Chair DeLauro Statement at Creating Equitable Communities through Transportation and Housing Hearing
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said, quote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And while injustice is certainly everywhere, it does not just happen anywhere. It is grounded in that ‘where.’ It is defined and entrenched by time and place.
There was a time, not too long ago, when Black Americans were legally segregated – forced to live and work and raise their families in communities that often lacked the basic infrastructure and amenities afforded to other Americans. Racist policies that marginalized Black communities further solidified patterns of inequity. And while these laws and policies have not withstood the test of time, the injustice that they caused cannot be so easily displaced.
As we will hear from our witnesses today, many Black-owned homes, churches, schools, and businesses were destroyed to build highways because of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. This expansion of highways, coupled with suburbanization, created a culture of car use that marginalized public transit riders who were disproportionately low-income and Black. And policies of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA) from the 1940s to the 1960s prevented Black Americans from financing their homes with FHA or VA loans.
In my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, we are still seeing the devastating consequences of these abhorrent policies. Homeownership remains elusive in areas that were subjected to redlining. And regardless of where they live, Black and Hispanic families still have much lower homeownership rates than white families, leaving many of these families with little to no opportunities to build wealth and break generational cycles of poverty.
During the construction of the I-95 in New Haven in the 1950s, 3,000 homes and 350 small businesses in the primarily non-white Oak Street neighborhood were destroyed. At the time the mayor of New Haven, described the area as “a hard core of cancer which had to be removed.” But the cancer is not the people or the places that were destroyed. The cancer is the racism and the systems of inequity that continue to spread and metastasize to this day.
While we cannot change the past, we do have the power to change the future. As lawmakers, we must work to rectify these historic crimes. The inequalities created by the policies of the past continue to undermine the creation of equitable communities today. Congress and all of us who serve this nation must better understand these problems. We must work to find solutions that address these inequalities. And we must create transportation and housing systems that are more equitable, fair, and just… not just anywhere but everywhere.