Equitable Development as a Tool to Advance Racial Equity

Evidence of Progress toward Racial Equity through 8 Equitable Development

Evidence of Progress toward Racial Equity through 8 Equitable Development​ 

Equitable development ultimately manifests in tangible development projects and programs. The examples below illustrate some of the characteristics, benefits, and challenges of implementing equitable development. Each serves the dual purposes of both preventing displacement and increasing access to opportunity.

Community Cornerstones and Seattle’s Equitable Development Framework, Seattle Washington

The City of Seattle’s Community Cornerstones program demonstrates the power of a collective impact model for equitable development. Its aim is to strengthen Seattle’s most economically and culturally diverse communities while also welcoming new residents and businesses. The program is directed by community-developed neighborhood plans responding to displacement pressures resulting from the introduction of light rail service in southeast Seattle. The program’s strategies ensure that existing low-income communities and communities of color participate in and benefit from decisions that shape their own neighborhoods. Some examples include:

  • business technical assistance and promotion services to stabilize and grow local businesses in the established multicultural business districts;
  • land acquisition for projects with a mix of commercial and community uses on the ground floor and primarily family-sized affordable housing above;
  • multicultural coalition building to build out a network of shared multicultural community centers; and
  • capacity-building of immigrant and refugee leaders and organizations to serve their communities and also work across cultural lines on shared agendas.

Seattle 2035 is the City of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan for managing growth. The plan provides long-term guidance to help the City make decisions over the next 20 years about managing growth and providing services. In May 2015, Mayor Ed Murray sent Seattle City Council a resolution making race and social equity a foundational core value for the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Council passed the resolution unanimously. 

The resolution calls for the City to:

  • incorporate new race and social equity goals and policies throughout the Comprehensive Plan;
  • analyze the impacts of proposed growth strategies on the most vulnerable communities, and change policies, programs and investments to help offset the impacts of the selected growth strategy;
  • close racial and social disparities with capital and program investments; and,
  • create, monitor, and report on equity measures.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston Massachusetts

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is a model for capacity-building and community-led development. Formed in 1984 when one-third of the Dudley Street neighborhood’s land (1,300 lots) was vacant from years of abandonment and arson. The DSNI organized and empowered community members to develop a shared vision to revitalize the physical and social infrastructure of the community. Since then over half of those lots have been rehabilitated for homes, gardens, parks, orchards, playgrounds, schools, community centers, and a Town Common. More than 400 new homes have been built and 500 housing units rehabbed since DSNI was Government Alliance on Race and Equity REPORT Equitable Development as a Tool to Advance Racial Equity 9 formed. They are the only community group in the nation to win eminent domain power from a local municipality. This power was central to DSNI’s achieving such tangible success.

The physical revitalization of the Dudley Street neighborhood is only eclipsed by the human and social infrastructure investments DSNI has made. DSNI’s programs for resident leadership, youth mentoring, parent advocacy, and community organizing are just a few examples. Most telling is that DSNI’s 3,600+ members include many residents who were children when DSNI began and are now leaders throughout the community—underscoring the multi-generational nature of community organizing for systems change.

Fruitvale Station Village, Oakland California

The Unity Council’s Fruitvale Station Village development exemplifies the importance of community organizing and establishing community anchors in equitable development. The Unity Council organized the Fruitvale neighborhood’s predominately Latino community throughout a process of protesting a proposed light rail park n’ ride, designing a mixed-use project, and ultimately controlling the development and operation of the project.

The development provides a public market, office space, small retail spaces, a library, senior center, community health center, childcare facility, and mixed-income housing. The culturally relevant design principles—along with the provision of local services that meet community needs— has resulted in the project becoming a community anchor. This new asset in the community has directly contributed to lowering neighborhood crime and commercial vacancy rates nearby while also increasing transit ridership and catalyzing new development in the neighborhood.

Healthy Development Guidelines, Oakland California

A community-based planning partnership launched a process in July 2014 to develop a set of “Healthy Development Guidelines” for the City of Oakland.  It is a joint effort between several nonprofit community-based organizations as part of East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, along with the Alameda County Public Health Department and the City of Oakland Planning Department, with technical assistance from ChangeLab Solutions and Raimi & Associates. This multi-year resident engagement process resulted in a set of guidelines that city planners and developers can use to review all new development projects above a certain threshold to ensure that they meet community-identified priorities for health equity. The partners are working on implementing some of the Guidelines administratively with the City Planning and Building Department. The partners are also in the process of adopting some Guidelines legislatively.

Affordable Housing Preference Policy, Portland Oregon

The City of Portland’s Affordable Housing Preference Policy is heavily informed by the history of the City’s urban renewal policies and investments in North and Northeast Portland, specifically the displacement of African-American households and the disinvestment in public infrastructure. Gentrification fueled displacement, higher foreclosure rates, and a large racial wealth gap are some of the impacts of this legacy. The City is addressing these historic and current day inequities by giving priority for public funding to households with generational ties to these neighborhoods. Current and former residents of these areas that were subject to urban renewal, and their descendants now have priority when applying for City-funded affordable rental apartments, ownership homes, and down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers. Top priority is given to households (and their descendants) who owned property that was taken by eminent domain. This policy serves as a model of restorative justice that can be undertaken by local governments.