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By Derrick Duren, 2017 Summer Fellow

Participants at the Richmond Housing Symposium
“An empowered Richmond is one that offers improved access to resources that will allow us to thrive and be fully contributing members of the community,” explained an attendee at the Haas Institute’s Richmond City Wide Housing Symposium last month. “We are the agents of co-creating our collective future.”

The symposium, held June 3 in Richmond, California, sought to serve as an educational seminar to educate and empower Richmond residents in light of growing housing displacement and an inadequate institutional response to the crisis—as well as to hear from residents on what they envision for a more equitable and sustainable city. A diverse group of about 90 residents, activists, and policy advocates shared their visions for Richmond as well as strategies to prevent housing discrimination, foster homeownership opportunities, and develop policies to further opportunities for some of the city’s most marginalized communities.

With rates of crime and violence in Richmond on the decline, coupled with improved schools and air quality, the city’s appeal has grown tremendously in the Bay Area real estate market. As of 2012, 40 percent of homebuyers in Richmond were real estate investors purchasing houses with cash to benefit from the improved neighborhood conditions. More than 80 percent of Richmond residents are people of color—49 percent of whom live in low-income renter households, which means that this community is disproportionately affected by rising rents. Community members at the symposium shared narratives that illustrated the human face of these statistics and emphasized the need to develop strategies that would establish a healthier system of housing and support.

Spoken word artists from Staying Power, a local initiative created by the Haas Institute and Richmond-based organizations ACCE, RYSE, and the Safe Return Project, opened the Richmond Housing Symposium with poetry focused on what it means to belong.  

“Show them how cheap it is to poison their bodies, then deny them health care. Say it is a privilege,  say they cannot afford it, tell them how you have been trying to rid your utopia of them,” said youth poet Ciera-Jevae Gordon. “To keep the tired on their feet, Just to ready a city that was never yours for the middle class to take over homes that our great great grandfathers and mothers built.”

Later in the event, representatives from the Safe Return Project, a team of Richmond residents dedicated to supporting people coming home from incarceration, discussed the process of passing the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, a law passed in 2016 in Richmond to protect housing applicants with past convictions from being discriminated against by housing providers. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), a community organization building power in low to moderate income neighborhoods, lead a discussion of what it took to pass the Richmond’s rent control and just cause ordinance.

Image on Haas Institute Housing Symposium Envisions a Richmond Where Everyone Belongs

A series of 12 workshops led by local leaders and experts from around the region focused on specific strategies to combat housing insecurity in Richmond, including opportunities for community ownership, institutional programming, and policy-making, further solidified this tone at the housing symposium. The People of Color Sustainable Housing Network led an informational discussion about Permanent Real Estate Cooperatives in the Bay Area, while the Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services informed residents about a little-known program that allows Section 8 holders in Richmond to purchase a home and use their Section 8 to make mortgage payments. The East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) and Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) offered a session on Affordable Housing Bonds, which have been adopted recently in Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties. The workshops created a space for residents to analyze policies’ potential impact and application in Richmond and Contra Costa County.

Ultimately, the Richmond Housing Symposium provided a forum for productive dialogue on the specific needs of long-term Richmond residents. The symposium offered practical examples and strategies to equip organizers and residents to push back on gentrifying trends. By rooting all organizing efforts in the real concerns expressed by the Richmond community, participants of the symposium formulated policies and initiatives to secure sustainable, equitable, and affordable housing in the Bay Area. With continued focus, these efforts by Bay Area housing advocates, litigators, lawyers, advisors, tenants, landlords, and other residents will continue helping create communities where everyone belongs and people aren’t at risk of permanently losing their communities, homes, and security.

For more info on any of the organizations or projects mentioned in here, please refer to our Richmond Housing page