Challenge Grant convening showcases community-driven policy


Hi all! My name is Chris Norman, and I recently joined Partnership for the Bay’s Future as the Oakland Challenge Grant Fellow. It is an honor to join a cohort of seven equity-minded fellows, as well as numerous municipal, community, and philanthropic partners, in a journey to expand housing accessibility in the Bay Area.

My goal is to ensure Oaklanders of all backgrounds can practice autonomy in their housing choices which I believe is a key foundation for wellness. For us to realize this goal, we must ensure sufficient production of deeply affordable housing, protection of at-risk tenants, and preservation our existing affordable stock. As the Oakland Challenge Grant Fellow, I will work with the City of Oakland and a coalition of community partners, the Bay Area 4 All (BA4A) Housing Preservation Table, to advance protection and preservation strategies that will bring us closer to that goal.

This work is deeply personal to me. As a queer Black and Mexican American individual, and as someone born and raised in the Bay Area (San Francisco’s Mission District, specifically), the inaccessibility of stable housing is constitutive of my family’s story. Members of my personal community have struggled with being unsheltered, being evicted from government-subsidized homes, and being forced to move to the region’s exurbs to find affordable housing. These challenges are why I do this work: I want to help create a Bay Area that actively makes space for and supports its residents who are low-income and/or Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color (BIPOC).

I am excited to imagine and co-create alongside my new colleagues, and already had an opportunity to do so at the recent Challenge Grant convening in May.

I am excited to imagine and co-create alongside my new colleagues, and already had an opportunity to do so at the recent Challenge Grant convening in May. The convening, which occurs quarterly, brings our larger cross-sector network together and learn about the efforts happening in each jurisdiction. Participants are also invited to join in learning sessions and engage with new frameworks through which to do our work.

May’s convening featured three goals: 1) to share progress and challenges in moving protection and preservation policies, 2) to build a common language/framework to support racial equity in housing policies (such as targeted universalism), and 3) to explore reimagining community-driven policymaking.

In the morning session two of my colleagues, Karen Camacho, the East Palo Alto (EPA) Challenge Grant Fellow and Lauren Bigelow, the Palo Alto Challenge Grant Fellow, provided case studies of their efforts-to-date.

Karen highlighted the EPA team’s work around launching a preservation model to acquire, rehabilitate, and redevelop properties; establishing a sustainable funding source for housing preservation, and pursuing a policy to protect local renters and keep them in-place.

89% of rental housing units in Palo Alto with residents who earn $20,000-$30,000 per year are cost burdened

Lauren’s presentation focused on renter protections in Palo Alto, a city with one of the highest numbers of affordable housing units in Santa Clara county. Lauren’s presentation demonstrated a need for policy change: 89% of rental housing units in Palo Alto with residents who earn $20,000-$30,000 per year are cost burdened compared to 17% of rental units where residents make $75,000 or more. This disparity clearly demonstrates the need to protect our community’s most vulnerable residents, as they are more likely to face hardship if housing becomes unstable.

In the afternoon session we were joined by Professor john a. powell, Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute in the University of California at Berkeley. Professor powell offered targeted universalism as framework to the group, describing it as more than just eliminating disparities: Targeted universalism seeks to improve outcomes in culturally adept ways for all groups and allows us to create a new reality that eliminates threats (be they health, economic stability, etc.) all together.

Together with our cohort, john situated targeted universalism in the housing policy context. We discussed issues of gentrification and concentrated poverty, and we explored what it would mean to create full neighborhoods with sufficient amenities, regardless of demographic. Such an endeavor would include reevaluating and potentially altering the historically exclusionary structures in place today, such as single-family zoning (which accounts for 85% of all residential zoning in the Bay Area). This perspective provided participants with new common language and theory to approach their collective work.

The initiatives supported by the Challenge Grant will not be easily completed given the magnitude of our wicked problems. While policy change remains a primary goal, we are also interested in exploring the process shifts that must occur as key steps towards larger policy “wins.” Such shifts include deeper and formal integration of community voice in public decision-making and evaluation processes, as well as changes in how departments approach their work to be more inclusive of racial equity goals. Year two of the Challenge Grant evaluation process will focus more on these questions, especially as each jurisdiction continues to define what success looks like for their specific communities and contexts. I am ready to help define and shape what the future of housing looks like in Oakland and the larger Bay Area.