By Murtaza Baxamusa / San Diego UrbDeZine
These are interesting times in the housing world. The unprecedented housing crisis statewide in California, and locally in San Diego, is forging unprecedented coalitions among affordable housing advocates, community-based organizations, labor unions and environmentalists.
These coalitions are galvanizing in response to the demand from their members to put all options on the table to tackle this crisis that is taking a significant toll on all of us.
We may not all be housing policy experts, but we are experts in the housing situation that we face on a daily basis. We struggle with rising housing costs, tenant displacement, substandard quality stock, longer commutes, poverty-wage jobs and flat family incomes. And we are skeptical of the establishment players and institutions that have done little to address the build-up of this crisis over the past decade.
The mantra of “housing affordability” is often co-opted by those that profit from the crisis, by escaping accountability and taking advantage of our situation to build anything, anywhere, most often at high prices and low wages, and without regard to community impacts.
In times of crisis, people come together. Labor-community coalitions and tenant-based organizations are emerging throughout California. For example, Californians for Affordable Housing that played a pivotal role in shaping a statewide housing concept paper that is intended to inform housing legislation this year. In Los Angeles, ACT-LA that was instrumental in the passage of Build Better L.A. initiative, and in partnership with the Los Angeles Federation of Labor and the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing succeeded in passing a citywide $1.2 billion bond measure (Measure HHH) for building affordable housing and a countywide sales tax for supporting homeless services (Measure H).
In the Bay Area, the East Bay Housing Organizations and Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California drove a number of ballot measures, including in Santa Clara County (Measure A), Alameda County (Measure A1), San Mateo County (Measure K), Oakland (Measure KK), and Berkeley (Measure U1).
Inspired by this success, a labor-community coalition is proposing a regulatory ballot measure in San Jose next year. Tenants are organizing across the state to hold landlords accountable. And new analytical and policy tools such as “Jobs-Housing Fit” and “Value Capture Ordinance” are being crafted.
The formation of the Build Better San Diego coalition fills the need for a large-scale grassroots response to the housing crisis. It comes at an exciting moment, when labor is emerging as a key ally of local community, civil rights, and environmental organizations, as witnessed by the success of the Measures K and L (to prevent Special Elections and allow more voters to participate), and the defeat of Measure A (SANDAG’s tax that would pollute impacted communities), in San Diego. It comes as the worsening crisis is forging deeper alliances, and commitment of resources by the coalition members to organize large-scale solutions to the housing problem.
The Build Better San Diego coalition members believe that when families have the freedom to live in healthy, safe and affordable homes near transit, jobs, and services, our communities improve and our local economies thrive.
Its growing membership includes San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, Partnership for Advancement of New Americans, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Climate Action Campaign, Justice Overcoming Boundaries, Think Dignity, Planned Parenthood, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 30, Sierra Club Chapter on San Diego, United Taxi Workers of San Diego, and LaCava Consulting. The coalition intends to advocate for preserving and increasing access to permanently affordable quality homes, jobs and transit for all San Diegans.
The guiding principles of the coalition are:
- Focus the region’s limited resources on meeting the most pressing housing needs, i.e. people who don’t have a home or low and moderate income families paying a disproportionate percentage of their income for housing.
- Support creation of jobs paying family-supporting wages.
- Require all communities to take responsibility for making their housing accessible to people at various income levels, especially local workers, people with disabilities and seniors on fixed incomes.
- Protect the region’s natural resources and support its goals to reduce our carbon emissions by locating homes near jobs, transit, and services.
- Ensure existing residents can remain in their community.
- Support tenant protections that help ensure safe and affordable housing.
- Solve homelessness with an achievable goal for addressing short and long-term housing needs.
- Build for a long-term movement to ensure all San Diegans have housing.
These are the building blocks for empowering communities to take control of their housing future.
Murtaza H. Baxamusa, Ph.D., AICP is a certified planner, writer and thinker. He develops affordable housing for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation, and teaches urban planning at the University of Southern California (USC). He has over 12 years’ experience in economic development and sustainable urban planning, and has previously worked for the USC Center for Economic Development as well as the Center on Policy Initiatives. He has doctoral and master’s degrees in Planning from USC, and a bachelor’s degree with honors from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He serves and has served on several nonprofit boards, including Civic San Diego, the San Diego City-County Reinvestment Taskforce and the Middle Class Taxpayers Association.