Way back at a 2007 organizational retreat, staff of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (now the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center) grappled with some major issues that our neighbors and our organization were facing. One was the sheer volume and intensity of fair housing violations being committed in our region after Katrina. Housing discrimination based on race, disability and family status was keeping former residents of the Gulf Coast from coming home. Further, there was a whole generation of kids growing up witnessing the grave injustices committed against some of our most vulnerable neighbors. How could we take our work to the next level in order to stop these cycles of injustice?
The other major issue that staff faced was one of sustainability for our organization. In the wake of the receding floodwaters of 2005, GNOFHAC grew quickly due to generous donations from individuals and unprecedented philanthropic investments in our organization and region. But we knew that at some point, it was likely that financial support would start to wane as individuals, foundations, and the federal government turned their attentions elsewhere. How could we sustain our growth?
The Fair Housing Five is one answer to both of these questions. Developed by GNOFHAC in collaboration with New Orleans educators, parents and students through a series of workshops and focus groups, The Fair Housing Five is an illustrated children’s book about kids who take action in their neighborhood in response to a landlord who is discriminating. It is a book designed to initiate conversations between parents, caregivers, teachers and children about housing discrimination, systemic inequality, and the important role that we all have in ending both. Strategically, we also aimed to inform parents, caregivers, and educators about their fair housing rights when they read the book with children. Finally, we hope the book will empower youth to advocate for justice and create positive change in their communities.
Since it was first published in 2010, The Fair Housing Five has been incorporated into classrooms and youth programs across the country, has reached thousands of young students, and was featured in HUD’s Evidence Matters publication as an innovative tool for educating the community about fair housing. In 2015 and 2016, the book was introduced into all public elementary schools in the Baltimore County school system! In 2016, the book was translated into Spanish and Los Cinco de Vivienda Justa was born, allowing us to reach an even larger audience.
The urgent need to incorporate lessons on civil rights and social justice into our nation’s classrooms is underlined by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s dismal finding that a whopping 16 U.S. states do not require teachers to cover the Civil Rights Movement at all. According to the SPLC’s report (you can—and should—read it here), 35 out of 50 states cover “less than 20 percent – or, in many cases none – of the required content” of this major period of American history. If students are to understand and process current events and the ongoing struggle for racial justice in the United States, it is imperative that they have foundational knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement and the events and leaders that molded our society into its current state.
Revenue from book sales go straight back into LaFHAC programs, to ensure that there are adequate resources for both fair housing enforcement and education. By purchasing a copy of the book, you are participating in an innovative strategy to end housing discrimination in Louisiana and in your own community.