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The Institute has a strong policy focus, developing and advancing strategic, innovative, and equitable policies in partnership with social movements, advocates, and policymakers. To do this, we produce original research analysis of vital policy and legal issues, advance recommendations for policy reform, and work with policymakers to implement those reforms. 


The Institute analyzes existing or contemplated policy choices to illuminate problems that may otherwise go unnoticed. In addition to producing research prompted by community needs, as described in Impact Area 1, the Institute also conducts research and provides analysis on policy and legal issues that need reform. For example, our report Unfair Shares: Racial Disparities and the Regional Housing Needs Allocation Process illuminated how California’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) process—an obscure, but vital policy issue—had broken down. After examining nearly two decades of data, our study discovered that less racially diverse cities in the Bay Area were being given lower goals for housing development, indicating that these cities were not being allocated their fair share of moderate and lower income housing. In 2018, the state legislature passed RHNA reform that quoted the Institute’s research and will require jurisdictions to make more realistic and equitable assessments of housing need by income level. 

Another example of how the Institute analyzes existing policy to provide fresh possibilities for change is the comprehensive research the Institute conducted over three years to illuminate best practices for inclusion for both formerly and currently incarcerated people and immigrants. The Institute published its findings and recommendations in a report entitled We Too Belong: Inclusive Practices in Immigration and Incarceration Law & Policy, as well as organized a one-day conference to workshop its findings with speakers from the immigrant rights movement, formerly incarcerated, public defenders, and legal researchers.

From left: Piper Anderson, Marlon Peterson, and Raha Jorjani, speakers at the 2016 “We Too Belong” event which launched the Othering & Belonging Institute’s publication on solutions to the intersection of immigration and mass incarceration.

From left: Piper Anderson, Marlon Peterson, and Raha Jorjani, speakers at the 2016 “We Too Belong” event which launched the Othering & Belonging Institute’s publication on solutions to the intersection of immigration and mass incarceration.


We generate research in order to suggest avenues for change. One of the most visible pieces of research the Institute has published is a brief and infographic identifying six broad policy areas that would reduce economic and wealth inequality, such as raising the minimum wage and augmenting the Earned Income Tax Credit. Responding to Rising Economic Inequality was produced by our Economic Disparities cluster and draws upon research from its faculty, including Hilary Hoynes, a distinguished economist and the cluster chair, as well as Emmanuel Saez, Rucker Johnson, Robert Reich, among many other of its notable economic and policy thinkers. The policy brief, infographic, and john powell’s accompanying blog post summarizing the brief’s findings are the most-visited and downloaded content from the Institute’s website. 

Affiliated UC Berkeley faculty who are part of our seven faculty clusters (see more in Impact Area 4) engage in significant efforts to translate their research to policy. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman provided input on Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax. Hilary Hoynes served on a National Academy of Sciences Committee on a roadmap to reduce child poverty and has traveled extensively on speaking engagements promoting the findings. Danny Schneider advises cities on policies to improve scheduling for shift workers and Michael Reich advises cities on minimum wage policies. Media often draws on the expertise of many cluster scholars to speak to the ways in which income inequality is a major concern in the US economy.

Another demonstration of Institute faculty’s engaged scholarship is a policy brief produced by the Institute’s Disability Studies faculty cluster, entitled  State of Change: State-Level Actions to Protect the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children. Faculty collaborated with disability rights leaders and and legal scholars to produce this report that details legislation that discriminates against parents with disabilities, and included recommendations for states to adopt non-discriminatory laws. These legislative changes are needed by at least 4.1 million disabled parents currently raising children under the age of 18 in the US as well as by the roughly 6.1 million children who rely on them for care. The brief was shared widely with advocates and state and federal legislators, as well as delivered to members of Congress at an event in Washington DC.

The Institute has also suggested policy reforms that are outside mainstream policy discourse but which we believe are not only achievable, but also widen the window of discourse on what is possible in policymaking. In 2019 we began a series sharing ideas for bold policy reforms with the release of Ending Legal Bias Against Formerly Incarcerated People, a work that shows how the formerly incarcerated could be given greater protections by establishing a  protected class status for them through municipal ordinances and other legal strategies.


Our research and analysis has catalyzed policy change and positive legal outcomes. Our analysis of California’s distribution of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program in California illustrated how the state was disproportionately awarding tax credits to developers siting low-income housing in racially and economically concentrated areas. From 2010 to 2018, 59 percent of TCAC federal award dollars—$223 million—have been given to properties in such neighborhoods. In contrast, neighborhoods with high levels of resources have only received 15 percent of federal award money. This analysis led directly to policy reform when we partnered with the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Tax Credit Allocation Committee (TCAC) to tweak the siting criteria to allow more low-income families into racially and economically integrated neighborhoods with greater opportunity.  TCAC applied maps developed by the Institute to work with state decision-makers to identify residential tracts within each region where the research suggests low-income families are most likely to thrive, and where they typically do not have the option to live—but might, if given the choice.

Early results indicate that these opportunity maps created by the Institute have doubled HCD’s investment in moving low-income residents to high-opportunity neighborhoods. In 2019, since the adoption of the opportunity maps, 30 percent—$17 million—of TCAC funds were allocated for new developments in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Not only has this effort spurred much-needed development in higher-resourced neighborhoods that will potentially impact thousands of households, but there are plans to expand these tools to look at opportunities for equitable development in more rural parts of California in 2020.

In addition to direct policy reform, the Institute actively works to strengthen the interpretation and implementation of existing laws to expand access to critical resources. For example, we have filed amicus briefs in the US Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court on multiple occasions, as well as testifying in legislative hearings. In each case, our efforts have contributed to favorable, and even surprising, rulings. (see Legal Research sidebar). 

The Institute has also engaged in policy design to advance targeted universalism across local governments, shifting their policies and practices toward equity and belonging. The Institute has worked with partners to seed this approach across the social change sector for many years, to ensure advocates and policymakers pursue policy solutions that are outcome-oriented and inclusive of everyone. The Institute developed a Targeted Universalism primer that provided a roadmap for designing policy to serve groups who are often excluded, while promising to improve outcomes for all communities. The primer is part of the Institute’s efforts to partner with municipalities to adopt targeted universalist policies across the country.

For example, California adopted targeted universalism in its early childhood education framework after the Institute Assistant Director Stephen Menendian presented a set of recommendations to the Commission in 2018 where he explained how targeted universalism frameworks differ from traditional universal or targeted approaches, and demonstrated how they are better designed to achieve equity outcomes. As a result, in 2019, the California State Assembly’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education incorporated targeted universalism as a framework for expanding early childhood access to all students and families regardless of race, income, or background in their draft recommendations. Adopting this framework was part of meeting their 10-year plan to meet universal goals for every California child and family, beginning with a focus on the “most excluded.”


Sustainable reform requires the infrastructure to support it. Working with government is a key approach by which the Institute advances equitable policies and practices, because of our strong belief that government plays a central role in making lasting social change. The Institute places a core emphasis on advancing racial equity in government through a project it seeded, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), which is now a joint project with the organization Race Forward. When the Institute first began this effort, there was resistance among both elected officials as well as community partners for focusing so intentionally on bringing a race and equity lens to government policies and practices. GARE’s collective efforts over the past five years have established Departments of Equity and Inclusion and Offices of Health Equity across the nation. The Institute has helped design countless policies and programs for racial equity, while integrating racial equity tools to local governments around the country and the globe.


Image on Impact Area 3: Policy and Practice

Institute staff and faculty, from left: Joshua Clark, Erica Browne, Rucker Johnson, and Julie Nelson


Sidebar: Legal Research

The Othering & Belonging Institute’s legal research work has made significant impact on shaping law and policy in the area of fair and affordable housing.  The (then Haas) Institute has filed amicus briefs in critical Supreme Court cases involving affordable housing, inclusionary zoning, and affirmative action. One, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. the Inclusive Communities Project, reminded the US Supreme Court that governmental policies created the segregated conditions of our metropolitan regions. The brief, which reiterated that “race-neutral” government and private housing decisions both perpetuate and exacerbate patterns of segregation, included a series of maps depicting patterns of segregation in the Dallas metropolitan region over five decades, illustrating how Texas’s implementation of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program produced a discriminatory impact on communities of color. In its ruling, the Supreme Court referenced the Institute’s brief in sharing our view that disparate impact claims are necessary to ensure government actors take long-standing historical inequities like segregation into account when making policy, program, and budget decisions, rather than inadvertently continuing these patterns or making them worse. 

The Institute also co-authored briefs filed in the Supreme Court’s review of the University of Texas’s affirmative action plan in Fisher v. Texas in 2012 and 2016, with favorable rulings. Our research continues to support equity in the courts.

“The Othering and Belonging Institute has been a source of leadership and support for my work documenting the origins of our nation’s residential racial segregation. In 2014, Stephen Menendian and I assembled a group of housing scholars to file an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court demonstrating that government involvement in the creation of segregation was sufficiently powerful to justify the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of programs and policies that result in supporting segregation, even where explicit racial motivation cannot be proven. The Court cited the Institute’s brief in upholding a disparate impact standard under the Act."

- Richard Rothstein, Author of The Color of Law; Senior Fellow, Othering and Belonging Institute and Distinguished Fellow, Economic Policy Institute

Sidebar: Impacting Government

In early 2014, the Institute launched the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) with Center for Social Inclusion (now Race Forward) to support elected leaders and government officials to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. What started with only one staff person, GARE has grown to a nearly 200-member strong national network focused on supporting local governments—including cities, counties, and regional governments—with best practices, tools, and resources to build and sustain current racial equity efforts while building a national movement for racial equity. Since its founding, membership has doubled annually.

The Institute’s pioneering racial equity policymaking model enables government officials to evaluate past policies while also looking ahead to how new policies can be designed in a way that will have a lasting impact and ensure real equity in communities, with an eye to avoiding unintended consequences that promote equity for some populations at the expense of others. GARE works with leaders to conduct racial equity assessments, analyze current policies, and develop and implement new equity policies. The Alliance carries out trainings, technical assistance projects, and convenings, energizing government officials to pursue equitable policymaking that incorporates the principles of targeted universalism. GARE also supports members on day-to-day governance activities that will promote racial equity including contracting, hiring, and staff retention.

Across the country, GARE has aided the design of racial equity-driven policies, including supporting sanctuary city efforts with the ACLU and other partners. The Alliance aided in the design and implementation of a Cannabis Equity program by the City of Oakland, as part of its partnership to successfully implement racial equity policymaking and practice across the city’s departments. In Montgomery County, Maryland, the Alliance’s efforts contributed to Asian American residents being better served by a county-funded initiative on Hepatitis B treatment.

In North Carolina, GARE partnered with both state and local governments to scale investments in racial equity, leading to the adoption of an equity action plan by the City of Asheville and the Alliance’s development of a statewide Innovation and Implementation Fund that provides flexible resources for local governments to seed projects that focus on eliminating structural racism.

Throughout its efforts, GARE has ensured that racial equity tools incorporate a feedback assessment loop to  analyze policies after implementation to ensure they have the intended effect and outcome.