Congresswoman Nikema Williams details her plans to close the racial wealth gap
August 23, 2021 |
Congresswoman Nikema Williams has fought ferociously for social justice and families over her illustrious political and professional career. Representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District in the United States Congress, Williams is honoring the esteemed legacy of her predecessor and mentor, the late Congressman John Lewis, by continuing the ongoing fight to prevent voter suppression and increase fair access to the ballot box. Congresswoman Williams sat down with rolling out to discuss her plans to better the lives of her constituents and fight to close the racial wealth gap that plagues our nation.
Black and Brown families own houses at a lower rate than other ethnic groups. How are you addressing these disparities?
I think it’s first good to ground this conversation centering on Atlanta because the city of Atlanta leads the nation in economic inequality and a lack of economic mobility. We’ve seen the stats, you rattled off a lot of them, and we know homeownership greatly impacts that because that is a huge wealth generator, the ability to own a home and pass it down to your generation, child to child. One of the opportunities that I see, and I see it a lot in my work in Congress — serving on the House Committee on Financial Services — around how we can address the racial wealth gap, addressing how student loan debt is disproportionately held by Black borrowers, which directly impacts the path to homeownership. Educated Black people here in Atlanta, we have an outsized weight of the student loan debt in Atlanta and in this country, which is impacting the ability to close the racial wealth gap and increase homeownership. That’s one thing we need to address, but also just looking at the legislation that I’ve introduced, I voted in the House Committee on Financial Services to make sure we have equity, diversity and inclusion when it comes to banking and housing, and legislation that will clarify that the Federal Reserve should work to eliminate the racial wealth disparity when it comes to its duties to promote full employment and price stability. I’ve also worked to introduce the Restoring Neighborhoods and Strengthening Communities Act, which I talk about every opportunity that I get because it will invest in the removal of highway infrastructure that was built through communities of color after the 1956 Federal Highway Act. Sometimes this was intentional, if you look at Atlanta, and neighborhoods like Summerhill, these highways were used to divide communities of color … we have set aside $2 billion to fund the act and I am working with the committee to ensure the community is involved in the project moving forward.
Tell us about some of the nuances as it relates to the conversation in Congress on how to protect those who are homeowners or long-term renters in Black and Brown communities, especially when considering pandemic-related complications.
I just had a meeting last week with the Atlanta Housing Authority about what we are doing to address the lack of affordable housing here in Atlanta. And affordable housing can mean something different, depending on where you’re working at that time, and what your bank account looks like, and that’s part of the conversation, what is actually affordable housing in Atlanta. We are moving forward working with the Atlanta Housing Authority because right now, they are currently getting the support they need, they are servicing the people who are currently in their system. … I get calls daily from people who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, and they are looking for access to some of the services that came out of the pandemic, and the Atlanta Housing Authority is seeing this influx of people who are in need of their services who weren’t in need before, so we need to continue to invest in our housing authority structures. I’m a strong proponent of making sure we’re not just talking about affordable housing and places [where] we have extra space, but we need to make affordable housing desirable, just because you’re in affordable housing doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to live in a good neighborhood and have access to the amenities everyone else has.
How do we become more intentional and deliberate to make sure we don’t leave the people behind who are making just enough money to live and not qualify for most government-assisted programs, but enough money to live comfortably in a home?
One thing, it is good to have a president that is a champion of homeownership and closing the racial wealth gap. I listened to President Biden give his speech on the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, and it was refreshing to hear a president so in tune with the needs of people on the ground. How do we ensure that the federal housing organization has fairness in their mortgage-backed loans, and how do we make sure, going back to that student loan thing, when you look at your debt-income ratio, that impacts how much you’re able to borrow, even if you’re only making 45-50,000 dollars a year, and you’re qualifying for down payment assistance, if you have a large amount of student debt, it’ll impact what you’re able to actually borrow. I’ve worked with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, and we’re working on smaller loans for people not looking for $300K to $400,00 loans, as some banks don’t lend to those looking for less than a $100,000 loan, and we’re working with her to get her legislation [passed]. [We’re] working with the Federal Housing Authority to make sure the next generation of homebuyers, whether they have student loans or not, get a fair shot at mortgage approvals and ultimately homeownership, and part of that is addressing the outsized amount of student loan debt Black borrowers have.
Words by David Lee
Images by RaShun Hayes