With growing needs for housing as our urban population grows, we need to be pro-housing but explicitly pro-affordable housing, not just whatever housing “the market” wants to put on the ground anywhere. As older cities in the Rust Belt continue to die and become more unlivable, more and more people eyeing the high-income tech industry see California as a desirable location. But as our state leaders simply promote development without clear and strong affordable housing objectives, this leaves individuals and families to fend for themselves based on their income status. This is especially true for people of color in general and African-Americans in particular. There are already inequities of access to housing. Are those inequities rebalanced with current and proposed policies or are they being made worse?
Communities of color are most at risk of displacement when market-rate development is incentivized. State leaders should learn from the historic lessons of Urban Renewal and Redevelopment. In the 1960s and ’70s, as urban renewal destroyed and tore down the housing in inner cities to make way for new development and affluent whites moved to the suburbs, many people of color were forced from San Francisco. To partially offset this displacement, affordable and subsidized housing was built in its place, and people of color moved in. Now, because of the looming crisis of expiring affordable housing deed restrictions, housing is going to market prices, and neighborhoods are becoming “hot” for young people moving to cities.
Gentrification and displacement in low-income and communities of color is a real thing: It is happening in San Francisco and other urban cities at an accelerating pace. It’s not just hyperbole. That means that any policy proposals from the state capitol need to ensure they don’t cause harm to some people while benefiting others. The situation on the ground in places like the Western Addition is not the same as in Brisbane or Pleasanton or a neighborhood of Palo Alto. Legislators need to be careful about assuming their “solutions” work the same in all places.
Addressing housing needs for the growing state population is necessary — everyone agrees. But the “devil is in the details” about who actually benefits from the specific policy proposals.
As federal budget proposals are being argued in Congress, there has been no mention of spending for housing nor has U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson outlined or laid out any affordable housing proposal. A report just released by the California Housing Partnership and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California found that funding for affordable housing in the Bay Area by State and federal governments has dropped by 65 percent since 2008. This being the case, it will be left to the cities and state to work out policies to solve the coming affordable housing crisis.
Increasing funding for affordable housing is important, as is allowing cities to require developers to provide some affordable below-market-rate units. And the state must make sure that the suburbs do their part in providing affordable housing and welcoming people of color, and in some cases, the state may have to enforce fair housing laws.
But there must be caution, too. Proposals for accelerating market-rate development in low-income and communities of color is risky. We need to make sure communities of color and low-income families and individuals benefit from housing policy, not get displaced by it. We also need to make sure that communities of color are involved in decision-making and are part of the solution. To this end, nonprofits composed of people of color must also be selected to be developers of below-market-rate housing, not just consumers.
Housing advocates and our electeds can and should work together to get it right. We can learn from past housing injustices and not repeat them as our urban neighborhoods are redeveloped once again. Most important, in the end, is that our state and local leaders be very clear how their housing policy “solutions” benefit communities of color.
Wade Woods is a longtime resident and organizer in the Western Addition community of San Francisco and is an elected delegate to the state Democratic Party. Woods can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eye on The State is a monthly column that examines the local implications of housing proposals brewing in the Capitol from the perspective of community, housing, labor and environmental advocates representing everyday people.