Antioch is making residents with lived experience the priority in developing affordable housing solutions. Coming together through a Policy Grant awarded by the Partnership for the Bay’s Future (PBF), the City of Antioch, Hope Solutions, and Multi-Faith ACTION Coalition (MFAC) are working in partnership to develop two policies: leveraging unused faith-owned land to build affordable housing, and breaking down barriers for low-income homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). In order to meet the needs of the people most impacted by the housing crisis, the Antioch Policy Grant team knew they needed to learn from those who have so often been left out of the policy process, including people who are unhoused, cost-burdened households, and residents of color. Working with those who have been harmed by previous housing policies or pushed into homelessness helps ensure policy is responsive to the real problem and will have an impact. As William Goodwin from Hope Solutions put it, “we want to propose a solution, not impose.”
With this in mind, we kicked off our work in Antioch with a listening campaign. We wrapped up our campaign in Spring 2023, conducting 14 listening sessions and engaging over 450 Antioch residents, the majority of whom were extremely low-income. According to City staff, this kind of public engagement has been unprecedented for previous City planning initiatives.
As a Fellow, I provided additional capacity that didn’t exist prior and made this kind of public engagement possible. Together with Hope Solutions and MFAC, we designed the format and content of the sessions. At the sessions, I distilled and shared more technical information to the community – explaining things like what an ADU is or who would be eligible for affordable housing – so that residents could be better prepared to provide feedback. And it was in small group discussions – where I served as a facilitator and notetaker – that I made real connections with the community and heard about their visions for affordable housing.
What Can We Learn from the Community
Hope Solutions will be sharing a report of our findings here in early August. Though we learned so much through this campaign, there were three key takeaways that struck me personally that I’d like to share.
This approach has shifted the paradigm from numbers, zoning districts and sterile “units” to home and the deeply human needs and dreams it encompasses.
- Directly engaging with residents who are unhoused is transformative
We conducted listening sessions at food distribution centers and churches where hot meals are served, and got perspectives that were sorely needed in the conversation. I learned unhoused residents have an acute understanding of what they need and a great appreciation for being asked about their preferences. They lit up when they saw pictures of the homes that Hope Solutions would like to build and were eager to identify exactly what kinds of supportive services and amenities they would like to see on site: job opportunities, mental health services, and being able to keep their pets with them.
It was also gut-wrenching to hear their stories – a call to action wrapped up in heartbreak. One man told me that living outside was harder than serving in the Vietnam War. A mother tearfully told us about her daughter passing away in a tragic scenario that could have been prevented had she had the stability and services of permanent supportive housing. Their stories made me realize how crucial it is to have people closest to the pain driving change.
- People believe in and yearn for the power of community.
Perhaps the word I heard most frequently in our listening sessions was community. People have a thirst for community, and those who have experienced it can clearly articulate how it has positively impacted them: the peace of mind from knowing neighbors are watching children at play, the joy of cooking and eating together like one big family, or the relief of seeing pooled resources to help someone make rent that month. Much to our delight, people saw a clear connection between the types of homes we are trying to facilitate and a strong sense of community, especially when it comes to the role of faith institutions.
The great enthusiasm we heard from faith leaders, congregants, cost-burdened residents, and the unhoused community conveyed how mission-aligned and relationship-rich faith partners can help us realize our vision and how well-suited they are to help build a sense of belonging. Residents also appreciated the importance of on-site services, quality property management, and communal spaces as ways to build thriving communities on faith-owned land. We are now moving forward with our policy work knowing that we have the support of the people to build a “community within a community,” as one faith leader put it.
- Lead with human connection
As a policy person, I was eager to collect community feedback on policy issues from these listening sessions. For instance, how did residents see the role of the faith institution on whose land they might live? How would homeowners use an ADU? So when the team decided to start each listening session with the questions How do you define home? and What does home mean to you?, I wondered if the answers we received might be too abstract or broad.
After just one session, however, I saw how impactful it was to begin with this question. People with different views and priorities were suddenly all grounded in a shared humanity. We heard beautiful and profound words like anchor, sanctuary, and peace when talking about home. Unhoused and well-housed people alike recognized home as essential to a sense of safety and stability. Every single session I found myself nodding in agreement as I connected with the power of home and what it means.
I was not alone in feeling this connection. Starting with this question allowed people to open up more and connect with others who they may see as different. We have decided to start many of our community organizing events with this question and a highlight of some of the responses we’ve heard. This approach has shifted the paradigm from numbers, zoning districts and sterile “units” to home and the deeply human needs and dreams it encompasses.
The Power of Home
The Antioch listening sessions have helped me grow as a professional by reminding me that affordable housing is not just a structure, but also the intangible. It’s an opportunity to find and build community, a place to take comfort and feel safe.
These sessions are also shaping our Policy Grant team’s efforts and how housing policies are developed in Antioch. We are establishing greater community and government dialogue by building networks and systems that will remain after the Policy Grant concludes. These networks are intended to create bridges between faith leaders, community-based organizations, residents, and city officials so that policy issues can more consistently be vetted, shaped, and brainstormed between all parties. We are just starting to explore what this will look like, but I would be willing to bet that the power of home and all that it encompasses will drive our approach.
Meredith Rupp Meredith has worked in affordable housing for six years, first in advocacy at Greenbelt Alliance, South Bay and then in housing policy as a Senior Planner for Urban Planning Partners. While at Urban Planning Partners, Meredith managed several Housing Elements and led the Alameda County Planning Collaborative to build capacity for affordable housing solutions and facilitate regional collaboration. She also managed two research-driven projects in Oakland to facilitate ADU development and cost-saving, innovative construction practices. Her Innovation in Oakland research and zoning reforms to expand housing options and affordability was honored by the Northern California American Planning Association with a Best Practices Award of Excellence for its commitment to racial equity. Meredith has an M.A. in International Policy and Development from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and a B.S. in Linguistics from Truman State University. When she’s not navigating zoning codes, Meredith can be found on the soccer field or on a hiking trail.