Challenge Grant Spotlight: Alameda County

The Challenge Grants bring local changemakers together to work on housing policies that protect tenants and preserve existing affordable housing. In the face of the challenges of COVID and virtual work, the Challenge Grant cohort has been incredibly adaptive and resilient, finding new ways to advance housing justice policies. Together, this community of practice is laying the groundwork for equitable housing policy throughout the Bay Area, starting at the local level.  

We’ve learned a lot from the first year of this program and are spotlighting some of the incredible work happening across the Bay Area. This post is part of an ongoing series that will share some of the highs and lows of what we are learning along the way, as well as what we’re getting ready for in 2021. 

To hear more about this work and receive information on future grant opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here

 

Centering Community Feedback to Drive Housing Solutions in Alameda County 

Charles Harris

 

Growing up, my father instilled in me a rather efficient way to learn, which was learning from the experiences of others. I carried this method with me when I started in my role as the Alameda County Challenge Grant Fellow. The County is focused on improving housing issues in the unincorporated area, a region disproportionately impacted by the state’s housing crisis.

An effective strategy for improving housing issues in the unincorporated area would use my father’s advice and center community experiences and feedback through creating pipelines for collaboration with community groups. The County is putting this approach into action through conversations with community groups, like the Eden Renters Union, around their housing issues and solutions. Holding the understanding that communities know best what they need, the County is making efforts to act as a conduit for community voices.

Resources for Community Development (RCD), our community partner, helped launch a series of community conversations to better understand what the unincorporated community needed in terms of policies related to affordable housing. The community came back with many solutions in the form of a pro-active rental inspection program, just cause expansion, rent stabilization. This became the basis of my research for what these programs could look like in the unincorporated county.

As part of the community conversation process, I participate in a steering committee tasked with identifying policy recommendations for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The steering committee includes RCD, community organizers, and local government staff from public health, planning, building code and inspection, and the office of the Board of Supervisors.

This group gave me the foundation I needed to launch the Challenge Grant work. In our weekly meetings, the committee was able to discuss what has worked and what hasn’t in the county as well as connect me to their colleagues in other Bay Area communities that have done similar work. The steering committee gave me the chance to learn directly through one-on-one conversations with individuals and further build relationships and partnerships. I believe that approach was much more beneficial than just reading through reports.

As part of the learning process, I have also connected with experts outside the county. These folks are housing practitioners from other cities in the Bay Area that have achieved the successes we are hoping to have in Alameda County. They were able to walk me through their process, what they wish they did, what failed, and what worked.

We are excited to be soon sharing our tenant protection recommendations with the Board of Supervisors and continuing the process of transforming these learnings into policy.

I believe collaboration is the most important part of this fellowship. As my father taught me, learning from the experiences of others will be the key to finding the solutions to best preserve and protect housing for all Bay Area residents.