Las Deltas Public Housing once represented a robust public affordable housing program, making up 20% of the small, unincorporated community of North Richmond’s housing stock. But after decades of unsuccessful attempts to bring in additional financial resources, the project was decommissioned in 2020. The unfortunate result was not only that residents had to be relocated, but that many were displaced from North Richmond entirely. It became clear during this time to the Housing Authority of the County of Contra Costa (HACCC) – the government agency that owns Las Deltas – that it needed to develop innovative policies and forge meaningful partnerships to redevelop Las Deltas, bring residents back and provide them the means to stay permanently and flourish in the community.
North Richmond, an unincorporated neighborhood in Contra Costa County, has a history of community spirit and resilience despite a long history of disinvestment and structural inequities. A recent example is the community coming together through the North Richmond Resident Leadership Team to form a Quality of Life plan. As stated in the plan’s introduction, “The Quality of Life Plan process was initiated when community members learned that the Housing Authority of the County of Contra Costa sought to redevelop the historical affordable housing project, Las Deltas, which sits in the heart of the community. While this is an opportunity for improving the living conditions of the unincorporated neighborhood, residents are acutely aware of the threat of gentrification and displacement.”
This is a once-in-several-generations opportunity to integrate affordable housing with comprehensive revitalization of the neighborhood…and support racial and economic equity.
Because HACCC knew it needed input from the community members who are most impacted by the work on Las Deltas, it began working closely with The North Richmond Resident Leadership Team. The community-based organizations Richmond Our Power Coalition, Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond (CHDC), and Richmond LAND also recognized that this is a once-in-several-generations opportunity to integrate affordable housing with comprehensive revitalization of the neighborhood, and partnered with HACCC to become a Partnership for the Bay’s Future (PBF) Policy Grant recipient. The resources made available through PBF’s grant and the partnerships formed would allow this new team to create a new model to combat displacement and support racial and economic equity.
The Power of Adding Capacity & Community Partnerships
As a PBF Fellow placed with HACCC, a large part of my role in the first year of the grant has been to incorporate equitable policies and community needs directly into the first Request For Qualifications (RFQ) to sell a portion of the properties. This included ideas like a local preference policy, integrating affordable homeownership opportunities, prioritizing developers with existing relationships to the community, and more – most of which came from years of community engagement and organizing to produce a plan that felt right for North Richmond.
Our community partners each provide unique perspectives and services to help make this project successful. CHDC has decades of community development and affordable mortgage experience in North Richmond to reflect on while our team makes collective decisions; Richmond LAND brings expertise and innovative forms of affordable homeownership models like cooperatives and community land trusts; and Richmond Our Power Coalition provides key connections to the 9-organization membership base of Richmond residents to get involved in advocacy and community engagement in service to the objectives of the partnership. In addition, CHDC and Richmond LAND provide direct services to North Richmond residents through developing affordable housing and community education about tenant protections and financial literacy. Because I meet with each partner regularly to run ideas past each other, and our full group meets every two weeks to learn from each other and make decisions, it has made the land disposition process much stronger and connected to other key community development efforts.
This ensures technical expertise from government staff and housing professionals, but also community expertise from people who will know which proposals make the most sense for their community.
Beyond consulting with community partners on which policies and priorities to include in the redevelopment plan, another key part of the land disposition process is to include residents. One of the major benefits of the PBF Policy Grants is adding staff capacity to the government agencies through the Fellows. Because I am dedicated solely to this project, I provide regular updates to residents in the form of newsletters and webpages, one-on-one phone calls to interested developers or curious neighbors, and presenting at public meetings. Through this outreach, we have identified three community representatives to serve on the seven-person selection panel for the Las Deltas scattered site disposition. This ensures the panel will not only have technical expertise from government staff and housing professionals, but also community expertise from people who will know first-hand which proposals make the most sense for their community.
Reflections on Bridging Government to the Community
This process has really opened my eyes to the power of working with government staff to enact equitable change under what is already legal. Housing Authorities may be an unlikely partner in some minds, but the ability to embed public policies directly into Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and RFQs should not be overlooked. As a government agency that owns, manages, and often sells land or provides subsidies for affordable housing, and as a government agency whose sole mission is to provide affordable housing, the opportunities are abundant.
As my fellowship just passed the first year of a two-year program, I have been reflecting a lot on the value of forming such partnerships that the PBF Policy Grants support – how having open communication between advocates and government staff allows the best solutions for a community to be reached. Successful implementation of the redevelopment will give the 81 households who were displaced from Las Deltas an opportunity to return, supports the growth of organizations and developers who have existing relationships and deep knowledge of resident needs and desires, and is a model of government-assisted homeownership opportunities that can reverse the legacy of segregation and exclusionary housing policies. As jurisdictions throughout the state are preparing public lands frameworks and/or writing RFPs to sell or give away public land, our hope is that this model is an inspiration to be replicated.
The deadline for the RFQ was July 13, 2023, and developers have submitted their final proposals. Follow developments for Las Deltas Public Housing here.
Hannah Phalen recently completed her Masters of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy. She got her start in housing policy at the Berkeley Student Cooperatives, where she lived and worked throughout the entirety of her undergraduate career. She contributed to housing research and advocacy at California Community Builders, and has since expanded her experiences during graduate school through research at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation and the Urban Displacement Project, and through consultant city planning work at Urban Planning Partners. She is passionate about the need to build more homes, and is inspired by innovative housing models such as acquisition/rehab, ADUs, and alternative models for homeownership like community land trusts.