Affordable Housing Is a Civil Right

Affordable Apartments, Davis CA Davis Vanguardby Novella Coleman

Envision Transform Build – East Palo Alto, a coalition of community groups, recently announced a groundbreaking partnership with Facebook and the cities of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to develop innovative solutions to tackle affordable housing, displacement, and economic opportunity in the Bay Area. Working together as equal partners, they will strive to address the acute regional housing crisis. The ACLU, along with Public Advocates and the Law Office of Julian Gross, represented Envision Transform Build in negotiating this community compact. Our contribution reflects an organizational commitment to affordable housing as not just an economic justice issue but also a civil rights issue.

By every statistical measure, income inequality has grown over the last 30 years. In the Bay Area especially, growing income inequality and the limited housing stock has led to a crisis in affordable housing. There are not enough housing units in the region to accommodate low- and middle-wage workers. For example, 20 percent of jobs are low-wage but only 13 percent of rental units are affordable, meaning 30 percent or less of two low-wage workers’ incomes.

People of color bear the brunt of the affordable housing crisis as racial inequities in wages contribute to greater housing burdens for these communities. At nearly every level of educational attainment, people of color have worse economic outcomes than whites. For example, college-educated women of color with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn $14 an hour less than their white male counterparts. And generally, in the Bay Area, people of color are much more likely than white people to spend a large share of their income on housing, whether they rent or own. Unequal access to affordable housing perpetuates historical racial inequities in access to high-performing schools, fresh food, reliable transportation, quality health care, and green recreation spaces.

The community compact between Envision Transform Build and Facebook signifies a critical break from the status quo by creating an equal partnership between those most severely impacted by the affordable housing crisis and public and private entities well-positioned to address the region’s affordable housing crisis. Envision Transform Build East Palo Alto includes Youth United for Community Action, El Comité de Vecinos del Lado Oeste East Palo Alto, Faith in Action Bay Area, and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. Members of these groups have themselves been displaced and are experts on their communities’ housing needs. Facebook is a private corporation with the resources and innovative spirit necessary to tackle these complex problems. And through this partnership the cities of East Palo Alto and Menlo Park can work together to create regional solutions.

The community compact will bring $20 million in benefits to low-income families who live in the communities near Facebook’s expanding Menlo Park headquarters. The partnership creates an $18.5 million Catalyst Housing Fund to identify and finance development and preservation of affordable housing in the area, prioritizes funding for development projects including homes affordable to very low and extremely low income families, and includes strong protections to ensure that new development does not displace existing low-income households. It also creates a $500,000 tenant assistance fund to provide legal and rental assistance to low-income tenants threatened with displacement from evictions, unsafe living conditions, or abuse by landlords. A $250,000 contribution to Rebuilding Together Peninsula will be used for rehabilitation, modification, or reconstruction of homes in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, focusing on low and very low-income residents. And the partnership also includes $625,000 to fund a pipeline training program to bring prospective new employees into jobs at Facebook.

Novella Coleman is a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Misanthrop

    Too bad Davis doesn’t have a mature company of the size of Facebook to help us. Maybe if we hadn’t said no to Genentech years ago or if we had built the innovation centers we would have the scale needed to help us out.

  2. Frankly

    This is where we are heading… state and maybe even federal government intervention to over-rule selfish NIMBYs to force needed housing development in and around their communities.

          1. Don Shor

            But nothing in the article calls for or even suggests state or federal intervention. This was a private negotiation between interest groups and a private business. Do you disapprove of that?

  3. Matthew

    The $20 million is a great start!  What they could also do is build market rate housing for their own employees on their big campuses ( I think they have already done so, or I am thinking of another company…) because this would reduce the demand pressure they are adding to the community.  They could charge their employees rents to cover the cost of the development easy.


    1. Tia Will

      this would reduce the demand pressure they are adding to the community.”

      Which was one reason that I supported the mixed use concept for Nishi, and would likely have supported one of the “innovation parks” had they included housing on site.

      1. Matthew

        The analogy between Facebook in Menlo Park and UC Davis here in Davis are striking.  The major difference is in the case of the former the number of new workers being added who would be bidding for lower-rent units is smaller than it would be for UCD.


        1. Grok

          Excellent point Mathew. The projected student enrollment increase alone (not including new faculty and staff) is equivalent to 10% of the current population of Davis.

        2. Matt Williams

          Grok said . . . “The projected student enrollment increase alone (not including new faculty and staff) is equivalent to 10% of the current population of Davis.”

          To put Grok’s statement into context it is useful to look at a comparison of the population of Davis and the enrollment of UC Davis over time.

          ___________ Davis_______Enrollment as_____UC Davis
          Census __ Population___a % of Population___Enrollment
          1880 _______ 441
          1890 _______ 547
          1920 _______ 939 ___________ 1% ____________ 14
          1930 _____ 1,243 __________ 35% .___________ 436
          1940 _____ 1,672 __________ 67% __________ 1,121
          1950 _____ 3,554 __________ 43% __________ 1,525
          1960 _____ 8,910 __________ 32% __________ 2,876
          1970 ____ 23,488 __________ 55% _________ 12,941
          1980 ____ 36,640 __________ 50% _________ 18,370
          1990 ____ 46,209 __________ 50% _________ 23,318
          2000 ____ 60,308 __________ 42% _________ 25,075
          2010 ____ 65,622 __________ 46% _________ 30,449
          2015(est)_ 67,666 __________ 51% _________ 34,535

  4. South of Davis

    Novella wrote:

    > People of color bear the brunt of the affordable housing crisis

    As long as you don’t consider Asians and Indians “people of color”…

    Millbrae in the Bay Area (with a median home price of ~$1.5 MILLION) has gone from about 25% Asian to almost 50% Asian in the past 15 years.  Down in Atherton (with a median home price of ~$6.0 MILLION) quite a few Indians are buying homes (my friend’s new next door neighbor in an IIT grad who works at Google and this summer we were at a birthday party at Holbrook Palmer Park about half the people there were Indian including a group playing cricket).

    1. hpierce

      In the mid 70’s, Millbrae was ~ 95% white… moved from there mainly because Davis housing was 50% of Millbrae costs… those who interviewed me were surprised when I told them that…

    2. South of Davis

      hpierce wrote:

      > moved from there mainly because Davis housing was 50% of Millbrae costs…

      Today Davis is about 33% of Millbrae/Burlingame prices (you can sell your home in Millbrae/Burlingame today and afford three similar sized homes in Davis or buy home three times as big for the same price)…

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