Housing and Homelessness in San Francisco: Panel Conversation at ComNet18
Sean Gibbons, CEO of The Communications Network introduces Consuelo Escorcia, Lobby Attendant at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis and UNITE HERE Local 2 member. Consuelo Escorcia shares a few words about the national labor strike at Marriott hotels. Fred Blackwell, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation leads a discussion with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, KQED’s Metro Reporter Sandhya Dirks, Angela Jenkins of Kaiser Permanente, Caitlyn Fox of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Jennifer Martinez of PICO California on the housing and homelessness challenges facing the Bay Area.
Fred Blackwell: Thank you. I had to make my grand entrance. It’s a pleasure to be with you all this morning. What we want to do is present to you the complexity of the housing crisis and affordability problem that we have in the Bay Area here, and give you a sense of the scope and scale of the problem, but also how we as a group of folks who actually we all work together quite a bit on this issue around some of the solutions that we are working on. Then also what we think is some of the ways that we talked about this, and ways that not only get people here in the Bay Area to understand the depth of the problem, but also move people to action, which I think is the most important part of this.
We have a short amount of time, and so we’re gonna try to go through this in a way that sparks some dialogue and then gets you engaged. But I just wanted to say a few things about it before jumping in. One is we are sitting here in San Francisco, but the housing issue here in the Bay Area is one that is very much regional in nature. What you’ll hear from all the folks who are gonna speak to you this morning, is both the part of this that really gets down to a neighborhood and community level, but also scales up to a regional level. When we talk about solutions, what you’ll hear is a variety of things that go from the things that local jurisdictions can do, all the way to advocacy and legislative approaches that we are all thinking about in terms of what the state can do to help us here, regionally.
I think the second thing that I wanted to mention is that we are talking about an issue that has impacts across sectors, and across a variety of stakeholder groups. You’ve got up here, a panel today that will give you a sense of what the problem and solutions look like from a corporate perspective, from a public sector perspective, from a community organizing perspective. This is a issue that impacts homeowners, renters, people of various age groups, people of various races and ethnicities, and it manifests itself in a variety of ways. I know in your walks through San Francisco, going from place to place, you can see it really manifest itself in the most visible and heartbreaking ways, when you see the homeless issue here in the city of San Francisco. But it’s also manifested and can be seen in other places as well. We’ll try to draw all that out in our conversation, and also draw you into both some insight into how we talk about it, but hopefully some advice around how you might help us talk about it.
Mayor Schaaf, I’d like to start with you. Can you just give us a little bit of detail on how this issue presents itself in Oakland, and the kinds of issues and challenges that it presents to you as Mayor?
Libby Schaaf: Sure. Oakland, for those of you who might not know, the city just on the other side of the Bay Bridge. We are a city of about 425,000 people. San Francisco is roughly twice our size, and San Jose is probably two and a half times our size. But we’re part of this Bay Area region, nine counties, more than 100 cities that are very interconnected.
In Oakland, since 2011, we have seen rents go up 52%. In fact, for a while there, we found ourselves to be ranked as the fourth most expensive city in America to live in. Trust me, three of the other four were also in the Bay Area. Our housing prices have more than doubled during that time period. There is this deep sense that long-time Oaklanders, and particularly the African-American community, has gotten pushed out of Oakland. The census results between 2000 and 2010 saw a 25% reduction in African-Americans in Oakland. That has always been part of our identity, our culture. All these things set a stage of a lot of anger, insecurity, and just a sense that we are in a region out of control.
On the other side, right now in Oakland, we are experiencing the biggest building boom that we have seen since the 1906 earthquake. We literally have 8,600 units of housing under construction right now. Last year, we had six times the building permits pulled, as we have seen in any single year for more than decade. There’s a lot of fear about these cranes that are in the air. As we see a wealthier Silicon Valley-employed set of residents moving into our city, we are seeing homelessness just mushroom. Maybe that’s the wrong word for it, but it just cropping up everywhere in a very in-your-face visible way. That is the stage setting for Oakland.
I will just give one kind of context about how we relate to the rest of the Bay Area. Since you are all communicators, you know that we have to illustrate things through stories. I do have to give my hats off to you. It always amazes me. I’m just finishing out my first term as the Mayor of Oakland, and how really possibly the most important part of my job is to be the Communicator in Chief for my city. All right, let’s hear it for the communicators.
But so how does things outside of Oakland impact Oakland? The city of Cupertino welcomed a new Apple Headquarters. The year that that headquarters opened, and 12,000 new employees started coming to Cupertino every day, that same year the city approved permits to build only 27 new units of housing. Yeah. Dallas, we have a problem. This expansion of Silicon Valley, the fact that as a region the Bay Area for more than a decade has been adding eight jobs for every one new unit of housing that it has been building, impacts all of us in ways that are not always obvious. Because that Apple Headquarters did not get built in Oakland. It got built in Cupertino. But a bunch of the employees are now living in Oakland and doing that 90 minute commute. It does impact us, what is happening in other cities, even though we don’t see it, even though it doesn’t hit the local newspaper headlines, but it’s impacting all of us.
That’s the stage of what’s happening in Oakland, how people are feeling, and how it is part of a much bigger regional dynamic.
Thank you. Jennifer, I’d like to draw you into this conversation as someone who has been an organizer and strategist with PICO California. I know that you have been in different communities and throughout the Bay Area, working with families that are struggling with these issues. Now you’re thinking at a regional level of scale around how to be responsive to some of the challenges that are being faced by particularly the most vulnerable in the region. Can you talk a little bit about the problem from your vantage point?
Jennifer M.: Sure. Good morning. I can’t see you, but I’m assuming you’re out there. One of the challenges of this problem is that it is often discussed in the public as a challenge around the economy, an economic problem, and we talk about things like units of housing. I’m often reminded by my own family’s story, that housing is a very personal thing. If we all think about what was the home you grew up in, what’s the home you have now, where did you raise your children, this is a personal issue for people, whether you own your home or rent it. Often times, in my view, renters are people who are not considered to be very valuable to our communities. Yet what is happening throughout our country, partly after the aftermath of the housing crisis and the Great Recession, is that most people in this country are now becoming renters. We are becoming a renter-majority nation. That is certainly true in the Bay Area. We are headed in that direction.
The problem, however, is never seen as one that we need to fix for those renters. We call those things rent control, and Just Cause for Eviction. These are terms that are used and policies that are passed that are scary to folks, but what we’re seeing is that for our community to retain its diversity, to retain equity, the principles and values that many of us in the Bay Area – and many parts of the country, of course – espouse and want to see in our communities, if we do not have a plan for renters, then we will never get there.
Certainly, we’re seeing, much like Mayor Schaaf said, people being displaced. We’re seeing what we’re calling a resegregation of the region, where people who have historically lived in quite frankly were redlined communities, communities that were not allowed access to capital and resources in early part of the 20th Century in this country, those same people who suffered the consequences of that are now the ones also being pushed out of the region, no longer able to access the prosperity that this region has to offer.
My work is about trying to organize those folks, and demand for the kind of protections and the rights that they need to protect their homes. It’s a challenge because people feel very… It’s very personal. It’s not just a policy, it’s not just an economy, it’s about your home, it’s about your family. People on all sides of the issue feel that way. One of the bigger challenges has been, how do we have that conversation together? That is part of the endeavor that some of us on this panel have been part of for a little while.
Thank you. Caitlyn, when the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was announced, there was a lot of both excitement and intrigue about how it was structured, and what it was gonna focus on. I really don’t remember housing being one of the things when it was announced, that it wasn’t gonna be a priority area. How did you end up arriving at the fact that you needed to do some work on housing?
Caitlyn Fox: It’s a great question, and you’re right. When we first launched, the focus was on education and science. We had been doing some work in criminal justice reform and immigration reform. Housing was not part of the plan. But because, in this region, as you’ve already heard, people are really hurting, and communities are hemorrhaging their original residents. It’s becoming not this diverse, inclusive, equitable region that the Bay Area has always promised to be.
One of our founders, Priscilla Chan, is a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, which is the social safety net hospital for the region, and also a teacher at a low income school in East Palo Alto. Her students were becoming homeless, living in their car, having to leave the region entirely, or drive two hours in to bring their kids to school. She also knew that their parents were both employed. It was just really… It felt like something that we couldn’t… It was like a building being on fire, and walking away from it.
We just really started to dig in because we really believed that it was the most pressing issue in our own backyard. As we peeled back the onion, we just realized this is a problem that is rooted in decades of segregation, and bad policy, and a lack of resources and innovation going into this. It became something that we just couldn’t ignore. We’ve really been working on research to better understand the problem, also direct advocacy, supporting, organizing groups both at very local grassroots level, and also in Sacramento to really make sure that we start to rectify some of those bad policies.
Also really stepping up and putting some significant resources into trying to figure out new approaches to delivering housing faster and cheaper, and at all income levels, so that while we do need to build our way out of this crisis, and also simultaneously protect tenants who are feeling this pain immediately. It will take so many years to build the housing we need. We’ve been under-building for decades. It will take us decades to build out of that. We also need to be very innovative, in terms of how we protect communities while that happens.
Thank you. Angela, I want to bring you into this. Kaiser has made some really exciting announcements recently around its investment in housing, homelessness, and those issues. Why is a healthcare corporation interested in this issue?
Angela Jenkins: Where do I begin? At multiple levels why an organization like Kaiser Permanente would want to get involved in this.
For those of you who don’t know, and this speaks to why we’ve learned quite a bit from our employee population, and some of the community help work that we’ve done. One of the larger health systems in the United States with almost 13 million members, and over 200,000 employees that are impacted by the housing crisis, and the affordability crisis, particularly here in the Bay Area. But we recognize also that housing is linked to health, and health is housing. Those who are living in low-income communities, and older homes, that have children who are experiencing asthma or chronic conditions because of the housing, are impacted in a number of ways. Whether it’s their absenteeism because their kids aren’t in school, and the parents aren’t able to work, so they’re losing income. We recognize that there’s a need for healthy and affordable housing in our communities. Or if it’s because their long commutes, and they’re stressed, and they can’t spend time with their families, it impacts their healthcare.
But also when you have someone who’s spending, a family who’s spending more than 50% of their income on housing, we have physicians who talk about how their members, their patients, coming in and saying they can’t afford their diabetes medication because they’re trying to pay their rent, or their mortgage. There are significant health impacts, not just for those who are actually housed. Then you talk about the people who are unsheltered and living on the streets. That’s a whole different issue when you talk about health impacts.
There’s research out there, particularly by Dr. Margot Kushel who is at UCSF, that talks about people who are unsheltered and living on the streets, are about 10 years older. Even when they’re 45, they’re showing up as if they’re 55 in the clinical settings, because they’re not able to manage their chronic condition, when they’re moving around and they’re unsheltered. It impacts us in a number of ways, and then with our workforce. We know that our workforce is impacted by this. Many of our folks that are working with us are on the verge of, could be on the verge of being homeless.
It’s something that our CEO, Bernard Tyson, has taken to heart, and has challenged the organization to try to figure out how to identify solutions, to address the issue. We recognize it’s a regional issue, particularly because we are regional, as an organization. That’s why we made the investment to protect people, to preserve their housing, keep people housed, rehab their houses so that they’re healthy home, but also make significant investments in the city of Oakland, with Mayor Schaaf and other areas, to help address the needs of the unsheltered that are currently living in Oakland.
Just because it’s something that as an organization, Bernard Tyson will say that it’s unacceptable for anyone to be living on the streets in our community. We need to take a collective approach to try to address the issue. As a business we feel that we are obligated to do what we can to leverage our resources and our voice, to highlight the issues and the need for us to do something at a broader scale, and in a deeper way, to end this crisis.
Thank you. Sandhya, you’re the one person on this panel that is actually one of the communications experts with KQED. I actually have a two-fold question for you. One is, as a reporter, how does this manifest in terms of the kinds of stories that you all end up writing? Then I know that you have done a lot of work in writing about how the housing issue has had impacts in the suburban parts of the region, and we often talk about it as a problem in San Francisco, in Oakland, in San Jose. But what about the smaller cities out in the outskirts of the region?
Sandhya Dirks: One of the things I do in my work is about the switch, the transformation between the urban and the suburban. When we think about urban, we think about inner city. That’s come to take on some very coded meanings. But those things aren’t true anymore. Suburbs and exurbs are now the most diverse part of American life, which is weird, because we think of suburbs as white space. They’re not. The majority of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latinos live in suburbs. We need to start talking differently about suburbs and cities, and start understanding that they are intermittently connected.
Many people leaving Oakland right now, are going to suburbs and exurbs. Not rich suburbs and exurbs, not the one from Leave It To Beaver, but places that don’t have a lot of infrastructure, places that don’t have a lot of transportation. We need to be thinking of ourselves as a regional place. Displacement means that people are being placed to some place. Following that is really, really important.
Also understanding deeper context. When we talk about being a community of renters, that’s very, very true. Home is where the heart is, and home ownership was also a way to access the middle class. As we become a nation of renters, we also become a nation of people keeping people out of the middle class. There’s a way in which this plays out in all levels.
This housing crisis happened, and one of the things that happened was that a lot of those homes that were foreclosed on, a lot of those places did not go back into the market for individuals to own. They were bought up by corporate landlords. We’re seeing a transformation of home ownership in this country, which is part of a larger system and problem, that is causing everything everyone is talking about. Even though you had a recovery from that housing crisis and that crash, we are still at the lowest point of home ownership right now, than we have been since the Vietnam War. Talking about these things in their larger historical context is incredibly important and can shock us into the realization of what is happening as part of systemic issue. Stories can tell that.
Thank you. I spend most of my career in local government. As such, we used to do a lot of survey and polling of people in the places where we were governing in. One of the things that was pretty consistent is when we ask people what their issues of concern were. For many, many years, they would say police, potholes, and education. Now, not surprisingly, folks always talk about housing as one of the issues that’s most important to them. But the fact that it’s important to them doesn’t mean that people know how to take action, how to unpack the issue, how to address the issue and what their role is in it.
For anyone, what are the strategies that you are using nowadays to talk about housing in ways that both illustrate the problem and crystallize it for folks, but also move people to action and tell them actually what they can do about it.
Libby Schaaf: I’ll give a shout out to the YIMBY’s. Can I do that? For those of you who have heard of YIMBY’s, they are the antidote to the NIMBY’s. The NIMBY’s are the Not In My Backyard because most people expect their government to solve the housing crisis somewhere else. They don’t want their own character of their neighborhood to be changed, they don’t want it to be any harder to find a parking spot, and they don’t want their property values to go down, even though our property values have more than doubled in the last few years.
This idea that we all have to participate in the solution is hard for a lot of people because as human beings, change scares us. I just want to congratulate this kind of growing and moving of people who are saying “I am for housing development, I am for the densification of cities. Not only does that add to my quality of life because I’m living in a vibrant community with a lot of people that are different than I am, but it’s also the only damn thing that is gonna save our planet, because the way that we are sprawling is not just a human housing crisis, it is also a climate crisis.” Good, yeah.
I want to congratulate the YIMBYs for finding themselves a better name, because YIMBY doesn’t sound all that serious, does it. Now they’re talking about a Bay Area for everyone. This appeals to a sense of fairness, of justice, of the kind of society that you would be proud to raise your children in, I think is one of the winning communication strategies because we all want to believe that we are good people. I’m very intrigued with that as part of the communication strategy, that we want to be proud of our society.
Thank you. Anybody else?
Caitlyn Fox: One, I think we need to talk more about the impacts on health, and on education, and on communities that housing has. Obviously where you live dictates where you can find a job, how long it takes you to get to your job, where your kids go to school. It also affects whether the teacher of your children can stay in the community.
In one of the school districts that we work in, Ravenswood, the average tenure for a teacher is one and a half years. That turnover of teachers has an incredibly detrimental effect on the students, and the students are turning over as well, which also has a detrimental effect on them and the other students in the classroom. I think we really need to not talk about just the home and the housing, but also the incredible ripple effects it has on every other aspect of life.
I also think we need to talk about who is housing-insecure, in a more nuanced way. It’s very easy to see certain people who are homeless and assume that they’re mentally ill, or have addiction problems. But we’re not talking about the person who’s working three jobs, and has two kids, and is an incredible mother, and is doubling up on her sister’s couch, and moving every three weeks. Those are the people who are truly housing-insecure in the Bay Area, and we’re not talking about it in that way. We’re talking about the haves, and the have-nots, and the mentally ill, and we’re not talking about anyone in between and the incredible detrimental effects that this crisis is having on them. If we start to tell some of those stories, we start to tap into, hopefully, an empathy that we all have for that, and to be able to see ourselves a little bit more in each and every person who is experiencing this crisis.
Angela Jenkins: If I may add onto that, when it’s relating to the homeless population, I think it’s really important also just to debunk the myths related to why people become homeless. We were talking about the statistics in Oakland about the largest percentage of individuals were living in Oakland within the year before they became homeless in the first place. These were people who were living in Oakland, working in Oakland, building Oakland, that were displaced by people moving in.
As I started this work, some of the things that people said to me were, “People just don’t want to be helped,” or, “People want to be homeless, they don’t want to live on the streets.” The worse one that I heard was someone saying, seeing someone push a cart of cans to go turn them in said, “Well, he didn’t try hard enough in school.” I was just looking at this woman that I was giving her and her son a ride to school because she didn’t have a car, and saying, “I can’t believe that you just said that.”
Every person who is living unsheltered has a different story about why they got there in the first place. Was it a traumatic event? Maybe they were using substances, too much, and they couldn’t afford their rent anymore, and they were pushed out on the streets. Or they had some family issues. But many of these individuals are connected to families, they’re not disconnected like we think they are. They have mental health issues. But we need to really begin to tell that story to demystify, battle those myths, bring out the humanity, bring some dignity to them so that people really understand what are the conditions that they were facing that got them to the place that they are in wright now.
Using storytelling is a really important way of doing that. To your point, to talk about who. These are families, these are individuals, these are people who have been working really hard that have ended up in the place that they are. That’s one way, as a communication tool, that we can begin to raise up the true story behind why we are the position that we are in right now, with the explosive homeless population.
Before you go, Jennifer, I just wanted to invite you to talk a little bit about one aspect of this. Mayor Schaaf really highlighted the fact that there are 8,000 units of housing in the pipeline in Oakland, and cranes up in the air like never before. One of the dominant narratives around the housing issue is that we just have a basic supply and demand problem, that we’re not building enough housing. Why are people scared about the cranes and why are they fearful of the number of units of housing in the pipeline in a place like Oakland?
Jennifer M.: Because they know it’s not being built for them. That’s the truth of the matter. That the new housing that’s being built by and large is luxury-styled housing, and the folks that are in those communities know that it’s not being built for them.
We can see this play out in many ways. When there’s public investment in a community, private investment follows. If there aren’t the right kind of public policies in place – that will protect people – in place that will help them get access to asset creation, will help them go to good schools so they can get good jobs, and that those jobs pay well like a living wage, like big places and companies can pay if they chose to pay, then they know it’s not for them. If those public policies are not in place, that new housing is not for them.
The ability for private property owners to do what they will with their properties, if there aren’t those public policies in place. What I’m talking about is raising the rent. I just heard a story the other day where rent was raised on a building, and a single rent increase by 87%. Eighty-seven percent leap, who can pay that? Who can go from $1500 to almost $3,000 in a single go? It’s almost impossible.
We know that this is a public policy challenge, and what I often say in this conversation, I’m gonna get to some hard truth now. I’ve got my coffee in me. I can actually get to some hard truths. We know a ton of good solutions out there. This is not a technical problem that hasn’t been invented yet, or a solution to a problem that hasn’t been invented yet. We’ve built housing in this country. We’ve built a lot of housing in this country. We did it in post-World War period for white people, in suburban neighborhoods, and we thought that was a great investment, and we should do that, and we created financing tools for it, and we created subsidizing of developers, and the homeowners that were gonna buy those homes. We did a ton of things to create the kind of housing that people needed, a certain set of people needed, and we can do it again.
The problem is, it’s a political will problem. We are faced with the challenge of this isn’t … Like Caitlyn said, this isn’t gonna take two years, or three years. This is a 30 year problem, across the country. We’re seeing it elsewhere. We live in two- to four-year election cycles. That is a public policy, a political will problem, that we have to overcome, and we have to have people in place, the public policy decision makers who are willing to take the big risks, the big leaps, see the 50 year future of our region, and our state, and our country, and plan for that future. Not plan for the two-year election cycle that they are currently faced with.
Thank you. Sandhya, do you want to weigh in on this?
Sandhya Dirks: Preach. It’s very true that there are policies in place that are preventing what we need to happen. I think that as a storytelling tool, understand our responsibility as part of a community, and not as separate, is incredibly important. It’s even beyond empathy. It’s culpability and responsibility.
When you talk about the 82% of people on the streets of Oakland used to be housed in Alameda County, in that place, if you’ve bought a home there, you were directly responsible for that homeless person on the street. You are connected to that person, and you are implicit in the system. It’s how to raise that awareness, and again, I guess I’ve had my coffee too. It’s how to raise that awareness and connect us to each other in a deeper and systemic way, which we don’t want to be. We don’t want to think that’s connected to us, because that’s not a nice story.
It’s an easier story to put it in the frame of personal responsibility. But if we’re actually taking personal responsibility, those who have right now got that because of those that don’t have. How to change that narrative, and bring that narrative forward when we’re talking about housing, the homeless isn’t a homeless crisis, it’s a housing crisis. Unless we solve that, unless we house more people and make that possible, and make pathways for that possible, we are going to see a greater increase in inequity in this country, and in this region. It’s going to become a very, very stark reality where the dystopian future will be here.
Angela Jenkins: I just want to add to that. I think we do need to build more housing, but there is a certain segment of our population that’s gonna need subsidized housing. Particularly for those who are homeless and need to be housed, and those who may have a chronic condition or a mental health condition, they’re gonna need some level of subsidized housing.
As a society, we need to be okay with that, and accept that, and being willing to support that. We’re not there as a society. Not everybody is gonna be able to afford to buy a house. Housing, healthcare, education is just basic rights that we should all have, so we need to be able to tell that narrative, and be able to push that envelope and tell that story. That it’s okay to support people living and staying in their homes.
Sandhya Dirks: In a minute I want to get to the audience’s questions, but before doing so, I’d like to end on somewhat of a high note, which is, what are you excited about when it comes to this issue, and the things you’re working on, on the solution side?
Libby Schaaf: I’m excited about CASA. CASA is The Committee to House the Bay Area. It’s this crazy idea that we as a region might be able to enter into a set of compacts, agreements, that would have an overlay of policies that would impact every jurisdiction within the Bay Area, because the word rent control is too scary for people. We call it an anti-rent gouging policy that would apply to the whole Bay Area. Doesn’t that sound better? We’re not controlling your rent, we just don’t want you to gouge. It’s a good communication tool.
We’re looking at a whole series of different types of revenue streams, where if we maybe add small fees, small taxes, like a 1/16 cent increase to the sales tax for the whole Bay Area, a small gross receipts tax on our employers, or a headcount tax, if everybody gives a little, remember that Stone Soup story where you brought the broccoli, and you brought a chicken bone, and you brought a carrot. At the end of the day we have this incredible meal.
But the idea that we could create a permanent funding source to create 1.6 to 2 billion dollars a year, on an ongoing basis to do three things, not just produce. Although, building is part of it. We do need to produce more affordable housing that is permanently subsidized. But to also protect our renters so they can stay in place, and also to preserve existing affordable housing, preserve the housing stock we have now. If we can do those three things and see ourselves as a unified region, that would be amazing. That is the charge of this group that has been meeting for about a year now called CASA.
Great. Looks like they found a new spokeswoman for CASA.
Angela Jenkins: Just real quick. I’m just really excited that Kaiser Permanente is putting some skin the game. With our $200 million investment in the Thriving Communities fund, which a majority of that’s gonna go for protecting and preserving affordable housing.
Libby Schaaf: Say that number again.
Angela Jenkins: Two hundred million, national investment, social impact investment. We announced it in May that will be to protect and preserve affordable housing, first announcement. First investment will happen in Oakland. Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be announcing what that will look like. That’s really exciting for us that we’re expanding our thinking in terms of how we’re promoting community health to include housing, because we see the direct linkage to healthcare, and hoping that as we’re taking that lead, we’re encouraging others to do the same. That’s exciting. That’s what’s exciting for me.
Jennifer M.: I’m excited that this is actually a public conversation. I’ve been working on the issue of housing for most of my career, which is coming up on 18 years. Many of those years it felt like calling into the wind. This is a problem. This isn’t just a problem in San Francisco, but there are structural problems that are going to be even worse, and certainly after the Great Recession when everyone’s like, “Good, housing prices are going up.” I was like, “Oh no. This is a problem.”
We are here now with all of you, at this terribly early time of the morning, and thank you for being here for that. But the fact that we’re all here for this terribly early time in the morning to talk about this subject is indicative of how much more public conversation is being had about it. That the conversation needs to be amplified because it does have this historical legacy, because it does need a set of the kinds of solutions that are being brought to the table, the kind of scales of money that are required for it, and the engagement of people that will need to be putting their own immediate self-interest aside for a longer-term self-interest, for them and their families, and their neighbors. That is a very exciting prospect, to me, that we are having that kind of conversation.
Caitlyn Fox: Piggy backing on that, ’cause you stole my thing I’m excited about, I think the fact that one of the New York Times best-selling books, Pulitzer Prize books two years ago was on eviction. I think that that’s huge. I think the fact that it’s really hard to open a major publication these days and not see an article about some facet of the housing crisis, I think the fact that Kamala Harris, Corey Booker and … Who’s the third person that’s introduced? Warren, or have introduced a national housing legislation, renter credits, this is huge. We have not been talking about housing at the national level in decades. Those are just some things that just make me really excited.
What I would like to see is to open up major publications and start to see more wins and more solutions, but I think the fact that we’re talking about the problem and the nuances of the problem is really great start.
Sandhya Dirks: I am not technically a housing reporter, but I report on equity in the Bay Area, which makes me a housing reporter. That is the new game we’re in. You’re absolutely right.
I do think the fact that people like Matthew Desmond, who wrote Evicted, which if you haven’t read, go out and read it, that he’s beginning to talk about housing as a human right, and that language is beginning to take over, is really, really important. We need to see this as a human right. This is not just connected as we have said to just a home. It’s so much more, it’s everything. I’m excited about that.
Also, let me give a shout out to Oakland. One of the things I’m excited is there are discussions in Oakland right now about having a public bank. One of the reasons that we’re in the housing crisis we’re in is because of the history of banking in this country, who got loans when redlining happened, and who was put into certain neighborhoods, and then what happened with the bad loans, and underwater mortgages that forced so many out of their homes, particularly in poor and neighborhoods of color, in places like Oakland. Those are all connected to banks, they’re connected to money, they’re connected to these systems that I’m talking about, and afterwards we’re seeing a lack of loans. Sort of a reverse redlining, a lack of loans for people of color.
There was one year in Oakland, a few years ago, where I think it was… I can’t remember which bank, but there was a bank that there were only three loans to black people in the city of Oakland for houses. What about something like a public bank? Could that change the game? Could we actually get invested in this in a different way as communities? I think that those solutions, those seemingly radical ideas which are actually hearkening to making a deeper community are really exciting. I’m excited to see what everybody here comes up with next.
Great. Thank you. We have time for a few questions. As we go to questions, I guess there’s somebody in the audience with a microphone. I see about, it looks like at least three or four here. As you go to questions, tell us where you from and your name, and let me remind you that a question is a sentence followed by a sentence mark. No paragraphs or speeches, please. Go ahead.
Nur Kausar: Hi. I’m Nur Kausar. I am the Communication Director at Housing California. Thank you all for being here. This has been great to see that the Communications Network and people who are not working in housing are so interested in solutions and talking about housing. My question is, so Housing California as you guys may know, is co-leading the Propositions 1 and 2 campaigns on the November ballot. We’ve been doing a lot of the things that you guys talked about today, as far as pushing stories, and talking about real people, and what they’re struggling with to try and connect with voters. But we’re finding that we’re still teetering at the 50% level as far as voter support. There’s a lot of concern that we’re not gonna get Prop 1 to pass. I’m just wondering, as a communications professional, knowing that these stories are coming out, that we’re doing as much as possible, and we still don’t have the public and political will, what else can you recommend? What else can we do?
Caitlyn Fox: Just really quickly, first of all, thanks for the great work you do. We at CZI support Prop 1. We’ve given to the campaign. We also recently added some support to help mobilize and organize affordable housing residents. Obviously we need to have really broad communications about this, but we also need to get back to the grassroots, like how do we get people out that understand this problem really intimately. Thinking really creative about how we can engage, because as Jennifer said, we always look to homeowners. They’re the voters, they’re the ones that turn out, they’re the ones we pay attention to. How can we start to mobilize renters and especially those in affordable housing, and really appeal to them, because there’s a lot of them, and they care a lot about this issue, and so really thinking about how we can mobilize those communities.
Libby Schaaf: Can I also add, you just have to appeal to peoples’ selfish interests. People don’t get that the fact that they are sitting in horrible traffic all morning, is because of the housing crisis. You have to draw that connection for them. You have to show them, especially the likely voters, why this is hurting them too. The teacher at their kid’s school leaving, there are all these ways that people don’t really see, that is something that I think we need to lift up more. But go Props 1 and 2.
Clarence Jones: Hi, I’m Clarence Jones. I just want to make a brief statement and a question. With all do respect, I think that collectively is that you are Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Is that… Yes. You are fiddling while Rome burns. I used to think like you think. I really did. The definition of insanity, when you keep doing the same thing expecting to get a different result.
Libby Schaaf: With all do respect sir, I don’t think you should tell five women up here that you know how any of us think.
Clarence Jones: Okay, I apologize for that. But let me just suggest this. If you were to take and look at the balance sheet of the top 75 companies, and add up the aggregate after tax profits, and of those that are doing business in Silicon Valley, and the question is, whether or not you are reaching those companies and foundations that have the resources. That’s the question, because I … I don’t mean to in any way insult you and so forth, but my experience that we’re at a point and seriousness of the housing crisis, is the only way you’re gonna get the major companies is to say to them, “If you don’t do it, we’re gonna shut you down.” It’s not gonna happen, let’s just do it.
Caitlyn Fox: I agree, we need to get corporations and philanthropies to put in major, major resources. That’s honestly where I’ve personally been putting the vast majority of my effort, because candidly we’re often standing out on our own. When we’ve been investing in housing, a lot of other philanthropies and corporations are like, “It’s so expensive, it’s so hard.” We’re just trying to get out there and show, “Here’s what you can do, and just take a first step. Pledge that you’re gonna do it, put major resources on the line, be in partnership with community members who can tell you how to allocate those resources.” But I think you’re absolutely right. I would love to turn the microphone over to Jennifer, because she was part of a very wonderful pressure campaign. But I’ll let you talk about because I’ll get in trouble if I talk about it, ’cause it was on our founders’ company. Didn’t hear it from me.
Jennifer M.: Well, yeah. I’m pissed off about this. We should be. One of the major challenges we have right now is that most of the companies you’re talking about are global in nature. Most of the public policy making power we have is around this issue of housing, is at the local level. Sometimes at the state level, and sometimes at the local level. They’re competing for that tax space those corporations give them. Often times, it can become a race to the bottom, in terms of making demands of corporate wealth.
I’m pissed that Prop 1 in California is only gonna be however couple of billion dollars, when it should have been probably 30 billion dollars. Yes, we have a scale problem. If you have ideas about how we can fix that, and we’ve been organizing tenants, and people are protesting outside of Google on a regular basis, people shut down Uber from going to Oakland, sorry Mayor, all for this reason. There is active public demonstration to challenge this, and it is we do not yet have a way to crack.
Lisa Aliferis: Hello. Okay, thank you. Hi, my name is Lisa Aliferis. Hi, Sandhya. I’m very proud to live and work in Oakland. Mayor Schaaf, I appreciate what you’re saying about 8,000 units coming online, but what are you doing and I actually agree, yes in my backyard, we have three towers going up three blocks from where I work. That’s a lot of housing. But at the same time, that housing does displace people. We have a model in Oakland, for those of you nationally, it’s called Fruitvale. This is where housing was developed and it did not displace people. The demographics are roughly the same. What are you doing to make sure, what are all of you doing to make sure the housing is not just luxury housing, but also has an eye toward people of all incomes? The teachers, and the people who are homeless, and the tech bros? Thank you.
Libby Schaaf: We’re doing a lot of things. If you want detail, please look up our 17K/17K Housing Plan, that a number of people here were part of. We’ve imposed impact fees, so that that luxury housing that’s going up, either has to include affordable units in it, or they have to pay money into our trust fund. We passed two local bonds, a city bond and a county bound to build affordable housing. We strengthened our renter protections. In fact, we’ve got another measure on the ballot in 20 whatever days, to expand Just Cause Eviction even more. We are adamantly in favor of Prop 10, to repeal Costa-Hawkins, so that we can strengthen our renter protections and throughout California cities can no longer be limited by the state in renter protections. Then we are talking to our corporations. Kaiser Permanente is my largest employer. The fact that they are will now to contribute capital to be part. We’re talking about finding new funding sources. Government cannot do it alone. This idea that we’re gonna go to the private sector and have you provide low cost capital to construct affordable housing.
But the last thing I’ll say, and this could open up another hour of conversation, housing is a human right, housing is part of the public infrastructure that government has to take responsibility for. But also, unless we make people economically secure, economically empowered, the poor have been pushed off the land since there were and property rights. We’ve got to address the economic side of this as well, and that’s a whole nother conversation about what we’re doing in Oakland around that.
Unfortunately, we’re gonna have to end on that note. Join me in thanking Mayor Schaaf, Angela, Caitlyn, Jennifer, Sandhya. Appreciate your time this morning.