No matter how much the Bay Area changes over the years, it will always be home to me. I grew up in Oakland, and after living in Los Angeles for ten years, I returned in 2020 to a region that had become much harsher to many of those who make the Bay Area diverse and vibrant. My return also helped me understand that I didn’t know much of the Bay Area outside of the bubble in which I grew up. When I joined the Partnership for the Bay’s Future (PBF) through the Policy Grants Fellowship, it gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons and deepen my understanding of the transformation of the region as well as the differences, similarities, and interdependencies across cities. While Los Angeles has a reputation as a fragmented metropolis, the water that separates us here can also make parts of the Bay feel worlds apart. That’s why it’s crucial for us to work together across the region to reshape the systems for more equitable housing futures for all.
PBF’s Policy Grants program does just that by advancing equitable housing solutions through effective partnerships between governments and community-based organizations, centering those usually excluded from the policy process. The cohort of Policy Grants teams held its first convening this September, bringing together representatives from each jurisdiction, leaders from their partnered community organizations, and fellows like me, who serve as the bridge between the two. Representatives also joined from the San Francisco Foundation, LISC Bay Area, Enterprise Community Partners, and Informing Change, LLC, which each support these partnerships in critical ways. Together, we’ll spend the next two years developing and implementing policy initiatives to preserve affordable housing, support emerging BIPOC developers, and contribute new affordable units to the housing stock through innovative means.
Forging relationships across a region is an effective tool in expediting the development of equitable policies, but critical work is still needed to facilitate interjurisdictional coordination, cooperation and information sharing. The Policy Grant’s innovative approach aims to reach that goal by housing a network of experts across sectors throughout the region to share resources, research and tools to serve the public in collaborative fashion. This network represents an opportunity to accomplish something special in the Bay Area as well as an opportunity to create intraregional leadership models that can be adapted and applied beyond these nine counties.
So much insightful knowledge was learned and shared at this convening, and these are my three key takeaways:
1. Policy Coordination Must Prioritize Racial Equity
We urgently need to prevent homelessness, protect tenants, and produce and preserve affordable housing to keep pace with population and job growth, impede displacement, and balance power. However, conventional technocratic systems have been embedded and caused racial disparity in housing outcomes across each of these objectives. In order to prioritize racial equity in housing policies, we need to conduct explicit racial analysis and evaluation of who receives the benefits, who gets assigned the costs, and who remains excluded. And because housing is so intimately intertwined with transportation, health, employment and economic opportunities, this work is important because housing justice can have cascading effects on racial disparities in all these areas. Many jurisdictions are very early in the process of reckoning with their historical and current participation in racial disparity, thus prioritizing racial justice in housing will take dedicated ongoing commitment and leadership from every part of the Bay Area.
2. Production and Preservation Work Better in Tandem
It’s a rare occasion for any jurisdiction in California to produce enough housing to meet its needs for low-, very low-, and extremely low-income levels. As the state’s policy changes target high resource neighborhoods for affordable housing production (which is useful to nudge legacy exclusionary areas to build affordable units), neighborhoods characterized as low-resource stand to lose out on important resources to produce new units of affordable housing.
For jurisdictions that have a reasonable expectation of being left behind for production funding, adding affordable units through preservation can be cheaper per unit, cover areas where production is not viable, interrupt building decay, and be a valuable stabilization tool for families at risk of displacement. State and regional resources to support a preservation system are becoming more readily available, and it’s important for public sector leaders to understand these tools and how best to use them. However, jurisdictions can be subject to divide-and-conquer strategies that pit production and preservation as competing rather than complementary objectives. That’s why the Policy Grant’s network of policy leaders is essential to empower the region to strategically optimize a multiple-tools approach of addressing both preservation and production.
3. Build a Network for Change That Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
The Policy Grants network brings experience and expertise across a broad series of careers spanning multiple geographic regions. While each jurisdiction is immediately focused on locally specific objectives, each is also committed to the shared regional goals of building a system to create broader and bigger change. This partnership enables us to appropriately lobby, advocate, and implement key local legislation, which then can provide proof of concept for housing innovations, scale best practices learned, and develop habits of regional analysis and problem solving. Support from the San Francisco Foundation, community development financial institutions like LISC Bay Area, and technical assistance from organizations like Enterprise Community Partners will play a key role in facilitating this work.
The regional connection of movement building is also a crucial component because siloed policy efforts don’t produce the lasting wave of change that the region desperately needs. We need local governments, community organizations, and civic partners from across the bay to learn from each other and build a practice of reflexive togetherness. In addition to accomplishing short-term goals, the promise of the Partnership for the Bay’s Future lies in its ability to shift the entire conversation on housing, development, and justice – to lean into challenging questions and steer the Bay Area towards a more equitable future.
Benjamin Toney is a Partnership for the Bay’s Future Policy Grant Fellow and a proud product of the public school system in Oakland, California. Previously, he was an organizer in Los Angeles, recruiting and developing community leaders to advance racial and economic justice, and has also worked with youth as a recreation and arts coordinator, tutor, and college admissions mentor. He is completing a Doctorate in Urban Planning and is eager to bridge the gap between the academic arena and communities in the world.