Challenge Grant Spotlight: Redwood City

Photo from Climate Magazine

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. 

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Progress through Inclusive Collaboration in Redwood City 

Brandon Harrell

Redwood City’s Challenge Grant team has made incredible progress in implementing tenant protection policies and creating a preservation strategy that will leverage local and regional partnerships. Part of the City’s success can be attributed to its emphasis on collaboration, process, and inclusion.

The core team—which includes Redwood City staff, myself, and our community partner Legal Aid Society of San Mateo Countykicked off 2020 with a series of power mapping and long-term strategy sessions which included identifying key stakeholders and clearly defining their two areas of emphasis: tenant protections and multi-family housing preservation.

Preservation and Protection Strategies 

The Challenge Grant team has worked to broaden their leadership table and center community voice. As part of this effort, the team partnered with the City’s Housing & Human Concerns Committee (HHCC) which is comprised of City Council-appointed community members. The HHCC has formed two ad hoc subcommittees to help guide the tenant protection policies and housing preservation work. This ensures that community voice is a consistent focus.

The Redwood City team is currently working with the subcommittees to shape the long-term policy goals of Redwood City as well as crafting authentic community engagement strategies that are adapted to the COVID-19 contextThe subcommittees have shared insightful research on Redwood City’s housing stock, provided feedback on digital resources for tenants and landlord collaborated with me on community survey content, and made critical recommendations to our overall strategy. 

The Challenge Grant work has also included tenant protection policy implementation and providing additional resources to aid tenants in the time of COVID-19. For example, when I first arrived in Redwood City, we faced the daunting reality that, due to employee turnover and capacity constraints, the tenant protection ordinances that had been adopted the year prior were never fully implemented. On top of that, many landlords and tenants were calling our office with questions about our tenant protection ordinances – noting that our website was less than helpful in understanding the policies.  

In an effort to make our housing policies more accessible and improve Redwood City’s overall communication to tenants and landlords, during the time of COVID-19, I worked closely with the City’s communication team to redesign the City’s housing webpages to be user-centered. The foundational elements of the user-centered redesign were to create an accessible web interface that is both easily navigable and translated into Spanish 

Bringing Additional Community Partners to the Table 

The Redwood City Challenge Grant team has also engaged with additional community partners. This year, the team will be partnering with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC) and Faith In Action to help facilitate and deepen the City’s relationship with tenants and landlords.  

As a San Mateo County serving nonprofit, PCRC has earned a reputation for empowering individuals to build relationship, trust and mutually agreeable outcomes through some of the most difficult conversations facing the Bay Area and the world. PCRC has been a long-time partner with the City and most recently led the community through a series of conversations on policing, governmental accountability, and equitybuilding community trust along the way.  

Faith In Action, a network of congregations and community leaders, are long time tenant rights advocates and have been engaging Redwood City’s tenants for a number of years. 

Continuing to Center Community Voice in 2021 

It is through developing and deepening these inter-institutional relationships that Redwood City’s Challenge Grant team envisions developing sustainable, effective housing policiesensuring that the voices of tenants and landlords are the foundation of the City’s housing policies. We look forward to seeing how these complex projects equitably influence the housing landscape for Redwood City.