Challenge Grant Spotlight: Berkeley

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 will be the first of a series of blog posts 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.


Outreach for Equitable Housing Policies in Berkeley

Anna Cash

Berkeley’s Challenge Grant focuses on addressing systemic discrimination and displacement through two policy efforts we are excited to continue work on in 2021: a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) and a housing preference policy. Key community partners in this work include East Bay Community Law CenterNorthern California Land TrustBay Area Community Land Trust, and Healthy Black Families.

Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)

When an owner of a rental property decides to sell, TOPA enables the tenants that call this building home to receive the first opportunity to buy the property. The TOPA working group, a coalition of nonprofits, community land trusts, and local, grassroots groups, has expanded to include more community partners, and the group has been busy building momentum.

Since the introduction of the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (just before the Challenge Grant started), the working group has conducted significant outreach and campaign building. The working group has done several community presentations, secured many new endorsements, worked to dispel fear and misinformation that showed up at the first public hearing, and considered changes to the policy based on community input.

We head into 2021 excited to continue this groundwork. The Mayor’s Office and TOPA working group hosted a public forum on January 27 and we are gearing up to introduce the policy to commissions, committees and Council for adoption in Spring/Summer 2021.

Housing Preference Policy

Once adopted by City Council, a housing preference policy will assist people with ties to Berkeley to receive priority for new, local low-income housing units. The work on this policy under the Challenge Grant has also been very active. Community leaders from Healthy Black Families (HBF), the Berkeley Black Ecumenical Ministerial Alliance (BBEMA), and other organizations formed a community leaders group to shape the outreach plan for the policy — ensuring that the Black community who has disproportionately faced displacement pressures would be prioritized in input on the policy, including those who have already been displaced from Berkeley. This group recommended that HBF, as a Black-led grassroots organization with deep South Berkeley roots, lead the outreach.

We are now in the outreach phase, with a City survey on preferences people would like to see in the policy, and an HBF survey more on individual experiences of discrimination and displacement in the Black community.

2021 sees this group looking forward to the results of the broad community outreach, with a plan for the community leaders group to use that input to adopt recommendations that will shape policy development. The Challenge Grant partners intend to bring a policy to commissions and Council for consideration in Summer/Fall 2021.