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‘Affordable housing’ is more than a buzzword
Katrina Bostick
Katrina Bostick Executive Director, Family Promise of the Coastal Empire

By Katrina Bostick

 Language is a powerful tool that shapes our perceptions, influences our thoughts, and ultimately impacts our actions. Among the myriad terms that pepper our daily conversations, political debates, and media narratives, “affordable housing” stands out as a buzzword with significant societal implications. While intended to address a critical issue, the term can also contribute to an “us versus them” mentality, highlighting how language can be used to perpetuate division and segregation.

The loaded nature of “affordable housing”

“Affordable housing” is a term laden with assumptions and connotations. For some, it represents a necessary and compassionate effort to provide for those in need. For others, it evokes images of crowded, poorly maintained buildings and concerns about property values and neighborhood safety. This dichotomy creates a clear divide: those who support and benefit from affordable housing; and those who perceive it as threatening their way of life.

 The phrase often becomes a proxy for deeper, more contentious issues such as economic disparity, racial segregation, and social justice. By framing the conversation around “affordable housing,” we inadvertently set up a battle between the haves and the have-nots, reinforcing existing social and economic divides.

The role of media and political rhetoric

Media and political rhetoric play a crucial role in shaping public perception. When politicians and news outlets discuss affordable housing, their language can either bridge gaps or widen them. Phrases like “protecting our neighborhoods” or “keeping our communities safe” often imply that affordable housing is a threat, fostering fear and resistance among current residents. This rhetoric perpetuates economic silos, marginalizing lower- to moderate-income individuals and reinforcing social inequities.

Conversely, terms like “inclusive communities” or “housing for all” can promote a sense of unity and shared purpose. However, these positive framings are less common and often less resonant with a public conditioned to see social issues through an adversarial lens.

Historical context and segregation

The impact of language on segregation is not a new phenomenon. Historically, terms like “urban renewal” and “public housing” have been used to justify policies that displaced minority communities and reinforced racial and economic segregation. These buzzwords, while seemingly neutral or even positive, masked the true intent and impact of the policies they described.

Today, “affordable housing” can function similarly. When used without careful consideration, it can perpetuate stereotypes and fears that hinder the development of truly integrated and equitable communities.

Toward a more inclusive language

To move beyond the divisive power of buzzwords like “affordable housing,” we need to adopt a more inclusive and thoughtful approach to language. This means:

1.  Choosing words wisely: Using terms that emphasize common goals and shared benefits rather than differences and threats. For example, “community housing” or “housing equity” can shift the focus from division to inclusion.

2.  Contextualizing issues: Providing the historical and social context behind housing policies to foster a deeper understanding of their impact on different communities.

3.  Highlighting success stories: Sharing positive examples of diverse, inclusive communities that have benefited from equitable housing policies can counteract fear-based narratives; and

4.  Encouraging dialogue: Promoting open, honest conversations about housing and other social issues can help break down the barriers created by divisive language.

Language has the power to either segregate or unite us. By being mindful of the words we use and the narratives we promote, we can shift the conversation from “us versus them” to one that recognizes our shared humanity and common goals. In the context of affordable housing, this means framing the issue in a way to foster understanding, empathy, and cooperation, paving the way for more inclusive and equitable communities. Join Family Promise of the Coastal Empire in creating “inclusive communities” for all residents.

[Katrina Bostick is the executive director for Family Promise of the Coastal Empire.]