All posts by MuniCourts

Modern Day Hockey Created by Blacks?

As the NHL All-Star Weekend comes to a close in St. Louis, this is a great time to reflect on the black origins of modern hockey. American history has always promoted the myth of the original thirteen colonies. In truth, at the time of the American Revolution, there was no such thing as thirteen colonies. There were actually nineteen – six of those colonies did not agree with the Revolution. Those colonies became Canada where Black men created modern hockey!

Below is an ESPN segment about the Black origins of Hockey.

Out of the four major professional sports in the United States (football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey), ice hockey has been the Whitest. Nearly all of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) players are White, and the well-known history of the sport would make people believe that Caucasians created and developed the sport on their own. Our knowledge of the roots of hockey has been based almost solely on the historical records maintained by early White historians. Because of this, the misconception that hockey is a White man’s invention has persisted. We know today, such an assumption could not be further from historical fact.

While history books showcase White players that date back to the 1800s, the roots of the sport actually comes from Native Americans, and the game was revolutionized by African Canadians. It was Black hockey players in the later half of the nineteenth century whose style of play and innovations helped shape the sport, effectively changing the game of hockey forever. 

According to the book “Black Ice,” written by George and Darril Fosty, the sons and grandsons of American slaves who escaped to Canada were not given the proper credit for innovating the game.

The first reports of hockey being played dates back to 1815 along the Northwest Arm, which is a river south of Halifax in Canada. At that time, the region was not home to a large White settlement, but was instead the site of a small Black enclave. Reports say that the residents would play hockey in the winter months, when the river froze over. It is unknown whether or not these were the first ice hockey games, but it does mean that Blacks were playing the sport well before it became popular in the late 1800s.

As the development of the sport into contemporary ice hockey took place, the first organized indoor game was in Montreal in 1875, and by the mid-1890s, there were hundreds of teams in Canada and Europe. At this time, there was the first recorded mention of all-Black hockey teams, which appeared in 1895. By 1900, the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL) was created, and it was headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The NHL by contrast was not created until November 26, 1917.

The CHL was initially a church league formed by Black Baptist Ministers and church administrators who wanted to use the league to help Blacks climb up the social latter and gain equal footing with the White community. They used sports as the catalyst. The league was based on faith and emphasized sportsmanship and athleticism over brute force. The league used the Bible as their rulebook.

The league featured more than 400 African Canadian players who were typically natives from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. As the game continued to develop, the CHL featured more faster-paced action on the offensive end of the rink than the White leagues, which played a more physical style of game. It has been reported that the slap shot, which has been a staple for more than a century, was first used in the CHL, about 50 years before it became popular in the NHL. The league also revolutionized the goaltender position by allowing the goalie to play in an upright position, which allowed him to use his feet to a much greater degree.

At times, the top Black teams were able to defeat the best White teams. Typically there would not be a rematch, and those victories were not well-publicized.

The CHL flourished until World War I, but the league collapsed, and it was pretty much forgotten about. The innovations that came out of the league were later credited to White players, and the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto did not recognize the accomplishments of the league.

During the nineteenth century the English introduced the concept of competitive sports to much of the world. In an age of the Victorians and Victorian ideals, sports were regarded as models of teamwork and fair play. Many believed that sports could raise the lower classes and non-White races to a higher level of civilization and social development. All was well, the theory held as long as White men continued to win at whatever sport they played. Hockey was no different. By recognizing Canadian hockey Stanley had accomplished something more. He has given the game “royal acceptance” removing its status as a game of the lowly masses and creating a tiered sport based on club elitism and commercialism. It is no secret that the Stanley Cup was only to be competed for by select teams within Canada. At the time of its presentation, it was a symbol for self-promotion all the while serving a “supposed need”. In time, those who controlled the Challenge Cup controlled hockey, effectively creating a “bourgeoisie” sport. A sport that now, by its very nature, would exclude and fail to recognize Black contributions.

The most noted moment of Blacks in hockey happened when Willie O’Ree broke the color barrier in the NHL in 1958, even though Black players greatly contributed to the game years before the NHL existed.

Today there are no monuments to the Colored Hockey League. There is no reference to the league in any but a few books on hockey. There is no reference to Henry Sylvester Williams, James Johnston, James Kinney or the scores of players who wore the Colored League uniforms. There is no reference in the Hockey Hall of Fame of the impact that Blacks had in the development of the modern game of hockey. No reference to the Black origin of the slap shot. There is no reference to the Black origin of the offensive style of goal play exhibited by Franklyn. There is no reference to the Black origin of goalies going down on ice in order to stop the puck. There is no reference to the Black practice of entertaining the crowds with a half-time show. It is as if the league had never existed. For hockey is today a sport Whiter in history than a Canadian winter.


Republished under fair use claim, from OriginalPeople and Our Weekly material.

Meet the theologian who helped MLK see the value of nonviolence

by Paul Harvey Professor of American History, University of Colorado Boulder

For African-Americans who grew up with the legacy of segregation, disfranchisement, lynching, and violence, retreat from social struggle was unthinkable. Martin Luther King Jr., however, learned from some important mentors how to integrate spiritual growth and social transformation.

As a historian of American race and religion, I have studied how figures in American history have struggled with similar questions. For some, such as the philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, the answer was to retreat to Walden Pond. But for the African-Americans who grew up with the legacy of segregation, disfranchisement, lynching, and violence, such a retreat was unthinkable. Among them was Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , chats with African-Americans during a door-to-door campaign in 1964. AP Photo/JAB

On this anniversary of King’s birthday, it’s worth looking at how King learned to integrate spiritual growth and social transformation. One major influence on King’s thought was the African-American minister, theologian, and mystic Howard Thurman.

The influence of Howard Thurman

Born in 1899, Thurman was 30 years older than King, the same age, in fact, as King’s father. Through his sermons and teaching at Howard University and Boston University, he influenced intellectually and spiritually an entire generation that became the leadership of the civil rights movement.

Howard Thurman. On Being, CC BY-NC-SA

Among his most significant contributions was bringing the ideas of nonviolence to the movement. It was Thurman’s trip to India in 1935, where he met Mahatma Gandhi, that was greatly influential in incorporating the principles of nonviolence in the African-American freedom struggle.

At the close of the meeting, which was long highlighted by Thurman as a central event of his life, Gandhi reportedly told Thurman that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” King and others remembered and repeated that phrase during the early years of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.

Mahatma Gandhi. gandhiserve.org via Wikimedia Commons

Thurman and King were both steeped in the black Baptist tradition. Both thought long about how to apply their church experiences and theological training into challenging the white supremacist ideology of segregation. However, initially their encounters were brief.

Thurman had served as dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953-1965. King was a student there when Thurman first assumed his position in Boston and heard the renowned minister deliver some addresses. A few years later, King invited Thurman to speak at his first pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Ironically, their most serious personal encounter, that gave Thurman his opportunity to influence King personally, and help prepare him for struggles to come, came as a result of a tragedy.

A crucial meeting in hospital

On Sept. 20, 1958, a mentally disturbed African-American woman named Izola Ware Curry came to a book signing in upper Manhattan. There, King was signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.” Curry moved to the front of the signing line, took out a sharp-edged letter opener and stabbed the 29-year-old minister, who had just vaulted to national prominence through his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott.

King barely survived. Doctors later told King that, if he had sneezed, he easily could have died. Of course, King later received a fatal gunshot wound in April 1968. Curry lived her days in a mental institution, to the age of 97.

It was while recuperating in the hospital afterward, that King received a visit from Thurman. While there, Thurman gave the same advice he gave to countless others over decades: that King should take the unexpected, if tragic, opportunity, to step out of life briefly, meditate on his life and its purposes, and only then move forward.

Thurman urged King to extend his rest period by two weeks. It would, as he said, give King “time away from the immediate pressure of the movement” and to “rest his body and mind with healing detachment.”  Thurman worried that “the movement had become more than an organization; it had become an organism with a life of its own,” which potentially could swallow up King.

King wrote to Thurman to say, “I am following your advice on the question.”

King’s spiritual connection with Thurman

King and Thurman were never personally close. But Thurman left a profound intellectual and spiritual influence on King. King, for example, reportedly carried his own well-thumbed copy of Thurman’s best-known book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,”in his pocket during the long and epic struggle of the Montgomery bus boycott.

In his sermons during the 1950s and 1960s, King quoted and paraphrased Thurman extensively. Minnesota Historical Society, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In his sermons during the 1950s and 1960s, King quoted and paraphrased Thurman extensivelyDrawing from Thurman’s views, King understood Jesus as friend and ally of the dispossessed – to a group of Jewish followers in ancient Palestine, and to African-Americans under slavery and segregation. That was precisely why Jesus was so central to African-American religious history.

The mystic

Thurman was not an activist, as King was, nor one to take up specific social and political causes to transform a country. He was a private man and an intellectual. He saw spiritual cultivation as a necessary accompaniment to social activism.

As Walter Fluker, editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project, has explained, the private mystic and the public activist found common ground in understanding that spirituality is necessarily linked to social transformation. Private spiritual cultivation could prepare the way for deeper public commitments for social change. King himself, according to one biographer, came to feel that the stabbing and enforced convalescence was “part of God’s plan to prepare him for some larger work” in the struggle against southern segregation and American white supremacy.

In a larger sense, the discipline of nonviolence required a spiritual commitment and discipline that came, for many, through self-examination, meditation and prayer. This was the message Thurman transmitted to the larger civil rights movement. Thurman combined, in the words of historian Martin Marty, the “inner life, the life of passion, the life of fire, with the external life, the life of politics.”

Spiritual retreat and activism

King’s stabbing was a bizarre and tragic event, but in some sense it gave him the period of reflection and inner cultivation needed for the chaotic coming days of the civil rights struggle. The prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, where in mid-1963 King penned his classic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” also accidentally but critically provided much the same spiritual retreat for reflections that helped transform America.

The relationship of Thurman’s mysticism and King’s activism provides a fascinating model for how spiritual and social transformation can work together in a person’s life. And in society more generally.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Kimberly Gardner and MLK the Impossible Dreamers

by Randall Hill, Court.rchp.com

I can't think of a more fitting tribute on Dr. Martin Luther King Day than the example being demonstrated by Kimberly Gardner! Just like King, Gardner dares to dream big. Just like King, Gardner's statements are being distorted, her actions vilified and forces have mobilized to discredit her.

Most people can't imagine the sacrifice required to fight a powerful system. Systems are created to protect the self-interest, wealth and power of those who create them. As we predicted three years ago, the system is fighting against Ms. Gardner's reform efforts. System benefactors especially powerful ones will do whatever is required to protect themselves. This is true of virtually all systems, banking, education, political, labor and legal.

Fortunately, systems are not perfect, so there are ways to penetrate systems to create unintended consequences and use them to our advantage. From its inception, the United States was designed to exclude black people from benefiting, however, the Fourteenth Amendment was an unintended consequence. 

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner is the lastest impossible dreamer and she is using the Fourteenth Amendment in her fight against a corrupt system. She challenged a governor, a racist police department and the justice system and those with self-interest involving our continued oppression are fighting back. Ms. Garner earns more than $167,000 as circuit attorney and could have easily gone along with the status quo, however, she put not only her position and salary on the line to fight for us, but her life as well. 

Below is an inspirational video that I'm dedicating to Kimberly Gardner: "The Impossible Dream" sung by Luther Vandross. Some dreams, while being highly desirable seem unattainable or impossible, but even seemingly impossible situations have been overcome by dedicated and determined people.

Kimberly Gardner, the first black St. Louis Circuit Attorney filed a civil rights lawsuit in St. Louis Federal Court, case number 4:20-cv00060, on Monday, January 13, 2020, alleging a racist conspiracy to prevent her from doing her job. Below is a video from CBS morning news the morning after the lawsuit was filed

On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, black female prosecutors from around the country came to St. Louis in a show of solidarity to support Ms. Gardner. It was a wonderous sight to behold these women standing in support of their fellow freedom fighters. Below is the video of that rally.

The Ethical Society of Police, who did not endorse Gardner when she ran for office, stated: "That lawsuit is legitimate because there is a climate in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department… that is accepting of racism, discrimination, corruption. And some of those entities are within the St. Louis Police Officers Association."

King's dream has not been fully realized, but we are much closer to that dream than we were when he announced it to the world. Unfortunately, the dream has lost some ground in the Trump era, however, that does not mean the dream is unattainable. We must each do our part to make that dream a reality. Oppression is a form of injustice that occurs when one social group is subordinated while another is privileged. Oppression is maintained by a variety of different mechanisms, however, in the United States, the law has by far been the single most effective perpetrator of oppression. Laws allowing slavery, peonage, unequal education, substandard housing, mass incarceration, and a variety of other social injustices helped shaped current reality.

Unlike Kimberly Gardner, when you or I go against the system, we don't have others rallying behind us. Each of us individually must arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible. Waiting on organizations or others to do for us what we can do for ourselves will most certainly delay the dream. As Ella Baker stated, "strong people don't need strong leaders". Obama's stepfather gave the following advice; “Better to be strong,' he [Lolo] said … 'if you can't be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who's strong. But always better to be strong yourself.”

When I first began representing myself in court with no formal legal training, my friends and family thought my quest was an impossible dream until I started winning! Over a period of several years, I made dozens of court appearances and I did not witness another self-represented person win. Most lost because they lacked the most basic understanding of the rules of court. The legal profession, which restricted the number of African Americans entering its ranks, creates barriers to finding and understanding legal information and resources. 

Court.rchp.com reveals what the legal profession seeks to hide and provides free legal information and resources. We also reveal many of the lies of history that were taught to use in organized misinformation and miseducation campaign. Make yourself stronger by increasing your knowledge of the law. Once you've done so, the next time a landlord, business, or institution treats you unfairly you'll be better equipped to respond properly and fight back if necessary. Often, a simple letter quoting a federal or state statute and how it applies to the situation gets the desired result. 

When your adversary believes you are uninformed they are more likely to continue abusing your rights. Once you put someone on notice that you understand the law and how to apply, they are less likely to mistreat you and risk a legal challenge. 

Black kids and suicide: Why are rates so high, and so ignored?

by Rheeda Walker, University of Houston

Teen suicide rates among black youth are increasing. In 2016 and again in 2018, national data revealed that among children age 5-11, black children had the highest rate of death by suicide. For the years 2008 to 2012, 59 black youth died by suicide, up from 54 in the years 2003-2007.

Black youth may be less likely to share their thoughts of loneliness or depression than other youth, which could be a reason for higher rates of death by suicide among black youth. Motortion Films/Shutterstock.com

Also, the 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that, compared to non-Hispanic white boys, black high-school age boys are more likely to have made serious suicide attempts that require medical attention.

I am a professor of psychology and also director of the culture, risk and resilience research laboratory at the University of Houston, and I recently co-authored a study that suggests that new risk profiles may be needed for better suicide prediction in African Americans in particular.

Comprehensive suicide awareness

Suicide has become a leading cause of death in the U.S. among all age groups, but particularly in youth and young adults. It is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds. Parents, teachers and professionals must be able to both talk about it and understand the risks for vulnerable children of any race. But those of us who work with black youth may also need to address some myths about suicide in the African American community.

For example, one such myth has its start almost three decades ago, Kevin Early and Ronald Akers’ interviews with African American pastors concluded that suicide is a “white thing” and that black people are accustomed to struggling through life challenges without succumbing to suicide. those authors concluded that black people see suicide as a “white thing” but it is a myth that black people do not die by suicide.

Based on anecdotal conversations that many others and I have heard in day-to-day conversations and that sometimes emerge in popular media, this opinion about suicide in the black community has shifted relatively little.

More importantly, black youth at risk may even be more difficult to identify than non-black youth. One study referred to college age racial/ethnic minority people, including African Americans, as “hidden ideators” who are less likely than other youth to disclose thoughts of suicide. Because suicide is occurring and at shockingly young ages, comprehensive efforts are needed to address this public health problem.

Studies suggest that stigma about mental illness and the feeling that one will be outcast further or ignored may keep black youth from sharing their thoughts. Also, public health and mental health experts may be unaware that suicide risk factors could show up differently depending on ethnic group.

Simply put, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for identifying suicide risk. And little or no action has been taken to address the increasing crisis. As an African American psychologist, I find this frustrating when children’s lives are lost – lives that could be saved.

African American youth face challenges that non-Hispanic white youth may not. 

Unique needs in African American mental health

Most mental health services are not designed with cultural and social nuances in mind. My research team has found consistently that the challenges that black kids face in navigating dual cultural contexts may increase their risk of suicidal thoughts.

In research on adults, we found that black men and women who used more Eurocentric or individualist approaches that was more self-focused rather than managing stress via the belief in a Higher Power were more likely to consider suicide. This was not true for those who used more culturally meaningful, spiritual coping.

When there are cultural differences, therapists must be willing to “think outside of the box” to fully evaluate risk for suicide. As an example, the racism that black Americans encounter increases stress for many. Thus, their stressors and mental health issues will need different solutions and approaches than treatments that work for white people.

In another study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, we observed different patterns of risk for black adults compared to white adults who were admitted for psychiatric care. We examined sleep-related problems, which are elevated among black Americans, and suicide because sleep issues are a serious but understudied risk factor for suicide crisis. It turns out that inadequate sleep can escalate an emotional crisis. Our research found that problems staying awake for activities such as driving or engaging in social activities, which reveal inadequate sleep, were associated with a four-fold greater risk for suicide crisis compared to non-suicide crisis in black adults who were admitted for psychiatric treatment.

We have also found that experiencing racism is associated with thoughts about suicide for black youth and adults.

A caring, loving adult in a child’s life is essential. It is also important not to downplay a child’s feelings, telling her to cheer up or get over it. fizkes/Shutterstock.com

How to find help

Caring adults are a child’s first line of defense. If a child discloses that he is thinking about dying, it is important to ask him to share more about his ideas and if he knows he might die. If a child has a suicide plan, it is time to get professional help. The Crisis Text Line at 741741 could be an option for teens who need help to cool down in a crisis.

When it comes to finding a mental health professional, parents need an expansive list of referral options, including university-affiliated mental health clinics that offer evidence-based services on a sliding scale and federally qualified health centers for the uninsured. Regardless of the setting, a well-trained therapist may be of a different race.

Parents and caregivers must be willing to sit, listen and try to fully understand what is most upsetting for a child who is experiencing a difficult situation and a lot of emotions.

For those who believe that the alarming statistics will eventually reverse course without any action, this may be true. In the meantime, saving one life is worth the effort.

Thoughts of suicide do not mean that a child or teen needs to be hospitalized. It means they are in emotional pain and want the pain to end. Adults can investigate the problem and remove it or help the child deal with it. Online resources such as Stopbullying.gov include interactive videos that are useful to parents, educators and youth. Suggesting to a child that she “get over it” is less than helpful. A child who is already in a vulnerable state cannot problem-solve without meaningful support from the caring adults in charge.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Can the Constitution stop the government from lying to the public?

 by Helen Norton, University of Colorado Boulder

When regular people lie, sometimes their lies are detected, sometimes they’re not. Legally speaking, sometimes they’re protected by the First Amendment – and sometimes not, like when they commit fraud or perjury.

But what about when government officials lie?

I take up this question in my recent book, “The Government’s Speech and the Constitution.” It’s not that surprising that public servants lie – they are human, after all. But when an agency or official backed by the power and resources of the government tells a lie, it sometimes causes harm that only the government can inflict.

My research found that lies by government officials can violate the Constitution in several different ways, especially when those lies deprive people of their rights.

Clear violations

Consider, for instance, police officers who falsely tell a suspect that they have a search warrant, or falsely say that the government will take the suspect’s child away if the suspect doesn’t waive his or her constitutional rights to a lawyer or against self-incrimination. These lies violate constitutional protections provided in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

If the government jails, taxes or fines people because it disagrees with what they say, it violates the First Amendment. And under some circumstances, the government can silence dissent just as effectively through its lies that encourage employers and other third parties to punish the government’s critics. During the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission spread damaging falsehoods to the employers, friends and neighbors of citizens who spoke out against segregation. As a federal court found decades later, the agency “harassed individuals who assisted organizations promoting desegregation or voter registration. In some instances, the commission would suggest job actions to employers, who would fire the targeted moderate or activist.”

And some lawsuits have accused government officials of misrepresenting how dangerous a person was when putting them on a no-fly list. Some judges have expressed concern about whether the government’s no-fly listing procedures are rigorous enough to justify restricting a person’s freedom to travel.

In 1971, The New York Times and The Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers, exposing officials’ lies about the war in Vietnam. AP Photo/Jim Wells

Spreading distrust and uncertainty

But in other situations, it can be difficult to find a direct connection between the government’s speech and the loss of an individual right. Think of government officials’ lies about their own misconduct, or their colleagues’, to avoid political and legal accountability – like the many lies about the Vietnam War by Lyndon Johnson’s administration, as revealed by the Pentagon Papers.

Those sorts of lies are part of what I’ve called “the government’s manufacture of doubt.” These include the government’s falsehoods that seek to distract the public from efforts to discover the truth. For instance, in response to growing concerns about his campaign’s connections to Russia, President Donald Trump claimed that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped him during the campaign, even though the Department of Justice confirmed that no evidence supported that claim.

Decades earlier, in the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy sought both media attention and political gain through outrageous and often unfounded claims that contributed to a culture of fear in the country.

When public officials speak in these ways, they undermine public trust and frustrate the public’s ability to hold the government accountable for its performance. But they don’t necessarily violate any particular person’s constitutional rights, making lawsuits challenging at best. In other words, just because the government’s lies hurt us does not always mean that they violate the Constitution.

Sen. Joe McCarthy, left, talks with his attorney, Roy Cohn, during Senate hearings in 1954. United Press International/Wikimedia Commons

What else can people do?

There are other important options for protecting the public from the government’s lies. Whistleblowers can help uncover the government’s falsehoods and other misconduct. Recall FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, Watergate’s “Deep Throat” source for The Washington Post’s investigation, and Army Sgt. Joseph Darby, who revealed the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. And lawmakers can enact, and lawyers can help enforce, laws that protect whistleblowers who expose government lies.

Legislatures and agencies can exercise their oversight powers to hold other government officials accountable for their lies. For example, Senate hearings led Sen. McCarthy’s colleagues to formally condemn his conduct as “contrary to senatorial traditions and … ethics.”

In addition, the press can seek documents and information to check the government’s claims, and the public can protest and vote against those in power who lie. Public outrage over the government’s lies about the war in Vietnam, for example, contributed to Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 decision not to seek reelection. Similarly, the public’s disapproval of government officials’ lies to cover up the Watergate scandal helped lead to Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation.

It can be hard to prevent government officials from lying, and difficult to hold them accountable when they do. But the tools available for doing just that include not only the Constitution but also persistent pushback from other government officials, the press and the people themselves.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

How to File Your State and Federal Taxes for Free in 2020

TurboTax and other tax prep services advertised themselves as “free,” but an investigation found several ways that they tricked people into paying. Here's a guide to preparing and filing your taxes without falling into a trap.

Most Americans are eligible for free tax preparation services, but the truly free options can be hard to find. If you’re not careful, you could end up using a service that says it’s free but demands payment after you’ve spent time entering your information.

How do you file online for free?

If you make less than $69,000 a year, you can find free tax filing options at the IRS Free File webpage.

There are options from TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxSlayer and others.

Each site has its own eligibility requirements, so be sure to find one that will be free for you.

It can take a bit of effort to find the correct option to fit your situation. Try using the IRS lookup tool to find the right one. Most of the options provide tax prep for both federal and state returns.

Best for: People who make less than the income cap and want a convenient and easy way to file online.

If you make more than $69,000 a year and have regular wage income, you may be able to file for free on MyFreeTaxes.com, a service offered by United Way.

In 2020, there is no income limit for this service, but it will not work if you need to file Schedule C (like income from driving for Uber), Schedule D (capital gains) or Schedule E forms. You can learn more about the different schedules and types of income here.

This site uses a version of H&R Block’s software. It is free for both federal and state returns.

Best for: People who don’t qualify for Free File but have income only from a standard job and perhaps a bank account, and want to file online.

If you’re in the military, you can use MilTax, a service provided by the Department of Defense that uses a version of H&R Block’s tax software. It is available for free to active-duty service members as well as those in the Guard or Reserves, as well as their families. There are no income or tax form restrictions.

You can also get free advice from a professional who understands tax issues specific to the military. The phone number is 800-342-9647, or you can live chat with them here.

Best for: People in the Military, Guard or Reserves and their families.

How can I get in-person tax help for free?

You can qualify for the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program if you:

  • Make less than around $56,000 a year, OR
  • Live with a disability, OR
  • Speak limited English

The program matches you with IRS-certified volunteers across the country who can help with free basic income tax preparation and electronic filing. You can use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance locator tool or call 800-906-9887 to find someone to help you. Keep in mind that some locations may require an appointment.

Best for: People who are confused by the tax process and want someone to help walk them through the process.

If you’re in the military, you can get free in-person tax help on many U.S. military bases worldwide. Military.com’s base guide is a good place to start.

Best for: People in the military and their families who want advice from someone who knows the ins and outs of military tax filing.

Why is TurboTax charging me?

If you make less than $36,000 a year (or $69,000 if you’re in the military) and TurboTax is telling you it costs money to file, you are probably using the wrong version of TurboTax. Don’t worry, there is a way to access the truly free version.

As ProPublica reported last year, TurboTax purposefully hid its Free File product and directed taxpayers to a version where many had to pay, which is called the TurboTax Free Edition. If you clicked on this “FREE Guaranteed” option, you could input a lot of your information, only to be told toward the end of the process that you need to pay.

You can access TurboTax’s Free File version here. This version is offered through the Free File agreement.

TurboTax’s misleading advertising and website design directed users to more expensive versions of the software, even if they qualified to file for free. After Propublica's stories published, some people demanded and got refunds. Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, faces several investigations and lawsuits because of this. The company has denied wrongdoing.

Following ProPublica’s reporting, the IRS announced an update to its agreement with the tax-preparation companies. Among other things, the update bars the companies from hiding their Free File offerings from Google search results. It also makes it so each company has to name their Free File service the same way using the format: IRS Free File Program delivered by [COMPANY NAME].

What’s the difference between TurboTax’s “Free Guaranteed” and IRS Free File Delivered by TurboTax?

TurboTax Free Edition is not always free. It has only been free for tax returns that the company defines as “simple.” That means people with student loans and the unemployed had to pay to file. Look for Intuit’s “IRS Free File Program delivered by TurboTax.” This year, you are eligible if you:

  • Make less than $36,000 a year, OR
  • Make less than $69,000 a year and serve in the military

What is Free File, and who is the Free File Alliance?

The Free File Alliance is actually a group of tax companies that — contrary to the name — is in the business of charging people to help them file their taxes. They have spent a lot of money to make sure that the IRS does not develop its own free tax filing service that would compete with what they have to offer. As part of the new Free File Alliance deal, the IRS is now able to offer a competing service, but is not doing so this year.

The Free File Alliance companies have agreed to offer free tax filing for a certain percentage of the population based on your income. Head to the IRS website to see which option is the best for you. These are the companies in the alliance:

  • 1040NOW Corp.
  • ezTaxReturn.com
  • FileYourTaxes
  • Free Tax Returns
  • H&R Block
  • Intuit
  • OnLine Taxes
  • TaxACT
  • TaxHawk
  • TaxSlayer

Republished under license with permission from ProPublica.

 

 

What You Need to Know About How Section 8 Really Works

A guide to the Section 8 program. You’ll learn how to apply, how to qualify for a voucher and what it’s like to live in Section 8 housing.

by Maya Miller

What is Section 8 and how does it work?

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is a form of government rent assistance. In 2018, upwards of 5 million people across the country lived in a household that used a voucher to help pay some or all of their rent.

When Congress established Section 8 of the Housing and Community Development Act in 1974, one of the goals was to make sure people earning low wages could find “decent housing and a suitable living environment” outside of public housing units.

Today, people who meet income requirements can apply to the program to receive a voucher when they become available. If they are approved, selected and then find an apartment or house with the voucher, their local housing authority starts sending payments directly to landlords.

The payments cover some or all of the voucher holder’s rent. On average, each household will pay somewhere between 30% and 40% of its income on rent.

We found that good information about Section 8 is not easily available.

Propulica spent some time reporting on how Section 8 is working as part of a series on housing with the nonprofit news organization The Connecticut Mirror. We learned that the process of getting and using a voucher to find housing is still filled with information gaps.

“Half the battle is the information piece,” said Josh Serrano, a voucher holder in Hartford, Connecticut. He and his colleagues run know-your-rights workshops for potential voucher holders.

“If you don’t know the law you can’t obey the law,” said Crystal Carter, who received a voucher through a Connecticut housing authority but struggled to find housing. She said the companies and landlords she worked with did not always know the Section 8 laws and processes, and that created problems during her housing search.

To create this guide, we spoke with dozens of people who have navigated the voucher process, as well as with property brokers, landlords, former housing authority workers, housing lawyers and housing advocates.

This guide will tell you:

How to find out if I should apply for a Section 8 housing voucher

To get Section 8 housing, you will need to apply for a voucher.

Before you apply, you will need to know:

  • Where you want to live: Each local housing authority has different rules around Section 8. Decide where you want to live and then find the local housing authorities that are in charge of those neighborhoods. You can find a list of all the housing authorities here. Keep in mind: You can apply to housing authorities even if you don’t already live in that town. Don’t see the town you are looking for? Try looking for a regional or state housing authority.

  • How much money you and your household are making: The program is reserved for people making a certain amount of money compared with the area. Check out the housing authority’s income requirements. Then, go to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s online tool to see whether you — and the people you’re living with — fit into that category.

  • Immigration status for you and everyone you’ll be living with: At least one person in your household needs to have legal documentation to be living in the U.S. for the household to apply for a voucher. The nonprofit organization Affordable Housing Online has detailed information here.

  • Criminal history for you and everyone you’ll be living with: All housing authorities do background checks, but each one has different rules. It is possible to get approved for housing if you have a felony or if you are on parole. Ask the specific housing authorities by calling or emailing to see if you’re still eligible. IMPORTANT: You CANNOT get a voucher if you, or someone in your household, is on a lifelong sex offender registry, has been convicted of producing methamphetamine in federal housing or has been evicted within the past three years for drug-related reasons.

How do I apply for Section 8 housing voucher?

The first step to applying for Section 8 housing is to tell the housing authority you’re interested. But, there are more people who want vouchers than there are vouchers available. Most of the time, you’ll be placed on a waitlist.

Getting on a waitlist:

  • Get an email account. You will need an email account to apply. To create a free one, sign up for Gmail or Yahoo accounts.

  • Get alerts. You can sign up for services that will email you when housing authorities open waitlists. Affordable Housing Online has a website where you can see which waitlists are open. The group also has a webpage where you can sign up to get email alerts from the state you’re interested in living in. Some housing authorities have their own alert systems. If you absolutely know that you only want to live in one neighborhood, find the housing authority that oversees the area and sign up with that housing authority directly.

  • Be flexible. Apply to as many waitlists as you can, as long as you can see yourself living in that neighborhood for at least 12 months. After a year, you can look into moving while still holding onto your voucher.

  • Use a dependable mailing address. If you move around a lot, or are homeless, give the housing authority the mailing address of a friend or family member who can let you know when mail arrives for you. You can also ask local churches and shelters if you can use their mailing address. If they say yes, check in with them once a week to see if they’ve gotten any notices from the housing authority.

  • Do not pay money to apply. You never have to pay to apply to a Section 8 waitlist, and there is no way to pay to move up the waitlist once you’re on it. If you’re asked to pay, it’s more than likely a scam.

  • A doctor’s note can speed up the wait. Some housing authorities move you up the waitlist if you or someone in your household has a disability or a health issue like asthma that is getting worse because of where you’re living. If these cases apply to you, ask a doctor to write a note to the housing authority explaining how new housing will help your condition. Get and keep a copy of the note.

Steps to take while you’re on a Section 8 waitlist:

Lawyers and former housing authority workers say that being on the waitlist doesn’t mean you should just wait until you hear something. They shared a couple of important tips:

  • Take notes and photos. Keep a written record of all your communication with the housing authority. You can use your phone to take pictures of documents, emails you send or notes you take while having a phone call. Record keeping is important because there is a lot of staff turnover within housing authorities, lawyers and former employees told us.

  • Keep in touch. Respond to any notices you get in the mail from the housing authority over phone, email or mail so the housing authority knows you’re still interested in staying on the waitlist.

  • Keep applying. As soon as new waitlists in your state open up, apply. Don’t wait!

  • Join communities online. Join Section 8 groups on social media platforms. Tens of thousands of people are in the same position you are, and they have created social networks to support and help one another. Here are some of the more popular nationwide Facebook groups: Public Housing (Section 8) (Voucher Holders) HUD Tenants Group and Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) Friends.

  • Be patient. It can take months or years to get approved depending on demand. Don’t give up!

  • Keep everyone updated. Communicate with the housing authority if there are any changes in where you live, how much money you or someone in your household is making or how many people are in your household (for example, if you get married or divorced, or adopt or have a child).

What to do after being approved for a Section 8 housing voucher:

  • Be your own advocate, and ask questions if you have them. If you are missing information or have questions, you can call or email the local housing authority. It’s a complicated process, and it’s important to speak up for yourself when you don’t understand something. The housing authorities also have walk-in days where you can stop by and ask questions.

  • Hand in the paperwork on time. If you miss the deadline, your move could be delayed.

  • Don’t miss the housing authority “briefing.” All housing authorities are required to offer in-person briefings to provide you with the information you need to know before you get your voucher. You’ll get a notice in the mail that will tell you when and where the briefing is taking place. If you can’t make the briefing for any reason, be sure to contact your local housing authority. Some housing authorities give you the vouchers the same day you receive a briefing, and others hand them out a couple days or weeks later.

How do I find housing with a Section 8 housing voucher?

Once you have your voucher in hand, you should start looking for an apartment. First you get the voucher. Here’s what a voucher looks like. Yours may be different.

What to know about the voucher:

  • Check the number of bedrooms, and ask the housing authority about the rent. The voucher comes with a limit on how many bedrooms the apartment can have. The voucher does not come with a set amount of rent. So, before you start your search, you should talk to your housing authority worker about what the range of rent might be.

  • Calculate the cost of gas, electricity and other utilities (like heat). We’ve heard stories of people who ended up with hard-to-pay utility bills because they didn’t consider their cost. If you’re unclear about your utility allowance, get in touch with the housing authority or a local housing advocate.

  • You are responsible for the security deposit. Ask the property owner or landlord how much the security deposit is while you’re looking for housing because you’re ultimately responsible for paying it. You can also check whether your state security deposit assistance programs can help cover the deposit by looking up “deposit assistance program” in a search engine like Google or asking your housing authority.

Tips for the housing search:

  • Almost everyone we talked to said that it is important to document everything. Write everything down, and bring someone with you who can help take notes on your search process. You can also take pictures of everything with your phone. Here are the things you should write down:

  • The dates, times and places where meetings happen.

  • Names and job titles of everyone you meet.

  • The address of the apartment or house you want to rent, and the type of building.

  • IMPORTANT: If you are denied housing, write down the reasons you were turned down.

  • Look for housing online. HUD compiled a list of all the apartment buildings it has worked with through Section 8 and put it into a map that you can scroll through. Otherwise, you can look through:

How to apply for an apartment or house:

Once you’ve found an apartment or house that fits your needs, you should apply for a lease.

  • Submit your paperwork to the landlord. Make sure the paperwork is filled out and returned to the housing authority. You’ll get this paperwork, which includes a “request for tenancy approval,” when you get your voucher. Make sure the housing authority gets the “request for tenancy approval” and a copy of the lease.

  • Read the lease carefully. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. Housing lawyers have told us these leases can be complicated, hard to understand and can include loopholes that put you at a disadvantage. They recommend that you read through the lease alongside a housing authority staff member, housing advocate or local lawyer before deciding whether to sign.

  • Keep inspections in mind. Within a few days or weeks of the lease signing, the housing authority will set up a time to inspect the place to make sure it’s in good condition. Once everything passes inspection, you can move in.

What can go wrong:

  • The time limit. From the moment you get your briefing, you’ll have at least 60 days (it can be 90 or 120 days, depending on the housing authority) to find housing. It’s normal for people to struggle to find housing in that time frame, especially if the person is working long hours.

    • If you have trouble finding housing in that time, you can ask the housing authority for an extension. “Do it earlier rather than later,” said Erin Kemple, the executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

    • The housing authority will give you an extension so long as you can show them that you’ve put in effort to find housing. So, write down and take pictures of all the places you visit on your housing search and when you visited them (including the date and time).

  • Housing discrimination. In the 40-plus years that vouchers have been around, research shows that local zoning boards and property owners have made it hard for people with vouchers to live in certain areas.

    • Some states have responded with laws to address this practice. As of December 2019, there are 14 states that have passed laws banning landlords from rejecting tenants based on their source of rent income, which includes Section 8 vouchers. If you come across a housing listing that says “No Section 8” in one of these states, report it to the local housing authority and to legal aid or fair housing attorneys in your state.

    • If it feels like the only reason you’re NOT allowed to apply for an apartment is because you have a voucher, make sure to document it and then tell your local housing authority about the incident.

Living with a voucher

We’ve heard from people with plenty of experience in the Section 8 process. Overall, they’ve told us it’s just like living in other apartments. But there are some challenges that come up when living with a voucher that folks regularly brought up.

Here is what you need to know about living in Section 8 housing:

  • No matter what, always pay your portion of the rent on time. Always ask for receipts of your payment, and keep them on file.

  • Get everything in writing. If your landlord reaches out and tells you that you need to pay for a repair, ask for a written explanation. If you don’t think you should be paying what the landlord is asking for, reach out to the housing authority, a local housing lawyer or a housing advocate for advice.

  • Moving with a voucher. If you have lived in the same place for at least 12 months, you can move to a different neighborhood or state while keeping your voucher. This is called “porting.” You must apply. HUD has trainings and forms for porting that you can check out.

  • Unless a family breaks up, you can’t pass along a voucher to somebody else. The voucher can stay within the household if the person carrying the voucher dies, divorces or is convicted of a crime. You can’t pass along vouchers in a will or sell them.

Other Resources:


Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.


How to Apply for Section 8 Housing

If you legally reside in the United States and don’t make enough money to pay your rent or mortgage, you might qualify for Section 8 housing, also known as housing choice vouchers. Although applying for government assistance can be difficult, receiving the voucher can be a big help when you’re in a tough financial situation.

Understand how Section 8 housing works. Housing choice vouchers are administered by local public housing authorities (PHA), of which there are several around the nation. Vouchers come as either project-based or tenant-based — see below for more details. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) supports PHAs, and your local PHA will help you arrange Section 8 housing.

  • Under a tenant-based voucher, a tenant gets a voucher and can move into a unit with financial assistance. If that tenant chooses to move to another unit, the voucher carries over to the next unit, offering continued assistance to the tenant wherever they decide to live.
  • Under a project-based voucher, a tenant gets assistance so long as they remain in the unit that the voucher was issued for. The voucher lasts for a specified unit and time. If the family chooses to leave the unit, the assistance does not carry over to the next unit. A family may still, however, be eligible for a tenant-based voucher.

Determine your eligibility. Whether or not you qualify for Section 8 housing is based on multiple factors, including your family's income, the median income in your area, how much rent you're paying, your assets, and the composition of your family. Here's a general breakdown of the eligibility requirements:

  • You are a US citizen or non-citizen who has eligible immigration status.
  • You earn, as a family, less than 50% of the median income for the county or city in which you choose to live.[1] In fact, most Section 8 recipients earn closer to 30% of the median income for the county or metro area in which they choose to live. That's because the PHA must provide 75% of its vouchers to families who earn less than 30% of the median income.
  • You meet other criteria based on assets and family composition.

Document your income and housing costs. Have pay stubs from your employer verifying your salary, and either your mortgage information or something in writing from your property owner that confirms your current rent. You'll need these documents to apply for vouchers.

Know what kind of voucher you need. HUD provides assistance to both renters and homeowners. Apply for a tenant voucher if you rent the premises where you’re living. Complete a property voucher application if you would like financial assistance with paying a mortgage for a condominium, townhouse or home that you own. In some cases, Section 8 vouchers can be used to purchase a modest home and make mortgage payments.

Apply for vouchers. Contact your local PHA to begin the application process. Find a list of PHAs here. Ask if it's possible to complete the forms online.

  • Get assistance with completing the necessary paperwork if you’re not fluent in English. Call your local public housing authority to find out their office hours so you can complete the paperwork in person. You should be able to schedule a time with someone who can translate or to help you complete the forms

Enrolling in Section 8 Assistance

Be prepared for a long wait. In many cases, people who apply for Section 8 are waitlisted. Your local PHA may have more applications than it can afford to approve vouchers for, and will therefore have a waiting list for applicants.

  • In some cases, there are as many as 100,000 applicants for only 10,000 spots. It can take upwards of 3 to 6 years in these areas to be enrolled in Section 8 while on the waiting list.[2]
  • Be aware of prioritizing. PHAs develop local preferences for moving applications up or down the waiting list, and may give preference to families who are currently homeless or living in substandard housing, families who pay more than 50% of their income in rent, or families who are involuntarily displaced. Inquire at your local PHA office if you have any questions about how prioritizing is allotted.
  • If the PHA in your area has more applicants than it can assist in the near future, it may temporarily stop accepting new applications.[3] Although this type of closure is not permanent, it may be beneficial to look for Section 8 housing in another county or metropolitan area if your local office is not open to new applicants.

Know your responsibilities if you do get accepted. If your local PHA does approve your application and provide you with a housing voucher, you'll need to make sure that your current or intended living situation fits HUD health and safety requirements.

  • Safety requirements include appropriate thermal controls, running water and sanitation systems, lack of toxic building materials, and structural integrity among other criteria.
  • If you're renting, you'll be required to sign a year lease with a cooperating property owner, who will be obligated to both you and your local PHA to provide safe housing and reasonable rent.
  • You'll also be required to make payments on time, maintain the unit in good condition, and comply with the terms of the lease. If you fail to pay the landlord on time, your Section 8 assistance could be revoked.

Calculate your rent responsibility. Under Section 8 housing, you and your family will pay 30% of your monthly adjusted gross income on housing and utilities. Your voucher will cover the remainder of the cost. Your local PHA can help you calculate how much you need to budget for each month.

  • Say, for example, your monthly income is $1,000. You'd pay $300, even if the rent of the unit is $1,000. There will likely be a cap on the maximum amount the voucher can pay based on the cost of living in your area.

Avoid housing discrimination. A landlord may legally refuse occupancy for failure to pass background checks, poor credit, and other determinations, but cannot refuse occupancy to you based solely on your Section 8 enrollment.[4] Nor can a landlord charge a section 8 voucher holder more than a non-section-8 tenant.[5]

  • If you think a landlord has refused occupancy to you based solely on your Section 8 enrollment, contact your local PHA.

Know what role geography plays in Section 8 enrollment. Section 8 guidelines are different from location to location. But in general, residents who receive a tenant-based voucher for the current jurisdiction in which they live may use that voucher to live anywhere in the country. Residents who do not live in the same jurisdiction in which they applied must move to the jurisdiction that issues the voucher for at least 12 months; after 12 months, they are free to move.

  • Section 8 vouchers can also help you buy your home by getting a home loan at below-market interest rates. This enables you to use your voucher as a credit toward your mortgage rather than rent. Consult your local housing authority for more information.[6]

 

Don't commit fraud. Fraud can result in termination of Section 8 assistance, as well as restitution of funds, probation, or even prison.[7] Fraud may be defined as any of the following offenses:

  • Knowingly omitting or under-reporting income or assets from household income.
  • Transferring assets or income to achieve eligibility.
  • Falsifying or using false Social Security documents.
  • Falsifying the number of members in your household.
  • Getting assistance on top of Section 8 without notifying the appropriate parties
  • Renting out or subletting all or part of the unit.
  • Charging rent from any tenants who may be living with you.

Tips

  • You can move without losing your access to Section 8 housing. Be sure to notify your local PHA in advance, terminate your lease within lease provisions, and find new housing that fits within HUD health and safety standards.
  • Expect to wait before you hear a final determination on your application. Many Section 8 housing applicants are on waiting lists for months and even years.
  • Note that landlords must return any deposits held if the unit doesn’t pass the HUD inspection, and they have the right to turn away an applicant if the inspection cannot be completed within 10 days.
  • Click here to contact your local PHA. You can find the nearest HUD office here

Warnings

  • Don’t get tricked by professional scammers. There are fraudulent companies promising to help you complete the paperwork for Section 8 housing in return for a fee. You can get all the assistance you need to file for Section 8 housing free of charge simply by contacting the federal HUD office or your local public housing authority.
  • This article contains legal information, but does not constitute legal advice. If you feel that you need legal advice, consult an attorney.

References

  1.  http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/about/fact_sheet
  2.  http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_17060183
  3.  http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/about/fact_sheet
  4.  http://www.masslegalhelp.org/common-forms-of-housing-discrimination
  5.  http://www.tenantsunion.org/en/rights/section-8-vouchers
  6.  http://www.chfa.org/Homeownership/for%20Homebuyers/Homebuyer%20Mortgage%20Programs/Section8HomeownershipVoucherProgram.aspx
  7.  http://www.hudoig.gov/report-fraud

Republished with permission under license from WikiHow.

How Wealthy Towns Keep People With Housing Vouchers Out

Section 8 vouchers should give low-income people the opportunity to live outside poor communities. But discriminatory landlords, exclusionary zoning and the federal government’s hands-off approach leave recipients with few places to call home.

by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, The Connecticut Mirror

HARTFORD, Conn. — On a sweltering Saturday afternoon last June, Crystal Carter took a deep breath as she walked toward the red “for rent” sign.

Shaded by tall oak trees, the three-story duplex looked cozy. The first floor siding was painted yellow, with white railings leading to the front door. The windows appeared new, the lawn freshly cut.

Although the property was in Barry Square, on the edge of a struggling area in southern Hartford, the family outside buoyed Carter’s spirits. Four children giggled in a recliner in the front yard, singing along to the radio while their father packed a moving truck. Across the street were Trinity College’s dignified brick pillars, the entry to the elite school’s 100-acre campus.

Carter tried to tamp down her excitement, but this looked like the kind of place the 48-year-old single mother so desperately wanted for her five kids: no mouse traps, no chipped paint trying to camouflage mold.

“You own this place?” she asked the sweat-soaked man. Yes, he said. “Are you renting it out, or has it already been rented?”

He put down a crate and offered her a tour of the first-floor, four-bedroom unit. Inside, she marveled at the modern kitchen, finished hardwood floors and large closets.

“This is a lot of space. When are you putting this on the market?” she asked.

“It’s ready, if you want to do the application,” he told her. Rent was $1,500 a month.

Carter paused.

“I’ll be paying with a Section 8 voucher,” she said.

“Yeah,” the man shot back. “I don’t do Section 8.”

Officially called Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 rent subsidies were supposed to help low-income people find decent housing outside poor communities. But, for the better part of a year, Carter had found the opposite. This was easily the 50th place she had toured since her landlord sold her last apartment and evicted her. Nearly all of them were in poor areas. They had holes in the wall, uncovered electrical outlets, even roaches and mice. When she hit upon something clean, she learned not to ask too many questions. She complimented the landlord, talked about her children and emphasized that she didn’t smoke. None of it seemed to matter, though, once she uttered two words: Section 8.

Now, as Carter showed herself out of the first-floor rental, she felt panic welling within. “There really are no doors open for people that have a voucher,” she said afterward. “It makes you feel ashamed to even have one.” Typically, vouchers come with a time limit to find housing, and Carter had already won three extensions. She wasn’t sure she’d get another.

She had just 40 days left to find a place to live.

As the federal government retreated from building new public housing in the 1970s, it envisioned Section 8 vouchers as a more efficient way of subsidizing housing for the poor in the private market. They now constitute the largest rental assistance program in the country, providing almost $23 billion in aid each year to 2.2 million households. Local housing authorities administer the program with an annual budget from Washington and are given wide latitude on how many vouchers they hand out and how much each is worth. The bulk of the vouchers are reserved for families who make 30% or less of an area’s median income. That is $30,300 or less for a family of four in Hartford.

For years, researchers and policymakers have lamented the program’s failure to achieve one of its key goals: giving families a chance at living in safer communities with better schools. Low-income people across the country struggle to use their vouchers outside of high-poverty neighborhoods.

In Connecticut, the problem is especially acute. An analysis of federal voucher data by The Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica found that 55% of the state’s nearly 35,000 voucher holders live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty. That’s higher than the national average of 49% and the rates in 43 other states.

The segregation results, at least in part, from exclusionary zoning requirements that local officials have long used to block or limit affordable housing in prosperous areas. As the Mirror and ProPublica reported in November, state authorities have done little to challenge those practices, instead steering taxpayer money to build more subsidized developments in struggling communities.

Dozens of voucher holders in Connecticut say this concentration has left them with few housing options. Local housing authorities often provide a blue booklet of Section 8-friendly properties, but many of the ones listed are complexes that have a reputation for being rundown and are in struggling communities or have long waitlists. Many recipients call it the “Black Book” because “you are going to the dark side, for real. The apartments in that black book are nasty and disgusting,” said Janieka Lewis, a Hartford resident whose home is infested with mice.

Josh Serrano also lives in one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods. After landing a voucher in 2018, he tried to find a place in the middle-class town of West Hartford, where his son lives part time with his mother. He also looked in nearby Manchester and Simsbury. At each stop, the rent was higher than his voucher’s value or the landlord wouldn’t take a voucher.

“There is an invisible wall surrounding Hartford for those of us who are poor and particularly have black or brown skin like myself,” he said. “No community wanted me and my son.”

Nearly 80% of the state’s voucher holders are black or Hispanic and half have children. Their average income is $17,200 a year and the average amount they pay in rent out of pocket is $413 a month.

The federal government has taken a mostly hands-off approach to ensuring the Section 8 program is working as it was originally intended. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development typically leaves it up to each housing authority to determine how much a voucher is worth, which essentially determines the type of neighborhood a voucher holder can afford. And when HUD assesses the work of housing authorities — to decide whether to increase federal oversight — only a tiny fraction is based on whether local officials are “expanding housing opportunities … outside areas of poverty or minority concentration.” (And even at that, nearly all housing authorities receive full credit.)

Moreover, federal law does not make it illegal for a landlord to turn down a prospective tenant if they plan to pay with a voucher, so HUD does not investigate complaints of landlords who won’t accept Section 8 vouchers.

Connecticut goes further. It is one of 14 states where it’s illegal to deny someone housing because they plan to use a Section 8 voucher. And the state allocated more than $820,000 in the last fiscal year to help pay for 10 investigators to look into complaints of all types of housing discrimination and provide legal assistance. “There has been an effort to try to change” housing segregation, said Seila Mosquera-Bruno, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Housing.

But those efforts have done little to prevent landlords from continuing to reject voucher holders. The groups charged with investigating housing complaints say they lack the resources to be proactive and believe they are only seeing a fraction of what’s really going on.

“Housing providers keep coming up with ways to rent to who they want to rent and find ways around housing discrimination laws,” said Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, which investigates complaints. “There is a lot more discrimination going on than what we are investigating.”

In 2018, fewer than 75 complaints were made that accused the landlord or owner of refusing to accept a voucher or some other legal source of income, such as Social Security. The Connecticut Fair Housing Center said that figure isn’t low because discrimination is scarce but rather because prospective tenants are fearful that complaining could hurt them and know that it will do nothing to help them with their immediate needs; investigations can take longer than the time they have to find a house with their vouchers.

“In order to make it a real priority and address the real effects of discrimination in society, the government should dedicate more resources to ferreting it out,” said Greg Kirschner, the group’s legal director.

A Hartford native, Carter reluctantly moved back to her hometown in 2011 to escape an abusive relationship. She had delayed relocating, she said, because she worried she’d be taking her children from a quiet neighborhood in Florida to a “war zone” in Connecticut.

“They not from the streets. Their heart is trying to be goofy-cool,” she said of her three sons, now 10, 17 and 18, and two daughters, ages 13 and 14. “They don’t have that fight in them. I do.” (Worried about her children’s privacy, Carter asked that they not be named in this story.)

Crystal Carter (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

She and her children moved into a homeless shelter and then an extended-stay motel. She saw Section 8 as their path to independence, and she started calling housing authorities around the state to apply for and get on waiting lists for a voucher. At first, Carter limited her search to Connecticut’s middle-class and upper-income towns, hoping to settle in a place with low crime and high-performing schools.

But with each call, she lost hope. She met the income requirements — hers was less than half the state’s average household income — but the waitlists had thousands of families in front of her, if they weren’t closed entirely.

When she found out that the Winchester Housing Authority in Northwest Connecticut had just 67 people on its waitlist, she got excited; among the affluent region’s celebrity residents are Meryl Streep and Ralph Nader. The feeling was quickly dashed. Officials barred her from the list, saying it was open only to those who already lived in the predominantly white towns. The housing authority did not return calls seeking comment.

“That lady told me I would be better off living in Bridgeport,” Carter recalled. The city is one of Connecticut’s most impoverished. “She would not send me out an application for nothing in the world, no matter how many times I called. She kept saying, ‘Go to Bridgeport.’”

Blocking those who don’t live in town from getting a housing subsidy is against the law, but housing authorities are allowed to prioritize whom they award the vouchers to.

Both ways can effectively shut out minorities. And the Winchester Housing Authority is not alone. The wealthy town of Westport — where just 1% of the residents are black and 5% are Hispanic — until recently posted on its website that it gave substantial preference to current residents and those with ties to the town for its public housing. After the Connecticut Mirror and ProPublica asked about the policy, officials removed the language from the site and disavowed the practice.

Carter decided to fight back. Her mother had worked for the Hartford Housing Authority for decades, so she was familiar with housing rules. “I pretty much know all my rights,” she said later. She called the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and soon sued Winchester for housing discrimination.

The housing authority denied any wrongdoing, and the case dragged on for more than a year. The parties settled, with Winchester pledging to open its waiting list to those outside its borders. But instead of accepting applications from Carter and others, Winchester stopped participating in the voucher program altogether.

Amid the legal battle, she landed a voucher from the middle-class town of West Hartford. She was jubilant. Then, she started searching. “There were no places no matter how hard I looked,” Carter said. “It’s not a golden ticket.”

Approaching the time limit to find housing with her voucher, she settled for Hartford, where her family ultimately moved into a quaint four-bedroom duplex on a quiet street in the South End. Another bright spot: After a few months in the city’s struggling schools, her children had won coveted spots to attend school in the suburbs of Suffield and Simsbury, which have some of the highest-performing schools in the state. (The education lottery stemmed from a Connecticut Supreme Court order in 1996 to correct the inequality inherent in the Hartford region’s segregated schools.)

The change was stark. In Simsbury, educators taught smaller classes; the school had a social worker and other staff who helped coordinate transportation for Carter’s children and enrolled them in free extracurricular programs. Clubs focused on the stock market, horticulture, mindfulness, fly fishing.

“We was grounded,” Carter said, “and didn’t have to worry about living.”

A neighborhood in Simsbury, Connecticut, one of the suburbs where Carter’s children attend school, thanks to winning an education lottery. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

Carter found the notice under her door. It was the summer of 2018. Her landlord of four years had sold the building, and the new owner had given her just 30 days to leave.

Carter was deflated. It had taken so long to find this apartment, and she had no free time; she worked long hours as a ramp loader at the airport for an Amazon Prime subcontractor. Further, the conditions of the education lottery restricted her options; in order for her children to remain in their current schools, they had to live in either Simsbury or Hartford. So when the deadline to move passed, Carter refused to leave. Her landlord filed for eviction. The legal fight lasted for months.

On a frigid morning in January 2019, Carter saw her children off to school and then headed to Hartford Housing Court, a brown brick building a half-block from the state Capitol.

The courtroom was packed with families facing eviction and their landlords’ attorneys, but when the bailiff yelled out her name, she still felt humiliated.

Carter pleaded her case above the squeals of a restless baby in the gallery. She told the judge her choices were bleak: either remain in the duplex and eventually be evicted, or leave and become homeless.

“I just can’t find an adequate four-bedroom. It’s not like I’m just sitting there. I know the man want me out. It’s obvious the man want me out,” she told Judge Rupal Shah. “I’ve been looking in Hartford. I’ve been looking in Simsbury. …”

But not having anywhere to go is not a valid defense — the judge gave her 10 days to move.

Eviction rates are high in Connecticut, with 1 in 18 families in Hartford evicted each year. While some skipped rent or damaged property, others are forced out because of new ownership or rising rents. Landlords will often start the eviction process on tenants in good standing to speed up the move-out process, said Nancy Hronek, a housing attorney with Greater Hartford Legal Aid. Regardless of the circumstances, an eviction stains a tenant’s rental record, making it more difficult for them to find a new place. Some housing advocates call it the “Scarlet E.”

A blighted neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut, near where Carter searched for housing. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

On the morning of Feb. 7, Carter heard a knock on the door. It was a state marshal. She hadn’t finished emptying the apartment, so the marshal began hauling her belongings outside. Within minutes, her furniture was strewn across the front lawn. Her children helped her load everything into a moving van. Fog hung in the air as they drove away in silence.

Her family crammed into a relative’s apartment in a nearby city. The whole family slept in one room; the three boys in one bed, Carter and her two girls in another. Often, one of them would sleep on the couch in the family room. Everyone stuffed their clothes into a single dresser. The rest of their things moldered in storage.

The social worker at school tried to get the kids into free camps and after-school clubs, but they started to act out. They resisted getting up for school, and their grades started to suffer. The principal called to express concern.

“Now we shelled in this house,” Carter said. “This neighborhood, it ain’t really great, so my kids are just stuck in a room all day playing video games or on YouTube.”

Then, Carter lost her job; the shipping business where she worked took a hit and the company downsized. She redoubled her housing search.

Carter woke before dawn. Sitting at a half-moon table in the dimly lit kitchen, she opened her phone to review apartment listings on a handful of websites while her children slept. Facebook Market, Craigslist, Trulia, Zillow, Apartments.com. She kept checking her phone for notifications of new offerings in Simsbury and Hartford.

It had been four months since her eviction.

“Every day, I look — and nothing works out,” she said.

Most of the listings were in impoverished communities in Hartford. Carter doesn’t drive, so she would line up tours and then ride the bus for an hour to the city. Many of the units she described as “shitholes.”

The Obama administration had tried to change this dynamic. In 2011, HUD piloted a program in the Dallas area that raised the value of vouchers in high-cost areas and decreased their value in impoverished communities as a result of a legal settlement. The idea was that more money would provide more choice, encouraging voucher holders to seek housing in safer areas with high-performing schools.

The Obama administration changed federal rules to expand the program, but the Trump administration in 2017 suspended an expansion of the initiative to poor cities like Hartford.

Carter sued HUD in 2017 in federal district court in Washington, seeking a court order increasing the value of her voucher in the more affluent neighborhoods of Hartford. The judge ruled in her favor.

Researchers have found that raising the voucher’s value in certain neighborhoods worked to make more housing available within the voucher’s price range. The share of rental units in better-off areas that voucher holders could afford jumped from 18% to 41%, according to New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

But now, two years later, Carter often found herself turned away from nicer places. That summer, she saw an ad for an idyllic Cape Cod in a quiet neighborhood, so she called the management company to arrange a tour. But when she disclosed that she planned to pay with a voucher, the firm told her it was no longer available and suggested listings in poorer areas. When Carter passed by a few weeks later, she saw a “for rent” sign on the front lawn.

Frustrated with her online search, Carter sometimes asked friends and family to drive her around the better-off sides of Hartford looking for unlisted apartments. She also relied on her social network to send her tips. She heard about the yellow house in Barry Square from her oldest son, who came across it while he was out with friends.

“There is no place for us,” Carter said. “How can I say this without being too blunt: Everybody don’t want us in their backyard. It’s not a color thing. It’s a voucher thing. Nobody wants us.”

Around the country, the federal government has largely outsourced investigating housing discrimination complaints to watchdogs like the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

After disability discrimination, the second most common type of complaint Connecticut’s watchdogs receive is that a landlord won’t take a voucher or another legal source of income. But only 17% of people who suffer discrimination actually end up filing a complaint, research shows.

Like most apartment hunters, Carter had no time to file complaints. After the Barry Square landlord rejected her, she headed to another open house, which she had found on Craigslist. It was a five-bedroom in the Clay Arsenal neighborhood, a part of Hartford known for drug dealing. Her oldest son had once witnessed his friend being shot in this neighborhood in a carjacking.

“My brain is telling me don’t do this,” she said. “My kids aren’t built for this life”

She pushed her hair into her black duckbill newsboy cap and walked up the stairs. Inside, she scanned the floor and saw glue traps to catch mice. “It’s just as a precaution,” the owner said. Carter thought about her 13-year-old daughter, who has severe asthma; rodent infestations can trigger the condition.

As she made her way into the main bedroom, she looked at the doors. A dog had scratched through the flimsy material. The carpet was worn. And a hallway closet had been turned into a bedroom. The rent: $1,600.

Carter couldn’t wait to leave. She stepped outside, and the landlord assured her that she would have the carpets cleaned and the doors repaired. An exterminator would come monthly.

“Do you take vouchers?” Carter asked.

“That’s not a problem,” the owner responded.

Time was running out. In late July, Carter’s relative heard from their landlord. There were too many people in the apartment.

Carter and three of her children stayed while her two older sons moved in with her brother about 20 miles away. Her grasp on her voucher was also tenuous. It had been set to expire in August but, after attorneys at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the civil rights group Open Communities Alliance took up her case, she won a 30-day reprieve.

She’d turned down the apartment with mouse traps. But now she was forced to consider a different place in the same neighborhood; it too had mouse traps. Panicked, she started the process of finalizing a lease by sending paperwork to the Hartford Housing Authority.

Even then, she hit a snag: Housing officials approved the apartment but not the entire rent.

Carter called everyone she thought could help. Among them was Erin Boggs, a civil rights attorney she met years ago during the waiting list lawsuit.

It was a long shot, but Boggs sent emails to her advocacy network, including a Catholic deacon whose parish is in Simsbury. The town is mostly wealthy and white, with a latticework of bike trails and a pedestrian bridge lined with flower pots. Rental stock was sparse. In her note, Boggs described Carter as a “civil rights hero” who needed a hand. Within hours, the deacon called a member of his congregation.

Josh Livingston rented a handful of houses in town and had just purchased a four-bedroom Cape Cod set on a wooded lot, just off the main road. The two talked about how much harder life is for people with fewer resources. The next morning, Livingston emailed Boggs, “I can’t stop thinking about the chance to help Crystal and her family live in Simsbury.”

Livingston had listed the Cape for $2,300 a month, plus utilities. But Carter’s voucher, adjusted for the area’s higher income, would only cover $2,222. He agreed to the reduced price and to cover utilities.

In mid-August, Boggs called Carter with the news. Carter was shocked. She had roughly two weeks left on her voucher and soon went to tour the house. The Cape was across the street from a “Welcome to Simsbury” sign adorned with purple mums. It was bigger than any place Carter had ever imagined herself living in. Fronted by a lawn peppered with colorful leaves from the tall trees, the two-story house had a detached garage and carport. Inside, there was an eat-in kitchen, a fireplace and a sunroom.

Carter and her landlord, Josh Livingston, outside her new rental home in Simsbury. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

Later, when a housing inspector came to confirm that the property was safe, Livingston glimpsed the prejudice that Carter experienced. “He said to me: ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a fantastic house. I really hope they don’t ruin it,’” the landlord recalled.

Carter and her family moved in just before Halloween. Someone left a welcome pumpkin and leaf wreath on her front stoop.

On a recent Saturday morning, she was busy tidying the kitchen before work; she had found a job at the Stop and Shop grocery store across the street. A roast defrosted on the counter, near a stack of coupon leaflets. On the windowsill above the sink was a homemade blue and red painted welcome plaque given to her by one of her children. Next to the dinner table, a sign reading, “Life is better at the beach.”

“It’s just so cozy,” Carter said.

In the living room, family photos rested on built-in bookshelves, and donations from the nearby Catholic Church were slowly filling the space: pots and pans, firewood, side tables. Upstairs, the children had their own bedrooms.

Carter still marvels at the turnaround. “My story is different only because I had all these people who know people,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. I would be in the slums.”

Carter in her new rental home in Simsbury. (Monica Jorge for ProPublica)

Her children are now able to participate in Simbury’s after-school clubs because they can catch the late bus home. Her 14-year-old daughter just joined the fencing team. At night, Carter and her kids spend hours sitting next to the hearth of their fireplace, scanning the woods for the bears that her neighbors talk about.


Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.

 

Children of color already make up the majority of kids in many US states

by Rogelio Sáenz, The University of Texas at San Antonio and Dudley L. Poston, Jr., Texas A&M University

Demographers project that whites will become a minority in the U.S. in around 2045, dropping below 50% of the population.

That’s a quarter-century from now – still a long way away, right?

Not if you focus on children. White children right now are on the eve of becoming a numerical minority.

The U.S. white majority is shrinking. 

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that, by the middle of 2020, nonwhites will account for the majority of the nation’s 74 million children.

Children in 2018

The share of the U.S. non-Hispanic white population has fallen since the mid-20th century.

Between 2010 and 2018, the number of white children fell by 2.8 million, or 7.1%. In contrast, nonwhite children grew by 6.1%.

In 2018, the last year for which data are currently available, the proportion of people in the U.S. under 18 years of age was just barely more white than nonwhite.

However, children under 11 were more nonwhite than white.

In almost one-third of U.S. states, nonwhite children outnumber all white children under 18 in 14 states – including Nevada, Hawaii, Georgia and Maryland – plus the District of Columbia.

Nonwhite children currently outnumber white children ages 0 to 4 in these 15 states and in Louisiana. In the next few years, the same will be true in North Carolina, Illinois and Virginia, followed a little later by Connecticut and Oklahoma.

In the coming decades, the percentage of all white children will drop – from 49.8% in 2020 to 36.4% in 2060.

A growing trend

Why will white children become the numerical minority?

We draw on the insights of demographer Kenneth Johnson and his colleagues to understand this trend.

First, the declining number of white children reflects the significant aging of the white population.

Whites in the U.S. have a median age of 43.6, much higher than those of all other racial or ethnic groups. Latinos, in particular, are much younger, with a median age of 29.5.

Slightly more than one-fifth of whites are age 65 and older, while elders account for only about one-tenth of nonwhites. Indeed, today in the U.S. there are more white elders than white children.

The older age of whites is mainly due to fewer white births than white deaths. Between July 2017 and July 2018, there were 0.88 white births in the U.S. for every 1 white death. In the case of Latinos, the ratio was 5 births for every 1 death.

Whites also have lower fertility rates than most other racial and ethnic groups.

Even if white women increased their fertility levels, their actual numbers of births would not go up that much, because there is a shrinking number of white women of childbearing age.

Only 41% of white women aged 15 and older are in the childbearing ages of 15 to 44, when most births occur, compared to 57% of nonwhite women.

What the future holds

In the coming decades, people of color will have an increasing presence in all U.S. institutions, in higher education, the workforce and the electorate.

Americans are already seeing the consequences of these demographic shifts in higher education. Between 2009 and 2017, the number of white undergraduate students in the U.S. dropped by 1.7 million, while the number of Latino undergraduates rose by 1.1 million.

In addition, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections show that, between 2014 and 2024, the white share of the civilian labor force is declining, while the share of nonwhites is estimated to rise.

Furthermore, people of color will increasingly be part of the voter rolls and slates of political office seekers in the coming decades.

Despite these expected changes, one thing is certain. The white population is not going to disappear. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that whites will still be the largest racial or ethnic group, accounting for 44.3% of the nation’s population in 2060 and outnumbering Latinos, the second largest group, by 67.9 million.

The reality is that whites will not dominate demographically as they have throughout most of U.S. history, when they accounted for as much as 90% of the country’s population. Roughly speaking, the share of the U.S. white population in 2060 will be the same as it is now in Las Vegas, about 44%.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

The made-up crisis behind the state takeover of Houston’s public schools

by Domingo Morel, Rutgers University Newark

If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking over the Houston Independent School District.

But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June.

The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining a list of over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers during the past 30 years.

The list includes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and Newark. Houston is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S.

While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power.

States fail to deliver

State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.

But while the takeovers don’t deliver promised results, as I show in my book, they do have significant negative political and economic consequences for communities, which overwhelmingly are communities of color. These negative consequences often include the removal of locally elected school boards. They also involve decreases in teachers and staff and the loss of local control of schools.

Despite the highly problematic history of state takeovers, states have justified the takeovers on the grounds that the entire school district is in need of improvement. However, this is not the case for the Houston takeover because by the state’s own standards, the Houston school system is not failing.

Low threshold for state intervention

Following a 2015 law, HB 1842, the state of Texas was granted authority to take over a school district if a single school in that district fails to meet state education standards for five or more years. The bill was passed by the Republican controlled state legislature with Democratic support. However, Democratic state lawmakers representing Houston argue that the law was a mistake and urged for it to be revised.

Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not met state standards for seven years. According to state law, the state can take over a school district or close a school if it fails to meet standards for five years.

The Houston Independent School District has 280 schools. The district serves over 200,000 students. It employs roughly 12,000 teachers. Wheatley High School serves roughly 800 students and has roughly 50 teachers.

So why would a state take over a school district that has earned a B rating from the state? And why base the takeover on the performance of one school that represents fewer than 1% of the district’s student and teaching population?

In order to understand the logic of the planned state takeover of the Houston schools, it pays to understand the important role that schools have played in the social, political and economic development of communities of color. Historically, communities of color have relied on school level politics as an entry point to broader political participation. School level politics may involve issues like ending school segregation, demanding more resources for schools, increasing the numbers of teachers and administrators of color, and participating in school board elections.

The process of gaining political power at the local level – and eventually state level – often begins at the schools, particularly the school board. For instance, before blacks and Latinos elect members of their communities to the city councils, the mayor’s office, and state legislatures, they often elect members to the school board first.

Political representation at stake

In Texas, communities of color are politically underrepresented. Although blacks, Latinos, and Asians represent nearly 60% of the population in Texas, their political power at the state level is not proportional to their population. Whites make up 64% of the state legislature. The Republican Party controls the governorship, state House of Representatives and state Senate, but only 4% of all Republican state legislators are of color. Communities of color in Texas have filed lawsuits arguing that they have been prevented from gaining political representation at the state level by Republicans through racial gerrymandering and voter identification laws that disenfranchise black and Latino voters.

However, despite years of systematic exclusion of people of color, the political landscape is changing in Texas. Texas is increasingly urbanizing as a result of population growth in the state’s cities. Since urban voters are more likely to vote Democratic, the growth in the urban population may potentially alter political dynamics in the state. Also, while African Americans have solidly identified with the Democratic Party in Texas, Latinos have not. But that, too, is changing. Polls show that Latino support for Republican presidential candidates in Texas went from a high of 49% during George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, to 35% for McCain in 2008, 29% for Romney in 2012, to a low of 18% for Trump in 2016.

Houston, as the largest urban center in Texas, is at the forefront of this challenge to the Republican grip of state power in Texas. The Houston schools, in particular, are representative of the state’s demographic and political future. The nine-member Houston school board is reflective of the community it serves. It has four Latinos, three African Americans, one Asian and one white. This, in my view, is what has put the Houston public school system and school board at the forefront of a battle that is really about race and political power.

The Houston public school system is not failing. Rather, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Republican state legislature are manufacturing an education crisis to prevent people of color in Houston from exercising their citizenship rights and seizing political power.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.