Greenlining Receives Major Gift from MacKenzie Scott to Advance Transformative Racial Equity Agenda

Press Contact:
Molly Tafoya, Director of Communications, The Greenlining Institute, molly.tafoya@greenlining.org, 808-256-7064 (c)

(Oakland, CA)–The Greenlining Institute expresses our profound gratitude for the generous gift from MacKenzie Scott. This significant investment will be transformational in supporting Greenlining’s long-term efforts to build a world where communities of color can build wealth, live in healthy places filled with economic opportunity, and are ready to meet the challenges posed by climate change. These resources will allow us to stabilize the organization for the near term, and lay a strong foundation to expand and accelerate Greenlining’s impact as articulated through our recently adopted strategic plan.

“We are honored to be selected among so many dedicated and deserving organizations. We applaud the efforts to prioritize frontline communities most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice organizations that are tackling the root causes of economic disparities,” says Greenlining President & CEO, Debra Gore-Mann. “At a time when communities of color are suffering most, we feel an immense responsibility to take intentional, decisive, and immediate action to confront systemic racism at its root. And that massive undertaking requires sustainable resources and investment. This gift invests in Greenlining’s bold, creative, and ambitious vision as we confront the systems that perpetuate inequity.”

As we reflect upon the vast underinvestment in our social infrastructure, we commend MacKenzie Scott’s commitment to redistributing her wealth to communities that have been most undervalued and disenfranchised in our economic system. We recognize MacKenzie Scott for modeling a shift in philanthropy by quickly deploying unrestricted resources and trusting us to focus on the work that we have honed over decades working on issues of economic and climate equity. We look forward to working hand-in-hand with our diverse partners to continue to drive solutions that ensure that race is never a barrier to opportunity.

Programmers, Lawmakers Want A.I. to Eliminate Bias, Not Promote It

By Kristian Hernandez
PEW Trusts

DALLAS — When software engineer Bejoy Narayana was developing Bob.ai, an application to help automate Dallas-Fort Worth’s Section 8 voucher program, he stopped and asked himself, ‘‘Could this system be used to help some people more than others?”

Bob.ai uses artificial intelligence, known as AI, and automation to help voucher holders find rental units, property owners complete contracting and housing authorities conduct inspections. The software and mobile app were released in 2018 in partnership with the Dallas Housing Authority, which gave Narayana access to data from some 16,000 Section 8 voucher holders.

Artificial intelligence is used in a host of algorithms in medicine, banking and other major industries. But as it has proliferated, studies have shown that AI can be biased against people of color. In housing, AI has helped perpetuate segregation, redlining and other forms of racial discrimination against Black families, who disproportionately rely on vouchers.

Narayana worried that Bob.ai would do the same, so he tweaked his app so that tenants could search for apartments using their voucher number alone, without providing any other identifying information.

As an Indian immigrant overseeing a team largely made up of people of color, Narayana was especially sensitive to the threat of racial bias. But lawmakers in a growing number of states don’t want to rely on the goodwill of AI developers. Instead, as AI is adopted by more industries and government agencies, they want to strengthen and update laws to guard against racially discriminatory algorithms—especially in the absence of federal rules.

Since 2019, more than 100 bills related to artificial intelligence and automated decision systems have been introduced in nearly two dozen states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, lawmakers in at least 16 states proposed creating panels to review AI’s impact, promote public and private investment in AI, or address transparency and fairness in AI development.

A bill in California would be the first to require developers to evaluate the privacy and security risks of their software, as well as assess their products’ potential to generate inaccurate, unfair, biased or discriminatory decisions. Under the proposed law, the California Department of Technology would have to approve software before it could be used in the public sector.

The bill, introduced by Assembly Member Ed Chau, a Democrat and chair of the Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, passed the California State Assembly earlier this month and was pending in the state Senate at publication time.

Chau said the bill would set up a clear system of accountability and offer transparency on AI design systems to minimize discriminatory effects on California residents, a critical goal as the state works on its pandemic recovery. Writing a new policy “is especially important as our government agencies seek to utilize algorithm-driven [AI] systems to improve our quality of life,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

Vinhcent Le, a lawyer at the Greenlining Institute, an advocacy group focused on racial economic justice, helped write the California legislation. Le described algorithms such as Bob.ai as gatekeepers to opportunity that can either perpetuate segregation and redlining or help to end them.

“It’s great that the developers of Bob.ai decided to omit a person’s name, but we can’t rely on small groups of people making decisions that can essentially affect thousands,” Le said. “We need an agreed way to audit these systems to ensure they are integrating equity metrics in ways that don’t unfairly disadvantage people.”

Automated Discrimination

According to an October report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, AI often has exacerbated racial bias in housing. A 2019 report from the University of California, Berkeley, showed that an AI-based mortgage lending system charged Black and Hispanic borrowers higher rates than White people for the same loans.

In 2019, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced a bill like the one under consideration in California, but it died in committee and has not been reintroduced.

“Fifty years ago, my parents encountered a practice called ‘real estate steering’ where black couples were steered away from certain neighborhoods in New Jersey. With the help of local advocates and the backing of federal legislation, they prevailed,” Booker said in a news release introducing the bill.

“However, the discrimination that my family faced in 1969 can be significantly harder to detect in 2019: houses that you never know are for sale, job opportunities that never present themselves, and financing that you never become aware of—all due to biased algorithms.”

Several states have struggled in recent years with problematic software.

Facebook overhauled its ad-targeting system to prevent discrimination in housing, credit and job ads in 2019 as part of a settlement to resolve legal challenges filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Communications Workers of America and other advocacy groups.

In Michigan, an AI system that cost the state $47 million to build in 2013 falsely accused as many as 40,000 people of unemployment insurance fraud, forcing some people into bankruptcy, according to the Detroit Free Press.

In Pennsylvania, a child abuse prediction model unfairly targets low-income families because it relies on data that is collected only on families using public resources, according to Virginia Eubanks’ 2018 book “Automating Inequality.”

“Automated decision-making shatters the social safety net, criminalizes the poor, intensifies discrimination, and compromises our deepest national values,” Eubanks wrote. “And while the most sweeping digital decision-making tools are tested in what could be called ‘low rights environments’ where there are few expectations of political accountability and transparency, systems first designed for the poor will eventually be used on everyone.”

The Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency began using Bob.ai in March. Laila Darby, assistant director of the housing voucher program, said the agency vetted Bob.ai before using it to make sure it didn’t raise privacy and discrimination concerns.

Narayana said he’s sure Bob.ai would pass any state-mandated test for algorithmic discrimination.

“We’re a company that is fighting discrimination and doing everything possible to expand housing for voucher holders,” Narayana said. “Vetting these systems is beneficial because discrimination and inequality is something everyone should be concerned about.”

Automating Solutions

Narayana worked as an engineer at IBM until he decided to start his own company with the mission of rethinking government functions. He founded BoodsKapper in 2016 and began developing Bob.ai out of a co-working space near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

Narayana’s creation has been a huge success—in Dallas and beyond. The Dallas Housing Authority has used Bob.ai to cut the average wait time for an apartment inspection from 15 days to one. Since the launch of Bob.ai, Dallas and more than a dozen other housing agencies have added some 20,000 Section 8 units from landlords who were not participating in the program because of the long inspection wait times.

“We partnered with [Narayana] to come up with some technology advancements to our workflows and automation so that we could more timely respond to our business partners so that they didn’t see this as a lost lead in terms of working with the voucher program,” said Troy Broussard, Dallas Housing Authority CEO.

Marian Russo, executive director of the Village of Patchogue Community Development Agency on Long Island, New York, said she hopes Bob.ai can help the agency reverse the area’s long history of redlining. The authority plans to begin using Bob.ai to manage its 173 housing vouchers later this year.

“We’re one of the most segregated parts of the country,” Russo said of Long Island. “We have 25 housing authorities, so if we could just have a central place with all the landlords who are renting through the program and all the individuals who are looking for housing in one place, that could be a part of equalizing the housing issues on Long Island.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat, has similar hopes for AI. In a May 7 hearing, members of the Task Force on Artificial Intelligence of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services discussed how AI could expand lending, housing and other opportunities. But they also warned that historical data inputted into AI can create models that are racist or sexist. Foster’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“The real promise of AI in this space is that it may eventually produce greater fairness and equity in ways that we may not have contemplated ourselves,” said Foster, chair of the task force, in the hearing. “So, we want to make sure that the biases of the analog world are not repeated in the AI and machine-learning world.”

Funding Request for Transformative Climate Communities and Regional Climate Collaboratives

Dear Speaker Rendon, Pro Tem Atkins, Assemblymember Ting, Assemblymember Bloom, Senator Skinner, and Senator Wieckowski,

On behalf of the Greenlining Institute and the undersigned organizations, we respectfully write to urge priority funding for the Regional Climate Collaboratives program and the Transformative Climate Communities program to ensure communities hit hardest by climate change have the resources, infrastructure, capacity and leadership to cope with the cumulative climate, health and economic crises they are experiencing. In the wake of the COVID-19, the ongoing climate crisis, and increasing levels of economic inequality, we must prioritize climate equity programs that meet the needs of communities hit first and worst by these multiple threats.

The Regional Climate Collaborative (RCC) program would establish the capacity building and technical assistance infrastructure needed in California's most impacted and least resourced communities. RCC will serve as local hubs to convene local stakeholders, foster partnerships and support the development of community plans and projects to advance local climate action. The program will select collaboratives to build community-driven leadership, knowledge, skills, experience, and resources to identify and access public funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.

The Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program delivers multiple emission-reducing strategies – like affordable solar-powered housing with access to clean public transit and active transportation – in a coordinated way that can transform communities into models of economic and environmental sustainability. Moreover, TCC directly connects investments to residents impacted by multiple sources of pollution and vulnerable to the anticipated impacts of climate change, and requires robust community engagement in all phases of project development and implementation.

While the Governor’s May Budget Revise included funding for these two priorities, the Senate’s May 25 Budget proposal completely zeroed out these critical climate equity programs.

We specifically urge you to consider the following requests:

  • $35M to the Strategic Growth Council for the Regional Climate Collaboratives Program (SB 1072, Leyva)
  • $500M to the Strategic Growth Council for the Transformative Climate Communities Program

CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY ADVANCES GROUNDBREAKING LEGISLATION TO LIMIT ALGORITHMIC BIAS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY ADVANCES GROUNDBREAKING LEGISLATION TO LIMIT ALGORITHMIC BIAS

June 1, 2021 – Today, the California State Assembly passed The Automated Decision Systems Accountability Act (AB13), taking a major leadership role in regulating algorithmic decision making systems. AB 13 would encourage businesses and public entities in California that provide benefits or services using artificial intelligence (AI) and automated decision systems to establish processes to test for biases during its development and usage. This is a major step forward in requiring that businesses and public entities take responsibility to ensure that racial inequities do not result from their algorithms.

Among the first legislation of its kind in the country, AB 13 will protect Californians from biased and inaccurate automated decision systems by requiring algorithmic accountability for “high-risk” public sector algorithms that impact Californian’s legal rights, employment opportunities, health and access to economic opportunity.The bill now advances to the Senate. 

Vinhcent Le, Technology Equity Legal Counsel of The Greenlining Institute and Board Member of the California Privacy Protection Agency said the following on the bill’s passing out of the Assembly: 

“Inaccurate and biased government AI costs taxpayers millions of dollars, harms disadvantaged communities, and erodes trust in government. AB 13 is an important step in modernizing government systems and ensuring that algorithmic biases don’t harm our state’s most vulnerable residents. We are incredibly proud that California is leading the way to fairer, more equitable technological practices.” 

Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), author of AB-13, further commented: 

“As we seek to rebuild our economy in an equitable way following the COVID-19 pandemic, bills such as AB-13 are more important than ever. This is especially true as government agencies seek to utilize algorithm-driven systems to improve operations and meet the needs of citizens in new ways. It is therefore important that we establish a clear accountability framework to ensure these algorithms do not discriminate against Californians. I’m encouraged that this bill passed out of the Assembly today, and I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to do the same.”

 

California leaders have no more excuses for their inaction on housing reforms

By Brian Hanlon and Adam Briones
The Sacramento Bee

From city government actions to President Biden’s infrastructure plan, the momentum to end exclusionary zoning and land use policies that contribute to both our housing crisis and neighborhood segregation is mounting. While local and federal government leaders are responding to growing distaste for embedded racist and exclusionary housing policies, our California legislature has yet to pass legislation with the scope needed to address these problems.

In the American Jobs Plan, Biden follows the example of city governments who have taken action to end unfair housing laws that make neighborhoods unaffordable and inaccessible for people of color and low- and middle-income families. The plan calls on Congress to incentivize local governments to “eliminate state and local exclusionary zoning laws, which drive up the cost of construction and keep families from moving to neighborhoods with more opportunities for them and their kids.”

Biden’s plan sets the national stage for housing policy reform that will make neighborhoods more equitable by encouraging local governments to end widespread local rules that prevent smaller, more affordable housing from being built, such as multi-family housing bans and excessive minimum lot size requirements for new housing.

These policies are the result of decades-long efforts to keep people of color from moving into traditionally white neighborhoods. When Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968, in an attempt to keep neighborhoods white, cities nationwide enacted bans on multifamily housing, which were more likely to be occupied by people of color and immigrants. In most cases, these are the same single-family only zoning laws that are in effect today.

Multi-family housing bans ensure that only the most expensive form of housing, single-family homes, can be built in wealthy, often white neighborhoods. Most first-time home buyers, including low- and middle-income Californians and essential workers, cannot afford the $700,000 statewide average single-family home, let alone the million-dollar homes in job-rich, coastal metropolitan areas. Today, for every dollar of wealth held by white families, African American and Latino families have about 15 cents, which is mostly due to a dramatic gap in home ownership.

Cities like Sacramento and Berkeley have taken the lead in recent months passing resolutions to end certain exclusionary zoning laws in their jurisdictions. The impetus for these reforms is a movement led by grassroots YIMBY groups, fair housing advocates and racial equity organizations who want to make it legal to build smaller, naturally affordable multifamily housing in more high-opportunity neighborhoods near transit and jobs — making them accessible to more people of color and low- and middle-income families. The impact of this movement is cascading to other cities throughout the state, with OaklandSan JoseCulver City and San Francisco all reviewing similar proposals.

While activism and leadership on the local level is encouraging, the problem is statewide and systemic. Solving it will require action from our legislature.

It’s not that the California Legislature lacks vision. Both houses have considered proposals that would take steps to end local zoning practices that ban multifamily homes in the state. It’s whether these proposals were bold reforms like SB 50 in 2019, or permitting duplexes that fit within their existing neighborhood contexts like SB 1120 in 2020, our legislators were not able to push these bills through to the governor’s desk. They lost traction despite the avalanche of public support for just this type of common-sense housing reform.

Indisputably, more than 90% of Californians, according to the latest PPIC poll, agree that housing affordability is a problem. Sixty-two percent of Californians supported changing state laws to allow more multifamily homes in a 2019 PPIC poll, and support is only growing stronger. A recent poll found that 79% of Los Angeles residents think allowing fourplexes is a priority. Nonetheless, the loudest voices in the room — NIMBYs — have drowned out the majority and pushed deserved legislative support for recent bills and reform packages off the track.

These Sacramento-area roads could get bike upgrades

While actions by local cities and now President Biden have increased awareness about the need for zoning reform, our state legislature is best positioned to address the issue with the urgency and scale necessary. Statewide reforms are needed to address these systemic problems and make housing more affordable and inclusive for all Californians. The tide change is here and there is no longer an excuse for inaction at the state level.

Brian Hanlon is the CEO of California YIMBY and Adam Briones is the senior director of economic equity at the Greenlining Institute.

SVB Financial Group Announces $11.2 Billion Community Benefits Plan

SVB Financial Group

SANTA CLARA, Calif. and BOSTON – May 20, 2021 – SVB Financial Group (“SVB”) (NASDAQ: SIVB), the parent of Silicon Valley Bank, the bank of the world’s most innovative companies and their investors, today announced a proposed five-year, $11.2 billion community benefits plan that builds on its long-standing commitment toward helping small businesses, financing affordable housing, reinvesting in low- and moderate-income (“LMI”) communities and supporting the greater good through philanthropy and volunteering. The plan was developed in collaboration with the California Reinvestment Coalition (“CRC”), The Greenlining Institute, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (“MAHA”) and Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (“MACDC”), based on anticipated growth resulting from and subject to the completion of SVB’s pending acquisition of Boston Private Financial Holdings, Inc. (“Boston Private”) (NASDAQ: BPFH), the parent of Boston Private Bank & Trust Company.  The acquisition was announced in January 2021 and is expected to close in mid-2021, subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions and applicable regulatory approvals.

Over a five-year period from January 2022 through December 2026, SVB’s $11.2 billion commitment will focus on providing financial support to LMI communities in California and Massachusetts:

  • $5.0 billion in small business loans of $1 million or less;
  • $4.8 billion in Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”) community development (“CD”) loans and investments;
  • $1.3 billion in residential mortgages to LMI borrowers and in LMI census tracts; and
  • $75 million in charitable contributions.

As part of its residential mortgage lending commitment, SVB will expand its participation in the Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s ONE Mortgage and the City of Boston’s ONE+Boston first-time homebuyer mortgage programs. SVB will also commit to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership Fund.

In addition, SVB plans to adopt and implement a corporate supplier diversity program with a goal, by 2026, of contracting at least eight percent of its corporate supplier spending annually to locally-based businesses owned or led by members of historically underserved communities, such as people of color and women. SVB will also continue its commitment to increase management diversity within the organization and has signed on to Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s 25×25 program.

“As a leader in the innovation economy, we strive to use our voice and influence to help shape a better future and contribute to progress in our communities,” said Greg Becker, President and CEO of SVB Financial Group. “This proposed community benefits plan aligns with our long-held commitment to significantly contribute to our communities’ well-being.  The growth of our business gives us the ability to step up more aggressively.  We are intent on making a lasting impact and welcome the support of our community partners in developing this plan.”

SVB’s business model serving small and growing businesses, and its key community development initiative, Access to Innovation, are aimed at giving entrepreneurs and innovative startups opportunities to build their businesses, create jobs and give back to their communities.

As part of the proposed community benefits plan, SVB will also create a community advisory council and will meet with representatives from the CRC, The Greenlining Institute, MAHA and MACDC to review and discuss progress toward the plan’s goals.

Silicon Valley Bank operates under a Strategic Plan to comply with the Community Reinvestment Act. Upon completion of the pending acquisition of Boston Private, Silicon Valley Bank plans to amend its CRA Strategic Plan to include updated goals in California and new assessment areas for the greater Boston and Los Angeles regions. To receive a copy of SVB’s CRA Strategic Plan, please contact SVBintheCommunity@svb.com.

“This plan is a culmination of joint efforts by the Greenlining Institute and CRC, and grows SVB’s commitment to meeting the needs of low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color in an especially critical time, as many Californian families are either struggling to find housing or remain housed, and as small businesses weather the devastating financial impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a win for both SVB and our communities,” said Kevin Stein, CRC Deputy Director.

“For 25 years, Boston Private Bank & Trust has been a Community Reinvestment Act leader here in Massachusetts,” said Symone Crawford, MAHA’s Director of Homeownership Education. “We applaud SVB for making this commitment to low-to moderate-income communities and households in greater Boston and bringing new resources to assist first-time homebuyers, small businesses and nonprofits. If we are to narrow the racial homeownership gap, we need financial institutions to do more in programs like ONE Mortgage and ONE+Boston and SVB is committing to do just that.”

About SVB Financial Group
For nearly 40 years, SVB Financial Group (NASDAQ: SIVB) and its subsidiaries have helped innovative companies and their investors move bold ideas forward, fast. SVB Financial Group’s businesses, including Silicon Valley Bank, offer commercial, investment and private banking, asset management, private wealth management, brokerage and investment services and funds management services to companies in the technology, life science and healthcare, private equity and venture capital, and premium wine industries. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, SVB Financial Group operates in centers of innovation around the world. Learn more at svb.com.

SVB Financial Group is the holding company for all business units and groups © 2021 SVB Financial Group. All rights reserved. SVB, SVB FINANCIAL GROUP, SILICON VALLEY BANK, MAKE NEXT HAPPEN NOW and the chevron device are trademarks of SVB Financial Group, used under license. Silicon Valley Bank is a member of the FDIC and the Federal Reserve System. Silicon Valley Bank is the California bank subsidiary of SVB Financial Group. [SIVB-F]

What California lawmakers could do to boost homeownership for Black families

By Manuela Tobias
CalMatters

When she was in grad school to become a therapist, Merika Reagan sketched out her future with a friend. They would each start their own practice, buy homes and raise their families in Oakland.

Her classmate, who could count on her family’s financial support, achieved the dream.

But Reagan struggled to find a job that checked her school’s internship requirements and still paid the rent. Her parents, who stayed in senior housing and later passed away, left no savings. She never finished her degree, bought a home or started a family — and she has a clear explanation for why their paths diverged.

“The difference is, she is white and I am Black,” said Reagan, now 46. “That did not happen for me because of generational poverty. Because of being Black, because of being a descendant of slavery, because of stolen wealth.”

California is in a deep housing crisis that has made it nearly impossible for many to afford rent, let alone buy a house. That crisis is, in part, the result of a decade of housing supply not keeping up with demand. But for communities of color, and especially Black people, housing is less an emergency than a chronic illness compounded by centuries of discriminatory, if not outright racist, policies.

“A housing crisis implies it hasn’t been happening this whole time,” said Roderick Hall, a project manager at Pacific Urbanism and a steering committee member of Our Future Los Angeles, both housing groups.

And housing inequality worsened during most of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Blacks and Hispanics more likely than whites to be at risk of eviction and foreclosure, according to a study by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank. While inequality has lessened from its peak, that’s because more whites are facing housing instability, the study says.

“People have always had issues with housing, but now it’s hit the white middle class,” Hall said. “And now that it’s not working for them, it’s becoming an issue.”

Following the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and a growing recognition of America’s racist past, “equity” has become one of the hottest buzzwords at the state Capitol. But equity is a loaded term, and it means different things to different people.

By law, the state can’t favor any one racial group over another. So racial equity often gets addressed through measures that aim to level the economic playing field.

Housing groups and lawmakers all say they want to narrow the racial wealth and homeownership gap, but not everyone agrees on how. And as with many issues, the people who are most affected are least likely to have a seat at the table.

Black wealth and homeownership gaps

Homeownership has long been the primary way that families build wealth in the United States. That’s especially true in California, where home prices have skyrocketed. And over the years, many Black families have been deliberately excluded.

Redlining systematically denied loans on homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods. New highways bulldozed through thriving Black communities, while urban renewal destroyed struggling areas. Changes in zoning from multifamily to single family homes allowed white neighborhoods to exclude Black residents from moving in. During the 2008 housing crisis, lenders pushed risky subprime loans more aggressively to Black people, who lost their homes in hundreds of thousands of foreclosures, according to a recent report by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley.

In California today, about 63% of non-Hispanic white families own their homes. Only around 36% of Black households can say the same, a gap that has actually widened since housing discrimination was officially outlawed with the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Even when Black families own their homes, they are typically worth less. A recent study by Brookings found that on average, owner-occupied homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued by $48,000, adding up to $156 billion in cumulative losses.

The median white family in the United States now has more than eight times the wealth of the median Black family. In Los Angeles, one study found Black and Mexican households hold only 1% of the wealth of whites households.

One significant way to narrow this gap, many California lawmakers agree, is by making it easier for people to buy a home. The challenge: Research by the California Association of Realtors shows that less than a fifth of Black Californians could afford to buy a median-priced home last year, compared with about two-fifths of white households.

A recent study by California Forward, a nonprofit advocacy group, found a gap totaling $61.8 billion between the home prices that low- to moderate income California households can afford and the typical home prices where they live. Latino, Black and Native American Californians were disproportionately represented in that gap.

A few programs boost homeownership through help with down payments — one of the biggest barriers to buying a home for people who don’t have savings or wealthy parents. The largest state program is through the California Housing Finance Agency, which provides as much as $11,000 of down payment assistance to qualifying first-time homebuyers.

The program served more than 9,000 families last year using $165 million from state appropriations, interest and loan repayments. But due to California’s exorbitant home prices, the assistance doesn’t go too far in places like the Bay Area, said Ashley Garner, the agency’s community outreach coordinator. About half of last year’s aid went to buying homes in San Bernardino, Riverside, Sacramento, Kern and Los Angeles counties.

While this program is designed to help low- and middle-income Californians of all races, Hispanic and Black borrowers are overrepresented. About 8% of last year’s borrowers who took advantage of this state aid were Black, which is more than the 5.5% Black share of the state population. More than half of borrowers identified as Hispanic, compared with their 39% share of the state population.

If California hopes to close the racial homeownership gap, however, those numbers need to be far higher.

Garner, who also leads the agency’s Building Black Wealth initiative, hopes to double Black participation through outreach that includes videos to educate people on housing discrimination and encourage Black homeownership.

“If it wasn’t so important, why did they lock you out of it? I need the Black community to understand,” Garner said. “It’s a better lifestyle for our children. It’s employment opportunities. Owning a home is more than just building wealth.”

Still, she said the program’s biggest obstacle has been getting the word out and securing trust. She recalled sitting at an informational booth in a predominantly Black community. A long line formed to speak with Garner, a Black woman, while her white colleague sat idle.

“How can you solve an issue in a community you never set foot in?” she asked. “For us to get somewhere in housing you have to bring these voices to the table.”

Aside from the need for down payment assistance, Black people disproportionately suffer from poor debt-to-credit ratios, which make it difficult to buy a house through any program. That’s because people of color have long been flooded with predatory loans and excluded from the lending system, said Maeve Elise Brown, executive director of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates in Oakland.

“There are scored differentials based on race in our country, which are inextricably tied to a historic lack of access to credit or being force-fed onerous credit,” she said. “This is the lingering aftermath of that damage. Those are lost years.”

Several banks have acknowledged the role of past structural racism in the financial system. But there’s little consensus on how to move forward. Shareholders recently urged the nation’s biggest banks to take a closer look at how their practices affect communities of color. The banks largely responded that it was unnecessary because of internal initiatives and investments in the issue. JP Morgan, for example, committed $30 billion over the next five years toward Black and Latino homeownership and affordable rental financing programs.

Where’s the money going?

Flush with a historic budget windfall of more than $100 billion, state lawmakers have a chance to put their money where their mouths are on housing. Assembly and Senate budget leaders alike have identified homeownership as key, but must still agree on the details.

The Assembly has made it a priority to increase investment in the finance agency’s down payment assistance program. By how much, or the source for that funding, is yet to be hammered out.

In his revised budget that he submitted to the Legislature on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a $100 million state and federal investment in the same program. Newsom also proposed $100 million to finance “granny flats” and other accessory dwelling units for low- and middle-income families.

Senate Democrats have a more radical idea. Under their pandemic recovery budget blueprint released last month, the state would partner with first-time homebuyers to buy through what they’re dubbing “California Dream for All.” The state would pay, and own, up to 45% of the home, cutting the purchase price for people by nearly half. For example, a family could buy a $400,000 home for $220,000 under the program.

The money would come from a yet-unspecified revolving fund set up by the state, with shares sold to investors. As home values increase, so would the value of the shares.

The Democrats have proposed commissioning the state treasurer to hash out the program in greater detail and present it back to the Legislature for approval in 2022.

The expansion in homeowner aid would disproportionately favor low-income communities of color who most need the help, allowing the state to “circle around” the constitutional provisions that bar the state from considering race in programs, said Muhammad Alameldin, economic equity fellow at the Greenlining Institute in Oakland.

Are legislators ready to tackle equity?

When it comes to policy bills, however, advocates say the Legislature has repeatedly failed to tackle racial equity head-on.

“We say things like ‘Black lives matter,’ we say we care about homelesseness, but until we confront the systemic inequalities that create these things, we’re never going to solve these issues,” said Assemblymember Alex Lee, a 25-year-old Democratic Socialist from San Jose.

Lee introduced a number of bills to redistribute wealth and protect tenants, but most did not make it out of the housing or revenue and tax committees.

A prime example: Assembly Bill 946, which Alameldin helped craft. That bill, too, would have dramatically increased funding to the finance agency’s homebuyer program — but by ending a mortgage interest deduction on second homes.

“Democrats are choosing to go through the budget process because the policy committees have not taken the housing crisis seriously,” Alameldin said.

Lee also re-introduced a bill that would have sharply curtailed displacement under the Ellis Act, which gives landlords a path to evict tenants when leaving the rental business. Tenants rights advocates have long argued that speculators use that law to flip the state’s waning supply of affordable rental units. He said the bill would have been a boon to people of color, who are vastly overrepresented in homelessness. About a third of people who accessed homeless services last year were Black — five-fold their share of California’s population.

But opposition from Realtors doomed the bill, said Sarah Abdeshahian, campaign manager at Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco, which co-sponsored the legislation.

“Even legislators who are also people of color, we tell them, we are seeing people left with no choice but to be homeless because there’s no way for them to find another rent-controlled unit within San Francisco,” she said. “They’ll understand, but they refuse to take the bold step of supporting us because it would mean losing the money from Realtors.”

California’s Realtors spent roughly $2.3 million in last year’s legislative races alone.

Sanjay Wagle, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the California Association of Realtors, countered that advocacy groups such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation have poured millions into supporting tenant protections.

“From our perspective, we see these housing committees and think, ‘Oh boy, look how pro-tenant they are,” Wagle said.

The burden of low-income tenants shouldn’t fall on real estate interests, Wagle argues. “If it’s a social good, then shouldn’t society be helping through a more aggressive voucher system?” he asked. “It’s a social cost. That cost should be spread.”

Abdeshahian also blamed the composition of housing committees for inaction on bills. A CalMatters analysis last year found that at least 30 legislators are landlords, themselves, a big majority are homeowners and only one who was a tenant — who has since bought a condo.

“There is a class divide here that we don’t talk about enough,” Abdeshahian added.

Until those power imbalances are addressed within the Legislature, equity will remain but a buzzword outside the Capitol, too, said Lee.

“Who traditionally has more say and more influence? The people with a lot of money and a lot of power,” he said. “It’s not going to be those people in rent control units. That’s the unfortunate dilemma.”

Which are the best solutions?

Many of this session’s big Democratic housing bills target restrictive zoning — a tool experts say has been used to keep Black, brown and low-income people out of mostly white neighborhoods.

  • Senate Bill 9, by Senate leader Toni Atkins of San Diego, would allow homeowners to put a duplex on single-family lots or split the lots;
  • SB 10, by Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, would allow cities to rezone transit centers and job hubs to allow as many as 10 units per parcel;
  • And SB 478, also by Wiener, would close loopholes that limit multi-family units in places already zoned for it.

These measures could improve equity by adding more units to the housing stock. In their Roadmap Home 2030 plan, Housing California, the California Housing Partnership and a broad coalition of partners across the state identified the need for 1.2 million affordable homes.

“You can’t get anywhere close to a solution without addressing the supply,” said Matthew Lewis, director of communications for California YIMBY, a housing advocacy group. “You need years of building. The starting point is you have to make it legal.”

“The fact is the housing crisis has extremely racialized effects,” added Darrell Owens, policy and data analyst at California YIMBY. “Anything that expands the availability of housing is an equity bill. Anything that curtails that, I would consider to be not rooted in housing equity.”

The YIMBY movement believes in increasing that market-rate supply along with subsidized affordable housing. But other advocates don’t believe growing the real estate market is the answer.

“No matter how much you up-zone, housing is not going to be affordable,” said Isaiah Madison, a board member of Livable California, a local control group that supports single-family neighborhoods, and a neighborhood council member in South Los Angeles. “I just don’t think real estate development is an equity tool.”

Oakland, for instance, has seen a recent glut in housing production. But it’s concentrated on the higher end of the market, creating few units for low-income families and in fact, pushing many out, said Brown, from Housing and Economic Rights Advocates.

The market, Madison argued, will never make room for people suffering from intergenerational poverty without government intervention. Plus, he said, “A lot of the people using equity as a talking point come from white communities … and to me seem more upset about the racial segregation that exists today than I do or people that I organize do.”

The idea behind allowing more dense housing in historically white communities is partly to expand access to their resources: better-funded schools, better infrastructure, healthier water and air — in short, opportunity.

But some advocates wonder why Black and brown people have to uproot to access the same opportunities. “As people of color, we’re not chess pieces,” said Hall, from Our Future Los Angeles. “You can’t just move us around your board and tell us to go live here and there.”

These advocates say housing alone can’t fix California’s massive inequality. It’s going to take investment in every part of neglected communities of color to even the playing field.

Madison says another measure, also introduced by Wiener, would help. It would repeal Article 34 in the state’s constitution, which has made it nearly impossible to build public housing by requiring voter approval of every project. The attempt to repeal the law has failed repeatedly.

The ballot initiative has support from the California Association of Realtors, which helped cement Article 34 into law. The main opponent: NIMBYs who want a say in what gets built.

But there’s also opposition to the singular focus on building affordable rental housing from some equity-focused groups. Sylvia Aguilar, from the Berkeley-based nonprofit California Community Builders, says the state has not invested enough in affordable homes for sale. Her organization proposes building more “missing middle” income housing, such as condos and “granny flats” on single-family lots.

“We see a gap between this idea of keeping people housed and in rentals off the street, but not really creating opportunities to build wealth,” Aguilar said. “Homeownership was the key to creating the great middle class in the mid-twentieth century, and it can happen again. If the equity talk is real, this is one path to achieving that.”

‘Let’s put our thumb on the scale’

Mary M. Lee, former deputy director for the equity-focused research and advocacy group PolicyLink, says the solution lies in ending the commodification of housing.

“The system isn’t broken, it’s designed to work this way,” said the longtime fair housing advocate in Los Angeles. “Let’s put our thumb on the scale to help low-income people —not just have a roof over their head, but also to build wealth.”

One way to do that, Lee said, is by letting those disadvantaged communities decide for themselves what housing they need. “That’s one of the problems we have with housing,” she said. “We’re trying to let people make mass solutions for problems that aren’t all the same.”

Steve King, executive director of the Oakland Community Land Trust, is working on one such creative public-private hybrid. His nonprofit owns the land a home sits on and leases that land to the homeowner — decreasing the price significantly and protecting the home’s value from market volatility.

“Whenever there’s a disturbance in the market, those are inflection points that without a doubt have caused harm in Oakland’s communities of color,” King said. “We remove land from that equation.”

So far, the land trust covers about 50 properties and 150 residents.

One of them is Merika Reagan, who had never stayed in the same house for more than a couple years growing up around San Francisco as her parents staved off eviction.

Reagan’s two-bedroom house in East Oakland changed ownership three times since she moved there in 2016. Only 30% of the homes in her majority Black and Latino neighborhood were occupied by their owners last year. And each year, she faced rent hikes she feared would make her homeless.

“I was having panic attacks, chest pains. I couldn’t sleep well, but I was still showing up for my clients,” Reagan recalled, when her rent rose by $350 in 2019. That’s when she became involved with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a tenant organization that helped her negotiate the rent increase down to $100. When the pandemic hit, and her corporate landlord tried to up the rent again, the group connected her with the land trust, which purchased Reagan’s home.

Her newfound stability has changed her life. When burglars tried to break into her house, her neighbors called the police, providing a sense of community she had never experienced before. When her girlfriend — now fiancee — moved in, she introduced her to the neighbors. Now that the trust owns the land, they can finally grow vegetables in their garden. Reagan is gearing up to take homeownership classes, so that she can eventually buy her house.

“Before this, I never thought ownership was in my horizon at all,” Reagan said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be a renter until the day I die.’”

For the record: This story has been changed to clarify the description of Livable California, a local control group that supports single-family neighborhoods.

Newsom Budget Boosts Revolutionary California Climate Effort

Transformative Climate Communities, Seen as National Model, Gets $420 million Over 3 Years

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758 (cell)

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – In his May budget revision, California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed a game-changing increase in and stabilization of funding for one of California’s most creative and effective climate programs, Transformative Climate Communities.

Based on legislation passed in 2016, authored by Assemblymember Autumn Burke and sponsored by The Greenlining Institute and the California Environmental Justice Alliance, Transformative Climate Communities offers a model for fighting climate change, building economic prosperity and redressing historic injustices by funding community-developed climate projects in the state’s most under-resourced communities.

“Transformative Climate Communities is unique in two ways,” said Greenlining Institute Vice President of Policy Alvaro Sanchez. “First, it places communities first, requiring that plans and projects be developed with community leadership, based on what residents need and want. Second, unlike most government programs, it puts the pieces together, linking things like clean energy, transportation, affordable housing near transit and more in ways that both cut carbon emissions and create healthier, more liveable, more prosperous neighborhoods.”

“TCC should be a national model for how to do climate policy right, putting communities first and connecting the dots between energy, transportation, housing and jobs,” Sanchez continued. “We applaud the governor for proposing a level of funding in California that can truly tap into this program’s potential, with stable funding of $140 million a year for the next three years. We hope  legislators will go even farther and raise it to the $500 million level that environmental justice advocates have proposed. Congress and the administration should use this as a model as they look at proposals like the Green New Deal for Cities Act.”

TCC elevates community ownership by requiring that all projects develop a collaborative governance structure between stakeholders such as local government, community-based organizations and residents. This ensures that projects are derived from resident-identified needs, assets and visions, and gives community members who know best more ownership over the changes taking place in their own neighborhoods. It also requires applicants to develop plans for community engagement, workforce development, displacement avoidance and climate resilience.

Although hampered by inadequate funding since its inception, TCC has still produced some remarkable results. In Stockton, for example, a $10.8 million TCC grant is funding streetscape improvements, solar installations on over 100 single-family homes and several multi-family housing complexes, energy and water efficiency upgrades for more than 500 households, the planting of over 1,500 trees plus weekly healthy produce boxes for 50 families – simultaneously fighting climate change while providing a better quality of life for residents and promoting jobs and economic opportunities. The Greenlining Institute is presently analyzing TCC’s implementation thus far and will be releasing its findings later this year.

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit www.greenlining.org.

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THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE works toward a future when communities of color can build wealth, live in healthy places filled with economic opportunity, and are ready to meet the challenges posed by climate change.
www.greenlining.org
@Greenlining

Newsom “California Comeback” Budget Can Help California Build a Just Recovery

Greenlining Institute Urges Legislators to Emphasize Racial, Economic Equity

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758 (cell)

The revised “California Comeback” budget released by Gov. Gavin Newsom today can pave the way for California’s efforts to build a just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and a just economy that works for all, and legislators must build on what the governor has proposed, The Greenlining Institute said today.

“We’re heartened by much of what Gov. Newsom has proposed,” said Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann. “Now it’s up to the legislature to build on this foundation, using both the budget and pending legislation to build a truly just economy in California. The budget affects all of us, so we urge everyone to contact their legislators and push them to seize this opportunity to pass a just, equitable budget”

Highlights of the governor’s revised budget include:

  • Utility Debt Relief. Greenlining strongly applauds Gov. Newsom’s plan to provide $2 billion in assistance for past-due water and utility bills. This can prevent hundreds of thousands of California households from losing these vital services in publicly owned and investor owned utilities’ territories. More relief will be needed as the state recovers, but this an essential first step.
  • Transformative Climate Communities. The governor’s proposed allocation of $420 million over three years for TCC, an innovative program that funds community-led climate projects that integrate clean energy, transportation, affordable housing and more, represents a huge step in the right direction. We urge the legislature to fully fund TCC at the $500 million level urged by advocates. A companion statement amplifies our thoughts on this ground-breaking program.
  • Housing and Rent Relief. Housing unaffordability is an existential crisis facing California’s communities of color. The governor’s proposed $7 billion allocation for Project Homekey — a program administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development that funds cities, counties, and housing authorities to purchase and rehabilitate 46,000 units of housing, including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and other buildings and convert them into interim or permanent, long-term housing — is an excellent step in the right direction. We also applaud his commitment of $7.2 billion to help low-income tenants financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic cover all of their outstanding rent and utility payments.
  • Stimulus Payments. In the governor’s newly proposed $100 billion California Comeback Plan, nearly $12 billion will be set aside for stimulus checks — $600 payments for qualifying taxpayers. This is an essential step in ensuring that families still struggling due to COVID-related economic impacts do not fall farther behind. We applaud the governor’s plan and look forward to additional innovative thinking to address other areas of racial and social inequality.
  • Broadband. The Greenlining Institute strongly supports the governor’s broadband budget and commitment to closing the digital divide. The proposed budget balances short and long term needs by providing $7 billion in funding towards open-access middle-mile broadband networks, municipal broadband and last mile infrastructure that will provide Californians with long-term benefits, while ensuring families can afford the internet while these new networks are built. Municipal broadband and open-access infrastructure investments will create jobs, provide faster internet connections to Californians and enable internet service providers to more easily enter the broadband market and compete with incumbents that charge high prices and are slow to upgrade their networks. The governor’s broadband budget creates a sustainable path for closing the digital divide for families that need internet access for jobs, education, health and economic opportunity.
  • Clean Transportation. Electric vehicle equity programs have proven health and economic benefits for families and communities. The governor’s proposal of $3.2 billion altogether over three years for clean transportation, including $1.4 billion for clean trucks and buses, represents a historic step forward. Because pollution from diesel medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is toxic and disproportionately harms communities of color, this funding will make a huge difference in our communities’ health. The May revision also proposes $650 million over three years for Clean Cars 4 All/Equity Programs and the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program. We are pleased to see equity programs receive $250 million, programs with proven health and economic benefits for families and communities. The revised budget also allocates $400 million over three years for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, which has been demonstrated to mainly benefit higher-income households. While Greenlining believes that transforming the car market to electric vehicles is important, it is time for the decade-long investment in CVRP to start ramping down. For now, the governor’s investment in CVRP must be targeted to low-income and middle-income Californians.
  • Urban and Community Forestry. California’s urban forests sequester carbon and are critical to helping the most vulnerable populations adapt to climate change, create community resilience and preserve their mental and physical health. Greenlining supported $200 million for this program but the governor has proposed $23 million.
  • Low-Income Weatherization Program. This critical program helps low-income households cut their utility bills and improve health and safety while saving energy, creating jobs and preserving affordable housing.  The governor’s proposed $50 million allocation is seriously inadequate. Legislators should increase it to $375 million.
  • Urban Greening. Vulnerable populations too often lack access to parks and green spaces within walking distance of their homes. The Urban Greening Program helps to mitigate these inequalities  and Gov. Newsom’s proposed  $200 million over two years represents a solid beginning.
  • Community Resilience Centers. The governor proposed a one-time investment of $150 million to support the development and enhancement of community resilience centers split between local fairgrounds and other community facilities. We are excited about the opportunity to develop a new program for community resilience centers that focuses on placing facilities closest to vulnerable communities that address the growing needs of working class communities of color in the face of the converging climate, economic, public health crises. We believe this important program should be funded at $500 million.
  • Regional Climate Collaboratives. Implementation of SB 1072 (Leyva, 2018) to create the Regional Climate Collaboratives program will build the capacity of local communities to make the transition to a climate resilient future, building community-driven leadership, knowledge, and skills. The governor’s proposed $20 million represents a solid start but should be increased to $35 million.
  • Vulnerable Communities Platform. Although there is mounting evidence of the unequal effects of climate change, California has no existing tool that holistically and comprehensively displays the data needed to identify the most vulnerable communities. Greenlining commends the governor for including this priority in the proposed $5 million under community resilience. We strongly recommend that the state use some of this money to resource a community advisory committee to center the vision and expertise of communities disproportionately impacted by climate change in the development and implementation of the mapping platform.

“We urge the legislature to move swiftly to approve a budget that meets the real needs of California’s diverse communities, but legislators can’t stop there,” Gore-Mann said. “We also urge swift passage of SB 17, to create an Office of Racial Equity, and HR 39, which will commit the Assembly to analyzing the racial equity implications of new legislation. Problems based in racism and discrimination need race-conscious solutions if we are build a truly just economy in our state.”

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit www.greenlining.org.

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THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE works toward a future when communities of color can build wealth, live in healthy places filled with economic opportunity, and are ready to meet the challenges posed by climate change.
www.greenlining.org
@Greenlining

Greenlining’s Letter for the American Jobs Plan

Greenlining views the American Jobs Plan as an opportunity to revitalize and strengthen our country’s infrastructure to ensure that it works for everyone, regardless of their race, income, class, or zip code. To maximize the American Jobs Plan’s potential, our policy teams have compiled a letter of racial equity principles and recommendations that are based on California’s leading strategies for addressing disinvestment, climate change, and structural racism. Greenlining would like to see similar equity-centered programs replicated and scaled up across the nation in order to implement the American Jobs Plan.

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