Home is housing-animated— it is where the people, experiences, objects, and memories that make up our day-to-day lives are knotted together with broader relationships to people, places, and moments. Home is like scent, it evokes memory, accessing those parts of the brain that pull at emotions—good, bad, and intense.
Home is where housing and belonging come together. In this report we refer to “belonging” as not merely about having access to opportunities and resources, but being able to make demands upon political and cultural institutions. Belonging means being seen, listened to, and responded to at a structural level.
Housing can be described by any number of nouns and adjectives: shelter, temporary, investment, shortage, segregated, (un)affordable. But to describe housing without understanding belonging is to speak of statistics without people, place without human texture, buildings not homes. As Staying Power fellow DeAndre Evans asked, “How many of us aren’t statistics?”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, discussions on housing are endless—the shortage, the prices, the displacement, the inequality. In Richmond, a campaign to pass rent control and just cause for eviction laws in 2015 brought together Richmond renters, landlords, and local organizations into a powerful campaign to demand tenant protections from rising costs and unjust evictions. In demanding structural protection, they were asserting their belonging.
Their efforts were met with disdain from some elected officials in Richmond and rent control opponents. During one packed council meeting, a council member took the microphone and asked the audience to not be distracted by the stories of residents in the face of the facts that he had compiled. This framing of (his) facts vs. (their) testimony and lived experience was a false one; proponents had also done extensive research that showed statistical and factual justifications for rent control. At the root, his ask was a statement of dis-belonging—the experience of the marginalized is not how to direct the priorities of government. Such asks—and nearly $200,000 spent in opposition to the ballot vote on rent control—ultimately failed; rent control and just cause for eviction won at the ballot in 2016 with 65 percent of the vote and Richmond became the first city in California to pass a new rent control ordinance in over 30 years.137
This was followed in late-2016 with another housing policy designed for formerly incarcerated people and advanced by a coalition of organizations such as the Safe Return Project and others. The Fair Chance Housing Ordinance prohibits public, low-income, and affordable housing providers from inquiring about prior convictions of an applicant—a “ban-the-box” for housing.
While only two tools in the broader efforts to make an equitable housing landscape in Richmond, these victories signal the importance and power of housing policies that advance belonging. While making explicit who does belong, they also support the stability of residents by offering some protection from the impacts of the housing crisis—a burden most heavily shouldered by Black, Latino, and low-income residents. Importantly, the victories also reflect the power of residents acting together to shape city policy that reflects their communities, an outcome that is contagious in its action-oriented hopefulness. “This body embody Richmond,”138 stated an organizer deeply involved in passing Fair Chance Housing. This is a statement of belonging—the experience and collective action of the historically excluded directing the priorities of government for the people.
Housing remains one of the defining factors of our lives. As author Matthew Desmond puts it bluntly, “Rent eats first.”139 Housing policies for belonging do not only have housing as their sole goal. Housing policies for belonging must address the ongoing impacts of racism and economic exclusion by inverting historical and contemporary place-based disenfranchisement; racial exclusion from homeownership is the single biggest factor in the racial wealth gap that today means the average white household wealth is seven times that of Black wealth and five times that of Latino wealth;140 education quality is intimately tied to where people live,141 a factor shaped by housing policy, zoning, and tax code; housing access and zoning have resulted in disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution for low-income people of color;142 and racial residential segregation can increase toxic stress with long-term negative health outcomes.143 One of the end results of these inequities is that Black residents in Richmond have been displaced from their historic neighborhoods, whether through the rising costs of housing, in pursuit of better education, or out of safety concerns. In Richmond, the Black population has fallen from 36,600 in the year 2000 to 23,500 in the year 2015 (a 36 percent decrease).144
Stable, affordable, quality housing and the ability to move if one wants to—not to be driven out by violence, rising prices, failing schools or exclusionary policies—provide undeniable foundations for the thriving of Richmond residents and the city as a whole. Policies of belonging mean that structurally excluded residents can benefit from the improvements of place and development that are happening, and will continue to happen, in Richmond over the long-term.
By supporting Richmond as home, housing policies for belonging are not an end, but a framework for expanding the health, wealth, and power of Richmond residents.
- 137Cat Schuknecht and Reis Thebault, “Real estate industry spends big to defeat Bay Area rent control measures,” Richmond Confidential, November 7, 2016, http://richmondconfidential.org/2016/11/07/real-estate-industry-spends-….
- 138This statement comes from a poem by Staying Power fellow Ciera-Jevae Gordon and is part of a collection of poems based on interviews with Richmond residents. The collection is available at belonging.berkeley.edu/stayingpower.
- 139Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and profit in the American city (Broadway Books, 2016).
- 140Janelle Jones, “The racial wealth gap: How African-Americans have been shortchanged out of the materials to build wealth,” Economic Policy Institute, February 2017, http://www.epi.org/blog/the-racial-wealth-gap-how-african-americans-hav….
- 141Pat Rubio Goldsmith, “Schools or Neighborhoods or Both? Race and Ethnic Segregation and Educational Attainment,” Social Forces 87, no. 4 (2009): 1913–41. doi:10.1353/sof.0.0193.
- 142Rachel Morello-Frosch, Manuel Pastor, and James Sadd, “Environmental Justice and Southern California’s ‘Riskscape’ The Distribution of Air Toxics Exposures and Health Risks among Diverse Communities.” Urban Affairs Review 36, no. 4 (2001): 551–78. doi:10.1177/10780870122184993.
- 143David R. Williams and Chiquita Collins, “Racial Residential Segregation: A Fundamental Cause of Racial Disparities in Health,” Public Health Reports 116, no. 5 (2001): 404–16.
- 144Analysis of data from Table B03002, 2011-2015 American Community Survey Five-year Estimates, and Table P010, Census 2000 Summary File 1.