The Greenlining Institute Announces New Strategic Plan

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

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – As the U.S. increasingly grapples with racial equity issues and a year and a half after Debra Gore-Mann became the organization’s first woman of color President and CEO, The Greenlining Institute is launching a new Strategic Plan to guide its work over the next three years.

The Strategic Plan commits Greenlining to working “towards a future 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.” It focuses the organization’s efforts on creation of a “just economy” that is “cooperative, sustainable, participatory, fair and healthy.”

To get there, Greenlining will focus on its three main roles:

  • Bridge builders, bringing together diverse players from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to create powerful solutions for lasting change.
  • Advocates, leading strategy and policy efforts, raising the visibility of issues that impact communities of color, and building political will for transformative policies to end racial inequity.
  • Incubators, working with communities to generate and test new policies and programs while training multi-ethnic leaders so they can be the strongest and most resilient advocates for change.

In order to more effectively push for systemic change, Greenlining is realigning its internal staff structure to more precisely achieve the new plan’s priorities, while maintaining its ongoing work on issues such as banking, housing, climate, health and access to technology, including crucial work with regulatory bodies such as the California Public Utilities Commission and Federal Reserve.

“Since our founding, Greenlining has brought literally hundreds of billions of dollars in investment into communities of color, but dollars – even when equitably distributed – aren’t enough,” said Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann. “While we work to meet the immediate needs of underserved communities, we’re going to redouble our efforts to fundamentally transform the systems that created these inequities in the first place.”

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

 

Advancing Equitable Electric Mobility and Ensuring Equitable Implementation

Addressing systems of inequity and racism in transportation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 17,2021

PORTLAND, ORE. – Forth and The Greenlining Institute have created the Toward Equitable Electric Mobility (TEEM) community of practice that aims to develop a national agenda for equitable electric mobility.

TEEM includes 21 organizations from across the U.S.focused on equity, public health, transportation, and clean energy. The cohort will build on local and state-level policy and harnesses the potential of growing Federal support for environmental justice and clean transportation as the Biden administration’s clean transportation commitments open up new fields of possibility.

TEEM’s peer-to-peer advocates will share best practices and develop strategies to advance electric mobility and engage local stakeholders to ensure that implementation on transportation programs happens in an equitable and efficient way.

The Biden Administration’s recent Executive Order on addressing climate change outlined an ambitious set of proposals to spur the transition to electric vehicles, promote clean energy jobs, and deliver environmental justice.

“TEEM’s work is based on the belief that we must engage with local stakeholders on these proposals so that implementation happens in an equitable and efficient way,” said Alexa Diaz, Program Manager at Forth. “It is vital that we learn from the existing electrification and clean energy movements already happening across the country and build networks to share best practices and coordinate regional efforts.”

TEEM will focus efforts on building community in the cohort and setting the foundation for equitable electric mobility policies and programs in Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina and Virginia before increasing the scope of the program to additional states. We will also share best practices and lessons learned from Greenlining and Forth’s work in California and Oregon.

TEEM will:

  • Build capacity for equity-focused and mainstream environmental organizations through funding and technical training on topics around racial equity and electric mobility
  • Foster relationships between equity-focused and mainstream environmental and transportation organizations
  • Provide state-specific policy strategizing for equitable electric mobility
  • Co-develop equitable clean mobility tools, resources, and strategies

“A transportation revolution has begun, but if we’re not careful we risk a sort of ‘transportation redlining,’ in which new, clean mobility options go to the white and wealthy first,” said Isa Gaillard, environmental equity program manager at The Greenlining Institute. “For both justice and the state of our climate, we have to do better, and that’s what TEEM is about.”

“SEEA is grateful to be a part of the Towards Equitable Electric Mobility initiative working to ensure that every person benefits from cleaner transportation,” said Anne Blair of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA).

More information can be found here. Please contact program managers Alexa Diaz and Isa Gaillard at alexad@forthmobility.org and isa.gaillard@greenlining.org with any questions.

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Forth is a nonprofit organization advancing electric, shared and smart transportation through innovation, demonstration, advocacy, and engagement. Learn more at www.forthmobility.org. Media Contact: Kevin Friedman – kevinf@forthmobility.org, 503-381-4085

The Greenlining Institute works towards a future 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. Learn more at www.greenlining.org. Media Contact: Bruce Mirken – brucem@greenlining.org, 415-846-7758

Tenant screening software faces national reckoning

By Cyrus Farivar
NBC News

In November 2018, Marco Antonio Fernandez, returned home after a yearlong Navy deployment in South Korea and searched for an apartment near his next posting in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Fernandez, whose national security work had already earned him a top-secret clearance, had little to worry about when he was asked to undergo a tenant screening — a process involving credit, criminal records and eviction checks. But the screening’s algorithm-based software rejected him for an apartment: It found he had a drug conviction and three misdemeanors for petty theft. That’s because it confused him with Marco Alberto Fernandez Santana, an alleged Mexican drug trafficker.

The correct Fernandez sued RentGrow, a tenant screening firm, in a proposed class-action filed in Baltimore in April 2019, and has now also similarly sued CoreLogic Credco, a division of a larger property analytics firm, CoreLogic, in federal court in San Diego last July. In both cases, Fernandez says the groups violated the 51-year-old Fair Credit Reporting Act, which allows consumers to see and challenge data held by private companies about them. Fernandez’ lawyers said in court papers that the “inaccurate reporting will follow Plaintiff for the rest of his career as he is reinvestigated every five years to maintain his Top Secret security clearance.”

The judge in San Diego has put the case on hold until the Supreme Court rules in a related case that is set to be heard this month. Across the country in Baltimore, RentGrow has also asked that the judge issue a stay.

Housing law advocates say that Marco Antonio Fernandez is one of thousands of people who are mistakenly flagged by tenant screening software that culls criminal records data from many sources and that is made by CoreLogic, RentGrow, RealPage, AppFolio and a handful of other companies. This industry has accelerated over the last two decades as the rental market has increased and the digitization and real estate analytics market has boomed. Nearly all landlords now use some sort of tenant screening software as a way to find who they consider to be the highest-quality tenants.

“The status quo disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations,” said Nicol Turner Lee, a senior fellow in governance studies and the director of the Center for Technology Innovation, at the Brookings Institution, who has studied algorithmic bias. “I think first and foremost we need to solidify privacy law: We have a better grasp on what is being collected, how long and being transparent about that data. That’s fundamental.”

It’s big business, too: Real estate tech and tenancy screening firms have drawn the interest of Wall Street investors in recent years. Data from PitchBook, a financial data firm, shows that the number of private equity deals in this area has jumped in total value from $1.7 billion in 2018 to $6.9 billion in 2019 and $6.6 billion in 2020.

Some companies have learned they want to stay away. Last July, CoreLogic formally announced that it would divest itself from this part of its business, possibly because of lawsuits, and possibly because this division wasn’t making enough money. As of February, CoreLogic told investors it is entirely out of the tenant screening business.

Other companies, however, only see its potential. Stone Capital and Insight Partners acquired CoreLogic for about $6 billion in February, while another private equity firm, Thoma Bravo, acquired RealPage for $9.6 billion in December. Meanwhile, AppFolio was recently dubbed the fastest-growing company in America, according to Fortune magazine. Stone Capital, Insight Partners and Thoma Bravo did not respond to requests for comment.

Legal tests

But as the industry has grown, so have the lawsuits. Scores of people have sued alleging similar mistakes by these companies in recent years. And this may be the year the industry is forced to change.

The relatively new subset of credit reporting, the $3 billion tenant screening industry, which has both grown and gone largely unregulated since its inception, is about to be tested in new ways. In 2021, a notable lawsuit in Connecticut that could stop how this type of software is used has a good chance of going to trial. At the same time, California legislators are trying to figure out how to reduce algorithmic bias in industries like housing.

This credit reporting issue doesn’t just touch housing, but other kinds of credit-based background searches as well. Fernandez’ San Diego case has been put on hold until lawyers know the outcome of Transunion v. Ramirez in the Supreme Court. The case involves a man from Fremont, California, who tried to obtain a car loan, but was erroneously flagged — like Fernandez — for being on a federal list that prevents American companies from doing business with them. This list is usually reserved for wanted criminals and terror suspects.

The Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument in Transunion on March 31. The justices are being asked to decide whether class-action status should have been granted, and whether members of that class who did not suffer the same injury as the plaintiff, Sergio Ramirez, should receive the same amount in damages as him.

Standing up

In 2016, Carmen Arroyo, a medical assistant from Windham, Connecticut, had a simple request for her landlord: She wanted to bring her adult son, Mikhail, home.

Months earlier, Mikhail had been electrocuted while working atop a utility pole, and fell 30 feet to the ground. The accident left him in a coma for six-months, during which he could barely speak, walk or care for himself. After he recovered somewhat, Carmen Arroyo wanted to move the two of them from her one-bedroom apartment, into a two-bedroom apartment in the same complex, ArtSpace Windham, just east of Hartford.

When Arroyo filled out the new application, she assumed that the process would be perfunctory. Mikhail has lived with her before. But, she soon learned that the property manager, WinnResidential, uses CoreLogic’s CrimSafe service and had examined her son’s criminal background.

WinnResidential quickly rejected her, saying that Mikhail had “disqualifying” records. Arroyo could not figure out what the obstacle was. Her leasing agent refused to answer.

“So now I’m not just angry, but I’m trying to figure it out and play detective here because I’m not getting any answers here,” she said. “Everywhere I turned to was a dead end. There were no answers to my questions on why. All of this while I’m trying to work a 40-hour shift and take care of my son at the hospital. It was a lot for me. It makes a person just so upset but at the same time makes you feel like, ‘What is going on?’”

WinnResidential did not respond to requests for comment.

Arroyo contacted the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, a legal advocacy group in Hartford, to see if it could help. But the lawyers there quickly learned that the landlord really did not know why the Arroyos had been rejected.

“We obtained documentation from the background check that the landlord had received from CoreLogic, and we noticed that they were not misleading us when they said ‘they had no idea,’” said Salmun Kazerounian, one of Arroyo’s lawyers at the center.

Arroyo’s lawyers eventually determined that Mikhail had been charged in Pennsylvania in 2014 with retail theft for $150, but that the charge was ultimately dropped. Arroyo knew nothing about the charge, and Mikhail was not able to speak about it.

Arroyo’s lawyers sued on her behalf not only under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, where monetary damages and settlements are common, but also under the Fair Housing Act, a key pillar of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The lawyers say that by making claims concerning tenant screening software under the Fair Housing Act, believed to be for the first time, there is a strong likelihood that CoreLogic may be compelled to changes it software and practices. That’s because a critical guidance issued in 2016 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that denying rent based on criminal history could violate the Fair Housing Act.

The legal theory in Arroyo’s lawsuit goes like this: Because Latinos and African Americans are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at higher rates than whites, members of those groups suffer an “unlawful disparate impact” if CoreLogic disqualifies them as prospective tenants based on their criminal history.

In August 2018, CoreLogic’s attorneys argued in a motion to dismiss the case that it was not at fault, because it is simply an outside party: It does not make an affirmative or negative decision to rent a given apartment; only the landlord does that. However, two years later, the judge did not find this argument persuasive.

“RPS [CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions] and WinnResidential acted hand-in-glove to deny Mr. Arroyo housing. RPS allowed screening on the basis of charges that did not lead to a conviction and allowed its customer to conceal from its line staff the basis for an ‘unqualified’ classification,” wrote U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant. “In so doing RPS was an integral participant in the denial of housing by WinnResidential to persons charged with an offense even though the charges were dismissed.”

Eric Dunn, of the National Housing Law Project and a member of the Arroyo legal team, celebrated the ruling.

“The screening companies have been pushing an idea that using decision-only screening shields landlords from discrimination claims on the theory that if landlords don’t even know why they are denying an applicant, then how can they be doing so discriminatorily?” he emailed.

“Of course, as this litigation and many other criminal history screening cases have shown, rental screening algorithms often produce results that disproportionately and unnecessarily exclude BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of color] applicants or members of other protected classes, ”

For now, Arroyo’s lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in August.

Internal fears

Even the creators of these tenant screening programs are starting to raise concerns. Richard Leurig, who worked at CoreLogic for over a decade, until 2017, used to run the Rental Property Solutions division, which dealt with tenant screening. CoreLogic was one of the early pioneers in tenant screening, but lost market share to newer rivals over time.

“When I went to run it [in 2015], they said you have to meet with the attorneys because we have these ongoing lawsuits,” he recalled, noting that when he stepped into the role, he was tasked with determining whether this was a viable business model for CoreLogic to be in anyway.

“I guess I felt like the captain of a sinking ship,” Leurig said, noting that using a patchwork of criminal data from a myriad of sources was a “fundamentally unsolvable problem.”

Government intervention

Within the last few years, the Federal Trade Commission has pursued lawsuits against two companies, concluding with a $3 million settlement with RealPage in October 2018 and a $4.3 million settlement with AppFolio in December.

RealPage was reminded, as the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires, to “maintain reasonable procedures to assure the maximum possible accuracy.” AppFolio, for its part, in addition to adhering to the act, was no longer allowed to include “nonconviction criminal or eviction records older than seven years.” In the formal settlement filings submitted to federal courts in Texas, and Washington, D.C., neither company admitted any wrongdoing.

“When you have an increase in the use and the increase in the companies that are furnishing these reports, it’s reasonable to see that you would see more of a widespread problem,” said Tiffany George, an attorney with the FTC’s division of privacy and identity protection.

“I think this will continue to be an area of focus for the commission, particularly in light of the wave of evictions as part of the pandemic.”

These companies, including CoreLogic, which either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to make anyone available for an interview, referred questions to the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group that represents these companies and traditional credit reporting agencies, including Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. That association defended their members’ algorithmic processes.

“There will be errors,” said Eric Ellman, a senior vice president at the association. “But all of the data that we have seen shows that background checks for employment and background checks for tenant screening are highly accurate and highly reliable.”

In a written response, the association noted that the FTC acknowledged in a 2004 report that such consumer reporting agencies have “market incentives to maintain and improve the accuracy and completeness of the reports they sell.”

However, that same report also noted: “Consumers who were the subject of inaccurate reports had little or no recourse.”

In its statement, the association also said that its member consumer reporting agencies “already have a high degree of accuracy.” But it stated that it supported efforts to “improve the accuracy of public records at the source, where the records are first created.”

Changing laws

For years, there have been some calls for audits of such algorithms, including in a 2019 bill in Congress and even some proposed legislation in New York City. But none have gotten off the ground. Bluntly, it’s not always clear how a meaningful algorithmic audit would even be conducted.

But, in December, a member of the California state Assembly proposed what is believed to be the first serious attempt in any state to regulate algorithmic bias in not only housing, but also lending, hiring and more. It first puts the burden on the companies that made the software themselves, and requires them to explain what they have done in the design of their system.

The bill, the “Automated Decision Systems Accountability Act,” seeks to compel companies to explain before a watchdog group how their algorithms are being tested to mitigate against possible bias or adverse impact on a protected class, such as minorities or women.

“This is dipping the toe in the water of algorithmic regulation,” explained Vinhcent Le, an attorney with the Greenlining Institute, an advocacy organization in Oakland, California, that helped write the bill.

The bill’s author, Ed Chau, a Democrat who represents Monterey Park, a city just east of Los Angeles, said in an email that such algorithms have historically been opaque to most people. As of early March, the bill had not yet been heard in committee.

“Establishing transparency and accountability measures for these systems is increasingly urgent,” Chau wrote. “If we fail to act now, it will become exceedingly difficult to implement these regulations.”

SB 17 Would Create The California Office of Racial Equity

New Office Would Tackle Systemic Inequities

Contact:
Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758
Katie Smith, Advancement Project California, Director of Communications, 323-997-2194
Milena Paez, NextGen Policy, Director of Communications, 916-470-8921
Shannan Velayas, Office of Sen. Pan, 916-271-2867
Brandie Campbell, Public Health Advocates, Director of Communications, 844-962-5900 x275

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic bringing racial inequities in California and throughout the U.S. into sharp relief, the California Legislature is considering a systematic approach to curbing racial inequity via SB 17, introduced in the California Senate by Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). SB 17,  which has now been referred to the Governmental Organization Committee and the Judiciary Committee, builds on the commitment Gov. Gavin Newsom made Tuesday night in his State of the State speech: “When this pandemic ends – and it will end soon – we’re not going back to normal. Normal was never good enough. Normal accepts inequity.”

SB 17 would declare racism a public health crisis and create a state Office of Racial Equity and a Racial Equity Advisory and Accountability Council. These new bodies would be tasked with developing a statewide racial equity framework and concrete strategies for addressing racial inequity across state government.

Data from Advancement Project California’s RACE COUNTS initiative shows that low-income and people of color are less likely to have access to early childhood education programs, have health insurance, own a home, vote, and feel safe in their neighborhood. According to state data, Latino, African American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Californians have suffered disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 deaths. SB 17’s supporters believe the state can and must play a more active role in dismantling racial inequities, particularly those exacerbated by the coronavirus.

If SB 17 is enacted, the Office of Racial Equity and the Racial Equity Advisory and Accountability Council will:

  • Identify existing policies and practices in the state that contribute to, uphold, or exacerbate racial disparities and develop proposals to address these disparities, to be recommended to the Governor’s Office and Legislature.
  • Analyze, develop, evaluate, report on and recommend strategies for advancing racial equity across state agencies, departments and the Office of the Governor.
  • Create and provide a Racial Equity Framework for the state and direct agency Secretaries to develop, adopt and implement Racial Equity Action Plans.
  • Create a budget equity assessment tool to determine whether budget requests and annual allocations benefit or burden communities of color.

SB’17s principal co-authors are Assemblymembers Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco). Additional co-authors are Senators Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) and Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister).

“Extensive research has identified racism as a public health crisis leading to significant health disparities, including infant and maternal mortality, chronic diseases prevalence, life expectancy and now COVID mortality,” said Dr. Richard Pan. “The state needs an independent body to hold us accountable by examining California’s policies and budget with the goal of achieving racial equity and ending systemic racism.”

“These inequities didn’t just happen by chance, they resulted from policy choices – some deliberate, some inadvertent – and they won’t fix themselves automatically,” said Alvaro Sanchez, Vice President of Policy at The Greenlining Institute. “To address structural racism, it has to be someone’s job to identify it and develop concrete strategies to change it.”

“All of the racial inequities we’ve seen in this pandemic have been decades in the making. We can no longer react to the symptoms of systematic racism or nibble around the policy edges,” said John Kim, Executive Director of Advancement Project California. “Passing SB 17 and establishing a State level Office of Racial Equity is crucial to excavating the intersectional nature of structural racism baked into this state’s public systems and policies. A fully resourced and appropriately authorized office is a powerful mechanism not only to stem the tide of bad, racist policies but also to generate new pathways to close the opportunity gap for communities of color throughout the state.”

“State government has a responsibility to address the systemic impacts of institutional racism on the people who call California home,” said Arnold Sowell Jr., Executive Director of NextGen California. “The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people of color at alarmingly high rates and brought to light decades of structural racism embedded in various policies and programs within the systems of government. SB 17 proposes an important and meaningful solution to address these inequities and will put California farther down the path towards an equitable California for all.”

DeAngelo Mack, Director of State Policy for Public Health Advocates said, “The disproportionate harms caused by racism are undeniable. Its negative effects permeate throughout all California systems. Intentional focus at every level of government is necessary to undo centuries of inequitable policies, practices, and treatment towards communities of color. We strongly support SB 17 and this historic opportunity to greatly improve the health and well-being of all Californians.”

SB 17 is co-sponsored by a combination of racial equity, public health, environmental, and power building organizations:

  • NextGen Policy fights for progressive policies to address environmental, social, racial, and economic inequities in California through justice-centered legislative advocacy, grassroots partnerships, and democratic civic engagement.
  • Public Health Advocates brings a public health lens to today’s most pressing problems, helping communities to pass laws, reform systems, and establish norms that foster justice, equity, and health.
  • Advancement Project California is a multi-racial, multi-generational racial justice organization with expertise in research, advocacy, and policy. We work with partners and communities to expand educational opportunities for California’s children; create healthy and safe neighborhoods; ensure communities of color have a voice in our democracy; strengthen movement-building; and shift public investments toward programs that benefit all Californians—not just the privileged few.
  • The Greenlining Institute envisions a nation where communities of color thrive and race is never a barrier to economic opportunity. Greenlining advances economic opportunity and empowerment for people of color through advocacy, community and coalition building, research, and leadership development.

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THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute
www.greenlining.org
@Greenlining

Less than 30% of Black Fresno County residents own homes. A nonprofit hopes to change that

By Cassandra Garibay
The Fresno Bee

White Fresno County residents own homes at about two-and-a-half times the rate of Black residents in the county — but a nonprofit is hoping to curb the disparity between the two by increasing financial literacy education and dispelling home-ownership myths in primarily-Black communities.

“The information regarding home ownership is not really trickling down to the people that need to know it,” Realtist of Fresno County President, Lionel Akpovi, said.

Realtist of Fresno County is a local chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which was born out of the Civil Rights era with the mission of improving “democracy in housing,” Akpovi said.

The local chapter was formed in 2019 after Akpovi and other local real estate professionals saw a need to increase home ownership among Black people in the area, as a means to increase generational wealth.

As of March, the local chapter has 14 members.

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“We believe homeownership is a focal point of generational wealth,” Akpovi wrote in a followup email to The Bee. “Homeownership provides stability, independence and the opportunity to build wealth.”

While other Realtist chapters existed in California, none were close enough to provide resources locally, Akpovi said.

HOME OWNERSHIP IN FRESNO COUNTY

Only around 27% of Black Fresno County residents are homeowners, according to the Advancement Project California’s Race Counts. In comparison, 66% of white county residents own homes.

Akpovi said the gap in home ownership can be tied to systemic and historic policy issues, including redlining and loan practices.

“Many of these families in underserved communities have never even owned a home,” Akpovi said. “They’ve been renting for generations, so really home ownership is not a talking point in those homes.”

Akpovi said while the issue is prominent in Fresno County, the Central Valley is not alone in this struggle.

According to NAREB’s State of Housing in Black America 2020 report, data from the U.S. Census projected about 47% of Black people in the United States are homeowners — whereas the rate is around 76% for white people.

The SHIBA report found that Black applicants are more than twice as likely to have their loan applications rejected and Black borrowers tend to have higher interest rates for US Federal Housing Administration backed mortgage loans, along with a myriad of other disadvantages.

Additionally, a 2020 Greenlining Institute study found that Black and Latino loan originators were underrepresented in Fresno County.

Only 2.6% of the home loan originators in Fresno County were Black, according to the study.

WHAT RESOURCES REALTIST OFFERS

Realtist of Fresno County offers classes on a range of topics related to becoming or being a home owner both to industry professionals and the public, according to Akpovi.

“Our job is to really dismiss a lot of those myths out there,” Akpovi said. “Even currently, you still have a lot of people out there who believe that you have to put 20% down to own a home, and that’s not the case, and it hasn’t been for a long time.”

Akpovi said some of the materials for the courses the Realist offers are free to the public, depending on the course.

So far this year, Realtist of Fresno County has hosted two virtual classes — one about the COVID-19 housing impact and another about virtual marketing.

The nonprofit hosted a financial literacy course at Edison High School in hopes of teaching younger generations about the steps they can take to be home owners, Akpovi said. The group also sponsors children at Edison Bethune Charter Academy and assists in community events.

“Our local chapter’s mission is to empower home ownership through education and community engagement,” Akpovi said.

Future events and information regarding Realtist can be found on their Facebook page.

We Can’t Afford to Let Electric Cars Become Luxury Items

By Maria Gallucci
Slate

This story was originally published by Grist and has been republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In late January, General Motors announced a pledge to only sell electric vehicles by 2035 and make roughly 30 different models of automobile without a traditional combustion engine. In February, Ford revealed it was pouring more than $20 billion into its EV program and that it would only offer electric cars in Europe by 2030. By 2025, Jaguar will become an all-electric luxury line of cars. Meanwhile, Tesla, the world’s biggest EV maker, is building a massive factory near Austin, Texas, where it will build not just sedans and trucks but also, potentially, the batteries. And Volvo has said it will make only electric cars by 2030.

As automakers ramp up EV production, U.S. car buyers are increasingly making the switch themselves. With more than a dozen new electric cars and SUVs set to hit U.S. showrooms this year, sales are poised to reach record levels in 2021, industry analysts say.

That’s driving state agencies, electric utilities, and startups to install thousands more EV charging stations in public places so that drivers can get around without running out of juice. Chargers are popping up in office building garages, retail outlet parking lots, highway corridors, and apartment complexes.

The challenge is figuring out how to make these accessible to everyone.

In California, for instance, low-income communities on average have the fewest total chargers per capita, while high-income communities have the most, a recent state assessment found. In some cases, the chargers in low-income areas are primarily used not by residents but by commuters, who might top off their Teslas on their way to another part of town.

This imbalance largely reflects the current market: Private charging companies build stations where electric cars are likely to circulate, not in places with limited EV adoption. So as the EV industry enters a likely boom phase, efforts are accelerating to ensure that all drivers can join the transition to zero-carbon transportation. Advocacy groups and government agencies nationwide are working to close gaps in existing EV programs, which have broadly struggled to reach both people in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

“A lot of subsidies and market incentives have catered to the ‘early adopters,’ the people who can afford this technology,” said Leslie Aguayo of the Greenlining Institute, a racial and economic justice group in Oakland, California. “We want the focus to be on the front-line, hard-to-reach communities that are most impacted by poverty and pollution, not the folks that already have income and are getting Teslas.”

Aguayo manages Greenlining’s environmental equity program, which mainly works in California to shape and study electric transportation policies. EVs have other, more immediate benefits in addition to curbing carbon dioxide emissions, she said. Battery-powered cars are generally cheaper to operate than internal combustion engines, due to lower fueling and maintenance costs. And electric vehicles don’t emit any of the toxic tailpipe pollutants that disproportionately affect poorer people and people of color.

Yet two big roadblocks keep many drivers from ditching their gas-burning vehicles: the lack of home garages and shared spaces to charge batteries, and the cost of buying a new car, electric or otherwise.

California has more than 650,000 battery-powered cars on its roads today, and millions more are expected to join them in coming years. The state is currently working to phase out sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, creating an urgent need to expand charging infrastructure across the state.

Last fall, the California Energy Commission, or CEC, said it would spend $384 million over three years to begin filling the equity gaps regarding the locations of battery charging stations, along with building refueling stations for cars that run on hydrogen gas. About half that investment is focused on building EV chargers within low-income communities—particularly at or near multifamily dwellings.

The funding is meant to serve areas that the private sector won’t, including rural regions, said Patty Monahan, CEC’s lead commissioner for transportation in Sacramento. Some individual EV charging stations may never pencil out financially for their operators, but they’re still needed in order to connect more people to the larger network. “Ultimately, we want it to be easier to refuel an electric vehicle than to refuel a conventional vehicle,” Monahan said.

California isn’t alone in its effort. In New York, a $750 million program is underway to create more than 50,000 charging stations statewide, with about a quarter of that funding set aside for low-income communities. Ohio’s largest utility, AEP, is providing $10 million in incentives to offset some of the cost of installing EV chargers at apartment buildings, workplaces, and local government buildings; about 10 percent of stations will be in limited-income areas. Colorado regulators recently approved Xcel Energy’s $110 million plan for transportation electrification, which includes adding 20,000 charging stations by 2023. The utility will also offer enhanced rebates for low-income customers and “higher-emissions” communities that want to install EV charging equipment or purchase vehicles.

Nationwide, the number of public charging stations still falls “significantly short” of what’s needed to meet the projected demand for 15 million light-duty EVs in 2030, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory said in a recent report. But the infrastructure build-out is actually surpassing current charging demand, and nearly 100,000 public and workplace EV chargers are available, according to the latest count by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fueling Station Locator.

Abby Brown, who leads the station locator, said the database doesn’t currently specify if charging stations are installed in low-income census tracts. But researchers are exploring whether to add such capabilities. The locator can be used to help planners “determine where charging infrastructure isn’t available, but might be needed to serve the public and underserved communities,” Brown said.

Locating charging stations in lower-income and rural areas only solves the fueling issue. In Seattle, Elizabeth Escobar is working to help democratize EV adoption.

Escobar is the chief business officer at Express Credit Union, a nonprofit financial cooperative. In August 2019, her team launched an EV loan program in partnership with the national advocacy group Plug in America. Express’ “fair financing” loans offer lower interest rates for electric models purchases versus those for standard autos loans. People with lower credit scores can borrow money for EVs without making big down payments. And, importantly, the loan programs apply to both new and used models.

“We really feel that owning an EV will benefit our members financially,” Escobar said. She noted that used electric cars in the area go for around $10,000—nearly one-fourth the price of a new electric sedan.

So far, the credit union has issued nine EV loans. However, none have gone to people from lower-income backgrounds, and Escobar said the program has struggled to draw interest in general. She speculates that might be because people aren’t aware of the potential cost savings, can’t navigate English-language materials, or assume that only wealthy people can own EVs. The COVID-19 outbreak thwarted last year’s plans to host test-driving events, but her team has hosted webinars in English and Spanish to promote the loans.

Escobar said she’s undeterred. With President Joe Biden promising to increase federal EV incentives, and with new models hitting the road, more credit union members might soon decide to participate. “We’ll be here ready,” she said.

Aguayo of the Greenlining Institute stressed that electric car ownership is only one piece of building a cleaner, more equitable transportation system.

For some communities, public investments in pedestrian-friendly sidewalks or bike lanes might serve a more immediate need than battery charging stations, she said. Other areas could benefit more from well-run fleets of battery-powered buses or from car-sharing models that allow many people to use the same electric car. Electrifying freight trucks and other medium- to heavy-duty vehicles will have the greatest impact on eliminating toxic tailpipe pollution, even if gas-guzzling passenger cars continue to circulate.

“It’s not just about replacing internal combustion engines with EVs,” Aguayo said. “It’s about, how do you holistically create a transportation system that works for the community?”

“Caste” Author Isabel Wilkerson to Headline Greenlining Economic Summit

Virtual Summit on Racial Equity Expands to Two Days of Programming May 5-6

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

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the bestselling books Caste and The Warmth of Other Suns, will headline Greenlining’s 2021 Economic Summit, Momentum: A Virtual Summit on Racial Equity, The Greenlining Institute announced today.

Caste dramatically reconsiders how America has dealt with race, looking at American society through the lens of longstanding caste systems such as that of India. America’s modern caste protocols, Wilkerson writes, “are like the wind, powerful enough to knock you down but invisible as they go about their work.” The Warmth of Other Suns, the epic story of the Great Migration, won the National Book Critics award and was named to Time magazine’s list of 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade.

“As we emerge from the crises of 2020, many of us feel a sense of renewed hope and optimism, but also a realization of the great challenges we face,” said Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann. “We’re delighted to have one of this nation’s most eloquent and provocative writers on racial equity join us for our most ambitious virtual Summit ever.”

This year, Greenlining’s Economic Summit – one of the nation’s largest racial equity conferences – expands to two days of online programming May 5 and 6, featuring a variety of discussions, panels, speakers, music and more. Discounted early-bird tickets are available through March 22. Members of the media wishing to attend should email Bruce Mirken at brucem@greenlining.org.

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

(Photo of Isabel Wilkerson by Joe Henson)

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THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute
www.greenlining.org

Experts tell California Public Utility Commission to brace for higher electricity rates

By Martin Wisckol
Los Angeles Daily News

California’s push for green energy could be undermined and poorer households could shoulder a disproportionate share of growing electricity costs if the state fails to adapt to the changing energy landscape, according to experts testifying before the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

In a daylong virtual hearing on future electricity costs, energy professionals explained that the rates charged by private electric companies are expected rise faster than inflation over the next decade, as wildfire prevention measures and new infrastructure jack up expenses.

Currently, the typical electric bill in California is well below the national average for those charged by private utilities. But that’s largely because the state has the fourth lowest per capita use of utility-generated energy, thanks to energy efficiency and conservation, and because of the rising number of consumers who generate their own electricity with solar panels.

The rates themselves are well above average and projected to increase steadily. That could discourage residents from embracing electric cars and appliances, and leave low-income residents paying more than their share of fixed electricity costs.

But easing the drive for clean energy is not considered an option.

“We can’t afford to do nothing. Climate change is upon us,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee.

“We must figure out how to get our costs under control while pursuing our ambitious goals.”

Fixed costs — including transmission maintenance, fire prevention efforts, and investment in new infrastructure — are projected to become a growing portion of electric bills. That means bills could increase even if overall energy use drops.

In 2019, Edison had the 42nd highest rate of 200 private electricity companies surveyed nationwide, and SDG&E had the 17th highest, according to new commission report on future costs. But thanks to low energy use, Edison’s bills ranked 122nd while SDG&E’s ranked 142nd.

But in addition to inflation, Edison’s residential rates are forecast to increase 10% by 2030 and SDG&E’s by 20%, according to the report.

Shouldering the burden

Disastrous power outages in Texas this month and rolling blackouts in California last summer were brought up several times by hearing participants, who emphasized the need for continued improvements to the electrical grid despite the costs involved.

“We must prepare the grid for more frequent and severe climate events,” said commission President Marybel Batjer.

At the same time, speakers acknowledged the state’s commitment to weening itself off the fossil fuels driving climate change.

Because wealthier people are more likely to pay the upfront costs of solar panels and energy-stingy heat pumps — and, as a result, save on monthly bills — lower-income ratepayers are left to pick up a larger share of fixed costs.

Already, nearly 9 million customers are in arrears on electric bills, according to the commission data. And low-income people pay three times the portion of their income on energy as others, said Mad Stano of the Greenlining Institute, an economic justice advocacy group.

“We will not be able to decarbonize the grid if low-income people are required to pay for it,” Stano said.

“Wealthier customers can afford to pay more,” Stano said later. “A controversial statement, I know.”

While there are discount programs for those who make less than 200% of the federal poverty level, lower income people who don’t qualify for the program are particularly burdened. It was also noted that people of color are disproportionately affected by increased electric bills.

“For those just over the federal poverty limits, these rising electric rates are going to hit the hardest,” Batjer said.

Beside being unlikely to buy solar panels, heat pumps and energy efficient electric appliances, low-income residents are also less likely to pay the higher upfront costs of electric cars, according to testimony.

Search for equity

In a panel discussion on cost control, representatives of the state’s three major utilities discussed efforts they’re taking to offset increasing rates. Among them, PG&E said it is pursuing other revenue streams, including selling its San Francisco headquarters, leasing out space on electric towers to a cell company and looking at selling excess energy.

Edison said it is exploring self-insurance for wildfires, which it said could save hundreds of millions. And SDG&E noted it is cutting costs in a number of ways, including using drones and artificial intelligence to monitor transmission and distribution networks, a chore previously performed by people.

But a recurring theme throughout the afternoon was how costs might be shifted away from low-income customers. Fixed costs that have nothing to do with amount of energy consumed account for 66% to 77% percent of bills, said Severin Borenstein, director of UC Berkeley’s Energy Institute and a professor of business administration and public policy.

“The way we’re collecting this is the most regressive tax you can imagine,” he said.

His suggestion was to adjust the fixed costs to residential customers based on income. Betony Jones of NextGen Policy offered a variation of that, suggesting that households making less than $100,000 be insulated from cost increases and other households pick up the difference.

Jennifer Dowdell of the Utility Reform Network breached the idea of the state taking ownership of certain electricity assets, such as storage batteries. And Michael Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University, raised the possibility of customers in high-risk wildfire areas paying more.

Wara also offered some perspective on electricity as part of a California household’s budget.

“Everybody who pays a mortgage or pays rent knows the real crisis is housing affordability,” Wara said. “If we solve the housing crisis, there’s a lot more money for energy.”

Concerns over biased algorithms grow as computers make more decisions

By Shara Tibken
CNET

When the US started distributing COVID-19 vaccines late last year, an essential question emerged: Who should get priority access to the shots? Many medical facilities and health officials decided to first vaccinate workers, including nurses and janitors, who came into close contact with infected people. Stanford Medicine, part of one of the country’s top universities, instead built an algorithm to determine the order.

The only problem with letting a computer decide who should get the vaccine first is that its “very complex algorithm” — which turned out to not be very complicated at all — was built on faulty assumptions and data. Namely, the algorithm prioritized medical workers over a certain age without taking into account that many older doctors weren’t regularly seeing patients. Only seven of 5,000 doses in Stanford Medicine’s initial batch of COVID-19 vaccines were allocated to front-line resident physicians. Most were meant for senior faculty and doctors who work from home or have little contact with COVID-19-infected patients. Stanford quickly scrapped its algorithm and worked to vaccinate its front-line employees.

“Our algorithm that the ethicists and infectious disease experts worked on for weeks to use age, high-risk work environments [and] prevalence of positivity within job classes … clearly didn’t work right,” Tim Morrison, a director of Stanford’s ambulatory care team, said in a video posted on Twitter in mid-December.

Stanford’s vaccine debacle is only one example of the many ways algorithms can be biased, a problem that’s becoming more visible as computer programs take the place of human decision makers. Algorithms hold the promise of making decisions based on data without the influence of emotions: Rulings could be made more quickly, fairly and accurately. In practice, however, algorithms aren’t always based on good data, a shortcoming that’s magnified when they’re making life-and-death decisions such as distribution of a vital vaccine.

The effects are even broader, according to a report released Tuesday by the Greenlining Institute, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit working for racial and economic justice, because computers determine whether someone gets a home loan, who gets hired and how long a prisoner is locked up. Often, algorithms retain the same racial, gender and income-level biases as human decision makers, said Greenlining CEO Debra Gore-Mann.

“You’re seeing these tools being used for criminal justice assessments, housing assessments, financial credit, education, job searches,” Gore-Mann said in an interview. “It’s now become so pervasive that most of us probably don’t even know that some sort of automation and assessment of data is being done.”

The Greenlining report examines how poorly designed algorithms threaten to amplify systemic racism, gender discrimination and prejudices against people with lower incomes. Because the technology is created and trained by people, the algorithms — intentionally or not — can reproduce patterns of discrimination and bias, often without people being aware it’s happening. Facial recognition is one area of technology that’s proved to be racially biasedFitness bands have struggled to be accurate in measuring the heart rates of people of color.

“The same technology that’s being used to hyper-target global advertising is also being used to charge people different prices for products that are really key to economic well being like mortgage products insurance, as well as not-so-important things like shoes,” said Vinhcent Le, technology equity legal counsel at Greenlining.

In another example, Greenlining flagged an algorithm created by Optum Health that could be used to determine priority for medical attention for patients. One of the factors was how much patients spent on health expenses, with the assumption that the sickest people spent the most on health care. Using that parameter alone wouldn’t take into account that people with less money sometimes had to choose between paying rent or paying medical bills, something that would disproportionately hurt Black patients, Greenlining said.

Optum Health said the health provider that tested the use of the algorithm in that way didn’t ultimately use it to determine care.

“The algorithm is not racially biased,” Optum said in a statement. “The tool is designed to predict future costs that individual patients may incur based on past health care experiences and does not result in racial bias when used for that purpose — a fact with which the study authors agreed.”

No easy fix

In its report, Greenlining presents three ways for governments and companies to ensure the technology does better. Greenlining recommends that organizations practice algorithm transparency and accountability; work to develop race-aware algorithms in instances where they make sense; and specifically seek to include disadvantaged populations in the algorithm assumptions.

Ensuring that happens will fall to lawmakers.

“The whole point [of the report] is build the political will to start regulating AI,” Le said.

In California, the state legislature is considering Assembly Bill 13, also known as the Automated Decision Systems Accountability Act of 2021. Introduced Dec. 7 and sponsored by Greenlining, it would require businesses that use “an automated decision system” to test for bias and the impacts it would have on marginalized groups. If there’s an impact, the organizations have to explain why the discriminatory treatment isn’t illegal. “You can treat people differently, but it’s illegal when it’s based on protected characteristics like race, gender and age,” Le said.

In April 2019, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of New York, all Democrats, introduced the Algorithmic Accountability Act, which would have required companies to study and fix flawed computer algorithms that resulted in inaccurate, unfair, biased or discriminatory decisions impacting Americans. A month later, New Jersey introduced the similar Algorithmic Accountability Act.. Neither bill made it out of committee.

If California’s AB13 passes, it would be the first such law in the US, Le said, but it may fail because it’s too broad as it’s currently written. Greenlining instead hopes to narrow the bill’s mandate to first focus on government-created algorithms. The hope is the bill will set an example for a national effort.

Most of the issues with algorithms aren’t because people are biased on purpose, Le said. “They are just taking shortcuts in developing these programs.” In the case of the Stanford vaccine program, the algorithm developers “didn’t think through the consequences,” he said.

“No one’s really quite sure [about] all the things that need to change,” Le added. “But what [we] do know is that the current system is not well equipped to handle AI.”

Update at 4 p.m. PT to include information from Optum Health.

The Greenlining Institute Releases New Report Examining Biased Algorithms that Invisibly Limit Opportunities for Marginalized Groups

Human-designed algorithms and artificial intelligence can create redlines and roadblocks to getting a job, receiving healthcare, and investing in neighborhoods

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, brucem@greenlining.org, 415.846.7758

Oakland, CA —  Today, The Greenlining Institute released a report titled “Algorithmic Bias Explained: How Automated Decision-Making Becomes Automated Discrimination.” The report examines how biased algorithms discriminate against people of color, women, and people who earn lower incomes. Often the discrimination is invisible to its victims. The findings of this research shine a light on what Greenlining calls algorithmic redlining and provides recommendations on how to update laws to address this growing problem.

Decision-making algorithms work by taking the characteristics of an individual, like the age, income, and ZIP code of a loan applicant, and reporting back a prediction of that person’s outcome — for instance, the likelihood they will default on a loan — according to a certain set of rules. That prediction is then used to make a decision — in this case, to approve or deny the loan. But, if the training data is biased then the algorithm can “learn” the pattern of discrimination and replicate it in future decisions. For example, a bank’s historical lending data may show that it routinely and unfairly gives higher interest rates to residents in a majority Black ZIP code. A banking algorithm trained on that biased data could pick up that pattern of discrimination and learn to charge residents in that ZIP code more for their loans even if they don’t know the race of the applicant.

“With this report, Greenlining Institute elevates the harm algorithmic redlining is causing to marginalized communities, and puts forth specific recommendations to promote accountability and transparency,” said Vinhcent Le, Technology Equity Legal Counsel, Greenlining Institute. “We have an opportunity to ensure the decision-making tools our society uses are building equity instead of advancing disparities.”

Despite the massive impact algorithms have on the day to day lives of citizens, there are currently no laws effectively holding governments, companies, and organizations accountable for the development, implementation, and impact of their use.

Algorithms are designed by people. Often, people may have gaps in their knowledge, biases, or want to do things the cheapest, simplest way. That’s been shown to lead to flawed algorithms that make bad decisions. Algorithmic accountability laws would allow us to identify and fix algorithmic harms and to enforce our existing laws against discrimination. Algorithmic transparency and accountability measures can include algorithmic impact assessments, data audits to test for bias, and critically, a set of laws that penalize algorithmic bias, particularly in essential areas like housing, employment, and credit. California’s legislature is now considering a bill, AB 13, which would take the first steps toward regulating algorithmic bias.

We need to update our discrimination laws to reflect the realities of today’s technological world,” said Debra Gore-Mann, President and CEO of Greenlining Institute. “Instead of a defensive strategy aimed at limiting discrimination and preventing disparate impacts, we promote an idea called algorithmic greenlining. This approach emphasizes using automated decision systems in ways that promote equity and help close the racial wealth gap. This means that algorithms go beyond simply not causing harm to addressing systemic barriers to economic opportunity.”

Additional Examples of Biased Algorithms at work:

  • Housing and Development — Over 25 cities use a tool called the Market Value Analysis Algorithm (MVA) to classify neighborhoods by market strength and investment capital. Cities use MVA maps to craft tailored urban development plans for each type of neighborhood. These plans determine which neighborhoods receive housing subsidies, tax breaks, upgraded transit or greater code enforcement. Cities using the MVA are encouraged by its developer to prioritize investments and public subsidies first in stronger markets before investing in weaker, distressed areas as a way to maximize the return on investment for public dollars — essentially repeating the patterns of redlining that discriminated against low-income communities of color. In Detroit, city officials used the MVA to justify the reduction and disconnection of water and sewage utilities as well as the withholding of federal, state, and local redevelopment dollars in Detroit’s “weak markets,” which happened to be its Blackest and poorest neighborhoods.
  • Mortgage Lending — Online banking algorithms can be a way to combat racial discrimination present in traditional, face-to-face lending. However, a UC Berkeley study showed that both traditional and online lenders overcharge Black and Brown borrowers for mortgage loans to the tune of $765 million a year compared to equally qualified White borrowers. Researchers found that banking algorithms still give White borrowers better rates and loans than Black ones. UC Berkeley researchers suggest that this bias is due to geographic and behavioral pricing strategies that charge more in financial deserts or if a customer is unlikely to shop around at competing lenders. This raises serious questions about the fairness and legality of using data unrelated to credit repayment risk, such as shopping behavior, to make decisions about loan terms and rates.
  • Government Programs — When Arkansas implemented a Medicaid access algorithm, hundreds of people saw their benefits cut — losing access to home care, nursing visits and medical treatments. Arkansas Legal Aid filed a federal lawsuit in 2016, arguing that the state failed to notify those affected, and that there was also no way to effectively challenge the system, as those denied benefits couldn’t understand what information factored into the algorithm’s decisions. The process for appealing these decisions was described as “effectively worthless” as less than 5% of appeals were successful. During the court case, the company that created the algorithm found multiple errors due to miscoding and miscalculations. An estimated 19% of Medicaid beneficiaries in the state were harmed one way or another.

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THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE is a multi-ethnic public policy, research and advocacy institute that envisions a nation where race is never a barrier to economic opportunity and communities of color thrive. www.greenlining.org. @Greenlining