him, and he’s pushing out low-income housing in order to get that vote. “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood…” tweeted Trump on July 29. He went on to claim housing prices “will go up based on the market, and crime will go down.”
Trump seems to be equating living in low-income housing with being a criminal. He would appear to believe people looking for an opportunity to participate in the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” are an inconvenience for those who can easily afford it. His overturn of the Obama administration’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule is another attack on the nation, especially for economically disadvantaged people and people of color, and something that fits in well with the rest of his discourse, which has been built on things like racism, transphobia, and misogyny. The move ignores the adverse effects of gentrification, perpetuates the idea that poverty and crime are synonymous, and reduces the lives of thousands of families across the country to a bothersome element for middle class Americans. I think Trump is a segregationist who thinks people like me shouldn’t be able to play at the same parks as everyone else.
I live in low-income housing. My PhD diploma hangs from the walls of my low-income house. I write novels in that house. Those novels have been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award and have won the Wonderland Book Award. I write for places like NPR, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the San Francisco Chronicle while in that house. I teach at a public high school and help shape the future of this country while living in that house. Me living in low-income housing has nothing to do with my intelligence or education; it has everything to do with me not coming from money, being a first-generation college graduate, and navigating life in the United States as a non-native English speaker from another country. Living in low-income housing doesn’t make me a criminal. In fact, I know dozens of families who live in low-income housing and none of them are criminals. Trump, on the other hand, seems to have many friends in prison and a long list of legal troubles that range from fraud to impeachment.
What I need Trump to understand is that the caste system that was in place in the United States before it was called the United States needs to be demolished, not perpetuated. People living in low-income housing are not delinquents; they are teachers, artists, cashiers, firefighters, administrative assistants, journalists, and students. What Trump needs to understand is that I can, in the immortal words of writer Roxane Gay, wallpaper his house with my CV, and living in low-income housing doesn’t change that. I am a low-income writer, and I have no problem with that. I will keep hustling to change that, but in the meantime, I live where I can. And you know what? I’m not ashamed of that. I am also not alone. There are 46 million people living in poverty in this country and no city in the United States can fill 100% of its low-income population’s need for affordable housing. The system is broken, Trump, not the folks caught in it.
“Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out,” writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson in her upcoming book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, “The tragically accelerated, chilling, and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. The lingering, millennia-long caste system of India. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States.” Eliminating the AFFH is a giant step in prolonging our caste system. It is another move that facilitates comparisons between the current administration and Nazi Germany. Any move that hurts low-income housing is a move that allows gentrification to continue growing at devastating speed, and that phenomenon is now happening in the context of a pandemic that has collapsed the economy. If low-income housing was great before, vanishing jobs have made it even more of a necessity.
In every mayor city in the United States, the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” is being built in places that were first designated for people who weren’t welcome in “good” neighborhoods and thus didn’t have access to the best schools, decent public transportation, and medical services. Preventing low-income housing from being built in gentrified areas is kicking people out of the same place they were told to occupy a few decades ago. It is unfair, dangerous, discriminatory, and blatantly racist. It is also classist and revolting.
Local governments should proactively ensure fair housing not because they want to receive federal housing funding, but because it is the right thing to do. Low-income housing is how we diversify neighborhoods, increase opportunity, fight gentrification, and contribute to leveling the playing field. Low-income writers like me write about our stories in low-income housing, and we enrich the world by doing so. Any attack on low-income housing is an attack on a large group of people that deserve an opportunity to thrive (you can look that up in the dictionary, Trump). The “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” should be available to all who fight for it.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, editor, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of COYOTE SONGS, ZERO SAINTS (both from Broken River Books), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). He is the book reviews editor at PANK Magazine, the TV/film editor at Entropy Magazine, and a columnist for LitReactor and CLASH Media. His nonfiction has appeared in places like The New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the LA Times, El Nuevo Día, and other venues. The stuff that’s made up has been published in places like Red Fez, Flash Fiction Offensive, Drunk Monkeys, Bizarro Central, Paragraph Line, Divergent Magazine, Cease, Cows, and many horror, crime, surrealist, and bizarro anthologies. When not writing or reading, he has worked as a dog whisperer, witty communications professor, and ballerina assassin. His reviews are published in places like NPR, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Criminal Element, The Rumpus, Heavy Feather Review, Atticus Review, Entropy, HorrorTalk, Necessary Fiction, Crimespree, and other print and online venues. He teaches at SNHU’s MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.
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