“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

 

AB 946 Would Create 23,000 First-Time Homebuyers by Closing Mortgage Interest Deduction Loophole on Second Homes

CONTACT: 
Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 415-846-7758
Sylvia Aguilar, Managing Director, California Community Builders, saguilar@ccbuilders.org, 510-868-0991
Matt Lewis, California YIMBY, press@cayimby.org

Oakland, Calif. California’s mortgage interest deduction for second homes has served as a tax break for the wealthy, costing taxpayers $230 million annually while only benefiting less than 3% of California homeowners. AB 946 by Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose) would end this tax break on what are primarily vacation homes and instead direct these funds to the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) MyHome Assistance Program and other programs that support moderate-income homeownership. This change would make it possible for approximately 23,000 families to become first-time homebuyers.

California’s history of redlining has for decades restricted homeownership for communities of color. By helping moderate-income families become homeowners, AB 946 is a critical step in reversing the pervasive discriminatory practice that has denied generations of Black and Brown families the unique wealth-building power of homeownership. Only 30% of Californians can afford to buy a median-priced home, and as a result the state’s homeownership rate is the second lowest in the nation. Only 34.5% of Black people and 41.9% of Latinos are homeowners.

“Closing this loophole is common sense. It’s great that some families are able to buy a second home, but taxpayers should not have to foot the bill when most Californians can barely afford their first home.” said Adam Briones, Economic Equity Director, The Greenlining Institute. “Redirecting this critical funding will enable hard working Californians, including teachers, firefighters, nurses, service workers, and many others to buy their first home and live in the communities where they work.”

“California has the second-lowest homeownership rate in the country because working families cannot afford the $700K price of entry for a modest home,” said Brian Hanlon, CEO of California YIMBY. “Assemblymenber Alex Lee’s bill, along with efforts to accelerate homebuilding, will help more Californians afford a home and will reduce the racial wealth gap by enabling more Californians of color to build wealth through homeownership.”

“First-time homebuyer assistance programs boost homeownership and equalize opportunity — 65 to 70% of CalHFA first-time home loans go to communities of color,” said John Gamboa, President of California Community Builders. “Increasing investment in these programs by reallocating a subsidy benefiting those who can afford two homes is long past due.”

Elimination of the mortgage interest deduction on second homes would have no effect on most California homeowners and minimal financial impact on most of those who currently take advantage of the interest deduction on second homes. People who rent out their second home and use it as a residence for at least 14 days, or occupy the unit for 10% of the number of days it is rented out, whichever amount is greater, are not impacted by this change because they do not currently qualify for the mortgage interest deduction on a second home. Of the less than 2.8% of Californians who currently write off mortgage interest on vacation homes, the average owner would owe an additional $1,000 a year in taxes. The reallocation of this subsidy would create a $230 million loan and assistance pool to support first-time homebuyers.

“We need more common sense solutions to solve California’s housing crisis, and tackling a tax break for the fortunate Californians who own more than one of them just makes sense,” said Assemblymember Alex Lee. “Redirecting those funds can help open the door to homeownership for middle class families and it’s the right thing to do.”

CA first-time homeownership facts:

  • Saving enough money for a down payment is the largest obstacle to first-time homeownership in California, especially because rentals are generally more than 30% of household income.
  • In the 1960’s the average California home cost three times the average household income. Today it costs more than seven times more.

CalHFA borrower profile:

  • 71% of loans go to people making less than $100,000 annually.
  • 65-70% of CalHFA first-time home loans go to Black, Indigeneous, People of Color helping reverse historic redlining policies.
  • CalHFA’s operations are funded by revenues generated through its mortgage loan programs. $230 million in annual investments with compounding returns will result in more than 23,000 additional homeowners after only a few years.

Follow this link for the full text of AB 946.

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About The Greenlining Institute

Founded in 1993, The Greenlining Institute envisions a nation where communities of color thrive and race is never a barrier to economic opportunity. Because people of color will be the majority of our population by 2044, America will prosper only if communities of color prosper. Greenlining advances economic opportunity and empowerment for people of color through advocacy, community and coalition building, research, and leadership development. We work on a variety of major policy issues because economic opportunity doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Rather than seeing these issues as being in separate silos, Greenlining views them as interconnected threads in a web of opportunity.
https://greenlining.org/

About California Community Builders

California Community Builders’ mission is to reduce the homeownership gap as a means of closing the racial wealth gap. Through the promotion of affordable homeownership, we seek to mitigate one of the most egregious root causes of increasing poverty and widening the wealth gap experienced by communities of color in California. Across every social measurement, homeownership has proven to be the doorway and pathway out of poverty and into the benefits of the middle class including: improved incomes and wealth creation, improved education, better health, safer neighborhoods, entrepreneurship and a strengthened democracy.
https://www.ccbuilders.org/

About California YIMBY

California YIMBY is a community of neighbors who welcome more neighbors. We believe that an equitable California begins with abundant, secure, affordable housing. We focus on housing and land use policy at the state and local level to ensure grassroots organizers and city leaders have the tools they need to accelerate home building.

https://cayimby.org/

 

California Launches “Partners Advancing Climate Equity” to Aid Underserved Communities

Program Helps Frontline Communities  Build Capacity to Address Climate Crisis

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

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Twenty-two leaders representing diverse California communities will spend 2021 as part of the inaugural cohort of the California Strategic Growth Council’s Partners Advancing Climate Equity Program, designed to help communities most impacted by climate change mount an effective, community-driven response. The program was spurred by legislation cosponsored by The Greenlining Institute.

Frontline communities, including low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous peoples, tribal nations and immigrant communities, suffer first and worst from climate impacts. These communities typically have the least capacity or resources necessary to advance local climate action. PACE addresses the need to invest in local leadership and bottoms-up community development, supporting communities to identify their own needs and visions, develop partnerships, build skills, access capacity building and technical assistance resources, develop projects for grant funding and more.

“Greenlining is thrilled to see the PACE program as an outcome of SB 1072, a law we worked hard to pass and a critical step in the right direction of investing directly in community capacity,” said Greenlining Environmental Equity Senior Program Manager Emi Wang. “Too often the communities hit first and worst by climate change have been least able to mount an effective response or even tap into state funding, because they just haven’t had the resources to do it. PACE gives these frontline communities a fair chance.”

Partners Advancing Climate Equity aims to address this gap by building the capacity and technical assistance infrastructure needed in California’s most impacted communities. It will help fill the need for increased training, resources and capacity to strengthen cross-sector partnerships, create data-driven community needs assessments and navigate complex state funding programs, policies and decision-making processes. Administered by SGC, Partners Advancing Climate Equity aims to increase the capacity of local leaders from across California to advance community-driven, equitable climate solutions at the pace and scale demanded by climate change and ongoing racial,social, and environmental inequity.

Partners Advancing Climate Equity program emerged out of SB 1072, 2018 legislation authored by Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) and cosponsored by The Greenlining Institute and the Trust for Public Land. SB 1072 sought to level the playing field so that our most under-resourced communities can effectively pursue local climate action.

The Partners Advancing Climate Equity program consists of two phases: a peer-to-peer learning cohort and place-based technical assistance to support local capacity building around community-identified initiatives. SGC is offering the program in partnership with the Local Government Commission, Climate Resolve, Urban Permaculture Institute, The Greenlining Institute, and Movement Strategy Center. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice Grant enables SGC to provide participants with up to $8,000 to support their participation in the program.

The members of the inaugural cohort will work on an array of issues at the intersection of climate and equity, including affordable housing, air quality, youth and resident empowerment, water and wildfire resilience, and urban greening. The cohort primarily comprises individuals working in partnership with broad coalitions or at nonprofit organizations that prioritize and uplift resident-led initiatives.

Recognizing the variety of challenges faced by frontline communities throughout California, the Partners Advancing Climate Equity team prioritized regional diversity within the inaugural cohort. Its members represent coastal and inland Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, the Sacramento region, the Bay Area, and throughout the North Coast and Sierras. In addition, five members of the PACE cohort represent Tribal governments or indigenous-serving organizations.

The program curriculum advances four primary objectives:

  • Leveraging available resources to advance local climate resilience and social equity priorities;
  • Forming and sustaining cross-sector partnerships that enhance collective impact;
  • Creating data-driven, community-led needs assessments and action plans; and
  • Navigating state funding programs, policies, and resources

During their participation in the program, members of the cohort will develop community-informed needs assessments with a focus on tangible strategies to build long-term capacity with partners.

Follow this link to learn more about the Partners Advancing Climate Equity program and meet the 22 members of the cohort.

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

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

Guest column: Super Bowl ads, like nature, abhor a vacuum

By Jeremy Bagott
The Florida Times-Union

They once had names like Countrywide, Ameriquest, New Century, Argent and Greenpoint. They’re gone now – wiped cleanly off the map during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. In their place is a stable of largely unregulated online lenders – now fashionably called “fintechs” – toasted as bold disrupters in the “lending space.”

We’ll hear from them as they unveil inventive commercials during Super Bowl LV on Sunday. If you haven’t spent your quarantine under a rock, you’ve no doubt seen their barrage of spots on television.

Super Bowl viewers over the age of 30 will remember Ameriquest. Its name was once everywhere. In 2005, it was on a charm offensive after the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division had brought a case against it for juicing mortgages made to minorities, women and the elderly with special fees and bait-and-switch practices.

Ameriquest, in response, successfully mainstreamed itself, sponsoring the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville featuring Paul McCartney. Who could forget the former Beatle performing “Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” “Live and Let Die” and a rendition of “Hey Jude” that brought the entire stadium to its feet singing “Na Na Na Na-na-na-na”?

More than a dozen years after a cataclysmic crisis took the global financial system to the edge, these new nonbanks, again backstopped by the politics-infused mortgage amalgams Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the U.S. Federal Housing Administration, are bringing dreams to life. And why not? Home equity in America is up $6 trillion from 2010, according to data provider CoreLogic.

But a remark by former Fed chief Alan Greenspan continues to haunt. In June 2007, when the financial crisis was but a pimple on King Mammon’s backside, the former Fed chairman worried aloud about “a very large number of small institutions, some on the margin of scrupulousness and very hard to detect when they are doing something wrong.”

During the bubble, the former nonbanks – later reduced to a collection of heads on skewers – managed to create a shadow banking system that resulted in a trillion dollars of empty, commission-driven economic activity that simply exacted fees, cashed out home equity and transferred risk to Wall Street banks (and then to the U.S. taxpayer, as we found out in late 2008).

In 2005, Ameriquest also sprinkled wads of cash into the sticky fingers of the Rolling Stones, sponsoring the U.S. leg of the band’s world tour. A year earlier, it had locked up the naming rights to the Texas Rangers’ ballpark for $75 million, dubbing it “Ameriquest Field.” It sponsored NASCAR drivers and it commissioned two airships and then dispatched them to sporting events across the country.

In allegations of targeting black and Hispanic Americans, along with the elderly, Ameriquest was hardly alone. After the financial crisis, the Justice Department levied big fines against the defunct lender Countrywide’s new owner, Bank of America, over 10,000 toxic subprime mortgages, claiming Countrywide’s black customers were more than twice as likely to get a subprime loan than similar white borrowers, even though their finances would have qualified them for prime rates.

The now-bankrupt New Century was also thought to have been among the most notorious predatory lenders of the era.

Fast-forward to 2020. The Greenlining Institute, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit, has sent up a warning flare. It found that the eight largest nonbank mortgage lenders in California had loaned disproportionately to black and Hispanic home buyers when compared with top banks in the state. There are many open questions about this finding.

The resurgence of nonbanks comes amid a push to delegitimize bank appraisers – through claims of systemic racism or simply by pointing out that human appraisers can make errors or sometimes disagree on the value of a property used as collateral. (Full disclosure: The writer is a licensed appraiser.)

To “solve” this problem, efforts are afoot for the wider adoption of so-called “black box appraisals” – computer models and algorithms that remove humans from the valuation of the collateral. This harkens to the disastrous computer models developed by the Big Three credit-rating agencies during the run-up to the financial crisis that awarded triple-A ratings to junk-quality securities.

As they say in Papua, New Guinea, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – The more things change, the more they stay the same. As will be witnessed on Super Bowl Sunday, mortgage finance, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

Jeremy Bagott is author of “The Ichthyologist’s Guide to the Subprime Meltdown.”

Black Leaders: Biden Order is first to recognize America’s history of housing injustice

By Quincy LeGardye
California Black Media

Black Leaders and civil rights groups – including the NAACP and the Greenlining Institute — are hailing a memorandum President Joe Biden issued last week directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to “take actions to undo historic patterns of segregation and other types of housing discrimination that afford access to long denied opportunities.”

The directive is based on an executive order the President of the United States signed on Jan. 27. It launched a package of White House actions crafted to promote equity that also includes ending the federal use of private prisons.

In the Presidential Memorandum directed to HUD, President Biden publicly acknowledged that in the 20th century, U.S. federal, state and local governments “systematically implemented” discriminatory housing policies and supported discrimination in housing and mortgage lending. The memo also outlined the wide-reaching effects of racial housing discrimination, which includes the racial gap in homeownership, persistent undervaluation of homes owned by people of color and a disproportionate amount of pollution and exposure to climate change in communities of color.

According to an analysis of the order by the Urban Institute, the memorandum is the first time a president has explicitly recognized the federal government’s culpability in housing injustice.

“The Federal Government must recognize and acknowledge its role in systematically declining to invest in communities of color and preventing residents of those communities from accessing the same services and resources as their white counterparts,” the memorandum reads.

California’s Black communities have long experienced the effects racial housing discrimination and they continue to feel that pinch. According to a 2015 report by the California Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan research firm, people of color made up more than two thirds of Californians with unaffordable housing costs, with unaffordable costs defined as spending over 30 % of household income on housing. This report found that 6.6 % of Californians with unaffordable housing costs are Black, despite Black Californians counting for about 6.5 percent of the state’s total population. Also, according to a 2019 HUD report, nearly 40 % of California’s homeless population is Black.

Debra Gore-Mann, president and CEO of the Oakland-based Greenlining Institute, told California Black Media, “American housing policy has been steeped in racial animus from the National Housing Act of 1934 that created the FHA — which explicitly promoted redlining — all the way to the subprime mortgage crisis that blew up from 2007 to 2010.

“Today, communities of color teeter on the brink of eviction and foreclosure,” Gore-Mann continued. “President Biden’s order on redressing this nation’s history of housing discrimination and his call to Congress to pass protections and financial relief for Americans at risk of losing their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic are important and come at a critical time.”

The memorandum’s specific directives are aimed at two rules that were weakened or relaxed under the Trump administration: one governs how cities assess and enforce efforts to reduce segregation, and the other combats discrimination in rental housing and mortgage lending. Biden also ordered incoming Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge to take the necessary steps to align HUD’s policies with the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

During her confirmation hearing Jan. 28, Fudge, a previous chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and former mayor of Warrensville Heights, a majority-Black suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, committed to the Biden administration’s priorities of expanding the Black homeownership rate and breaking down barriers to building new apartment buildings.

“It bears mentioning, particularly in this moment of crisis, that HUD — perhaps more than any other department — exists to serve the most vulnerable people in America,” Fudge said in her prepared remarks. “That mandate matters a great deal to me. It is consistent with my own values, and it is precisely what has always motivated me to service.”

Several civil rights groups and housing activists are applauding the memorandum as an important first step in combating a legacy of housing discrimination. It comes after four years of the Trump administration either ignoring or taking steps to weaken fair housing protections, they say, and amid a national pandemic that is hitting communities of color hardest.

“We are gratified by today’s Memorandum reaffirming the federal government’s role in ensuring fair and equitable housing policies. We welcome the prioritization of this essential federal role in advancing equity and look forward to working to reverse the devastating practices undertaken by HUD during the Trump Administration, and to advancing a bold, progressive vision of fair housing,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

However, these same civil rights and housing groups are emphasizing the fact that communities impacted by housing discrimination, especially Black communities, need help in the form of concrete action. Some concrete actions that the federal government could take to redress housing discrimination include confronting forms of discrimination in today’s housing market, such as realtor and landlord practices, and supporting homeownership for communities of color, according to the Urban Institute.

“This open dialogue represents a big first step, but it’s just the first step on our way to a just recovery. We must demand new policies to remedy and make right this longstanding, unfair economic burden on too many Americans. We do not need more analysis, assessments nor this too familiar call to action by Congress. We, the public, must clearly demand proactive, concrete actions performed intentionally and consciously to build a clear pathway for communities of color to build real prosperity,” said Gore-Mann.

Environment Experts To Newsom: Now’s Your Moment

By Ezra David Romero
CapRadio

Back in September, while wildfires raged and the pandemic wore on, California Gov. Gavin Newsom held a virtual press conference to announce a bold new climate goal. By 2035, he said, all new cars and trucks sold in California would be zero-emission, in order to seriously curtail climate warming-emissions.

“We are marking a new course, we are setting a new marker,” Newsom told a camera while standing in front of a few electric cars at Cal Expo in Sacramento. California is poised to lead the rest of the world in the “collective cause” of mitigating climate change, Newsom declared.

“That really was very important,” said Dan Sperling, founding director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. “A lot of other countries are now imitating that target,”

But while Newsom has grabbed attention for his clean car policy — so far, he’s not earned a broader reputation as an environmental champion.

In fact, two years into his administration, environmental experts say he hasn’t moved boldly enough on ecological issues — either because he’s distracted by other emergencies, or because he’s been playing political defense. They say now is his moment to change his strategy.

“He has been a disappointment,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, adding that his words and actions have been inconsistent. “Initially he wasn’t talking about climate change at all, then he started talking about it, then he had to deal with all the fires.”

Newsom’s administration has made headway on moving away from fossil fuels — namely by creating policy on zero-emission vehicles and charging infrastructure. His administration has also been busy filing lawsuits to prevent Trump era environmental rollbacks, such as protections for migratory birds.

But the environmental community says with other distractions out of the way, now is Newsom’s time to take swift action on climate change and alleviate the burden on communities dealing with air and water pollution.

Phillips says Newsom’s administration shouldn’t be a replay of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tenure, which was noted for a more cautious, step-by-step policy making approach.

“Incrementalism isn’t the thing they want,” Phillips said about the environmental advocacy community, adding that young people want change and clear air. “They want to stop worrying about what the future is going to bring in terms of climate change.”

Climate Work

A month after issuing the executive order about zero-emission vehicles, Newsom called for a different kind of climate policy — conservation of 30% of state lands and waters by 2030. The goal is to protect species and preserve ecosystems that are vital to controlling carbon emissions. The governor envisions carbon sequestration projects on farms and other landscapes as a major part of preventing the climate crisis from worsening.

“California’s beautiful, natural and working lands are an important tool to help slow and avert catastrophic climate change,” Newsom said in October.

All these steps are important for meeting the state’s climate goals of getting 5 million zero-emission vehicles on roads by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2045. Both goals were previously set by the Brown Administration.

But where advocates say Newsom falls short is envisioning a future less dependent on fossil fuels, says Deborah Sivas, an attorney with the Stanford University Environmental Law Clinic.

“The oil and gas side is his real Achilles heel, because there’s been several thousand new oil and gas permits issued during his tenure,” she said about Newsom. “It feels a little bit schizophrenic to be promoting these really ambitious climate goals, and yet still facilitating and supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Sivas says Newsom has the authority to phase out fossil fuels faster — although he’d likely be sued for trying — but it’s not a battle he wants to take on.

But Kate Gordon, the governor’s senior climate advisor, says Newsom’s administration is exploring strategies to reduce petroleum production that won’t leave California’s oil industry workers in the lurch. She says the idea is to not replicate the unjust transition the timber industry experienced as it began to decline in the 1990s.

“We can see the writing on the wall,” said Gordon. “The industry is changing, crude oil demand is way down … We have time to think ahead about who’s at the table. That didn’t happen with the timber industry.”

Newsom’s team is currently trying to prevent a retreat of the state’s previous environmental work by waging numerous lawsuits against the Trump administration, said Richard Frank with UC Davis’ Environmental Law and Policy Center. Many of the rollbacks would make it tough for California to meet its climate goals.

When the Trump Administration prevented California from setting stringent emissions standards on passenger cars and trucks, Newsom’s team found a workaround, by negotiating and working directly with automakers to get them to create cars and trucks with better fuel standards.

Frank argues that Newsom would have made more progress on environmental policy if he hadn’t had to play defense with the Trump Administration.

“I don’t begrudge or criticize the governor in the slightest for his attention being diverted to the attempted Trump Administration rollbacks,” said Frank. “With an incoming Biden administration, hopefully, we’ll have a far more collaborative federal state relationship and that in turn should free up Governor Newsom’s opportunity to play offense.”

Wildfire

Last year’s record-setting wildfire season was also a major distraction for Newsom, although he did help create a new relationship with the federal government to try to mitigate fire risk. The goal of the federal-state agreement is to thin or burn 1 million acres of forests yearly by 2025.

In his most recent budget, Newsom also proposed to spend a billion dollars on prescribed burns and forest thinning. While that amount of money is a first for fire prevention, says UC Berkeley Forestry Advisor William Stewart, it still doesn’t go far enough because of the vast and expensive nature of fire mitigation needs.

“We may need to do something different than kind of the small scale projects that we historically know how to do,” he said. “There needs to be some people with kind of a skunkworks approach. Can we look at doing this a different way?”

Bills in the U.S. Congress and the state legislature may help increase funding for prescribed burns, and Stewart hopes that the Biden Administration will be more active in managing public lands. He says a change in mindset on the federal level could impact California because more than 50% of public land is managed by the federal government.

“[Fires are] mainly starting on federal lands, that’s what’s burning,” he said. “There was just no chance to actually have a coherent discussion with the federal government when Trump was in power.”

He says Newsom now has an opportunity to change the fire conversation with the Biden Administration.

Water

Newsom has made a number of moves to manage the state’s water problems, such as droughts, floods, declining fish populations and an over-reliance on groundwater.

Last summer, the governor issued a water resilience portfolio that outlines 142 state actions to help the state deal with water as the climate crisis worsens. It includes measures to protect drinking water, groundwater and fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. (Read more about the plan here.)

“It will protect the water supply for essentially two-thirds of Californians from the very real risk of earthquakes, more extreme floods, prolonged droughts and sea level rise,” said Michael Quigley, co-chair of Californians for Water Security, about the governor’s plan.

The roadmap supports the idea of a tunnel construction project that would carry water from Northern California to the southern parts of the state. The idea has been lauded by farmers.

But creating this $17 billion one-tunnel project doesn’t sit well with environmental groups like Sierra Club California, which has asked the administration to come up with alternatives.

“His administration has shown a level of naivete about water policy in the state and that’s sort of jaw dropping,” said Phillips, the group’s director, adding that the new plan is very similar to a two-tunnel project touted by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“They continue to believe that this project that was first proposed in the 1940s will still satisfy California’s water needs, even as we face a critical climate crisis that’s changing the way water flows.”

Frank, with the UC Davis Environmental Law and Policy Center, says Newsom needs to focus on preserving the future supply of groundwater, not just give it “the proverbial nod and a wink.”

The governor’s administration needs to find “a new way of doing business that makes our groundwater aquifer sustainable over the long term,” he said.

Frank said if precipitation patterns don’t shift this winter, the state could soon enter another multi-year drought, just years after exiting the last one. That’s just another reason Newsom should take a serious look at groundwater reserves, he said.

“It’s out of sight out of mind until there’s a major water shortage,” Frank said.

Newsom’s Opportunity

Advocates and policy experts are keenly interested in what Newsom can do going forward, under the new Biden administration.

On the climate front, advocates like Alvaro Sanchez of the Greenlining Institute want the governor to “set a date” to phase out fossil fuels, starting with an extraction method called fracking. In September, Newsom asked the legislature to come up with a plan to phase out the practice.

“That’s ultimately what’s going to be needed to be successful in the climate,” said Sanchez, environmental equity director for the Institute. “Until we do so, we’re just gonna be extending the life cycle of something that we know is cancerous to our lives.”

Sanchez says tackling fossil fuels more aggressively would expedite the state’s progress on climate goals, and improve everyday living conditions for Californians in polluted parts of the state.

He also says Newsom and other California lawmakers need to take more seriously the negative health outcomes that polluted air and water has on disenfranchised communities.

“There are communities in California that have not been seen by our climate policy,” he said. “Believe what folks are saying and … really incorporate what they are asking for into our actual strategies.”

With a new presidential administration focused on equity and climate change, Sanchez says the cap is now lifted off the governor. He says now is the time for Newsom to  meet the moment and be bold on the environment.

Newsom budget hurts environmental justice programs

By Jackie Blandon
48hills

Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2021 budget proposes shifting money from environmental equity programs to fire prevention, a move that has angered advocates.

As Greenlining Institute, CEO Debra Gore-Mann said, “Funding for wildfires should come from the utilities whose recklessness led to so many problems, so that we can maximize funds needed to fight pollution and build resilience in low-income communities of color.”

Each year California sets a new reduced limit or “cap” on statewide emissions that the state will allow to be produced, with each allowance making up one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (using the 100-year global warming potential). These allowances are then auctioned off to garner funds for various California Climate Investment Programs. In short as the California Air Resources Board writes, “It complements other measures to ensure that California cost-effectively meets its goals for GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions reductions.”

But as Gore-Mann and Environmental Equity Director Alvaro Sanchez pointed out, Newsom’s proposed state budget lets utilities, such as PG&E, off the hook for funding wildfire prevention and recovery from wildfires, and puts the burden on the state. That means that equity-designed programs don’t get the funding they need to continue functioning — ultimately disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color.

“The governor’s budget and the governor himself will often speak about equity and a California for all,” noted Sanchez, but “the programs that have the most equity design to them don’t seem to be getting the resources and funding.”

He specifically pointed to programs such as Transformative Climate Communities and the Regional Climate Collaboratives which were created by SB 1072 — a bill that created a national model for prioritizing investments in “communities most impacted by pollution and poverty and most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.” It attempts to address the challenges as well as the already existing community action groups that exist within these communities as it attempts to address the issues of climate change.

Programs like the AB 617 or the Community Air Protection Program, which was signed into action by Governor Jerry Brown in 2017 and focuses on reducing exposure in communities most impacted by air pollution, are also put at risk by budget cuts.

“The problem is many communities don’t have the necessities to pursue grants that would help them,” Sanchez said. “The impact (of the loss of climate program funding) is seen in those communities but could be unseen by everybody else.”

That means residents of cities like San Francisco, who have the infrastructure and resources already in place, will see less of the effects of climate change and air pollution directly, while other communities with less resources and infrastructure won’t be so lucky.

The word “equity” is being thrown around to make the state and governor look better but not followed through to help the communities who need it most.

Newsom’s proposed 2021-2022 budget, in its Climate Change Action portion “proposes an additional $1 billion to support a coordinated forest health and fire prevention strategy that maximizes technology and science-based approaches to protect state forestlands.” There’s also “$323 million for early action in the spring to start these forest health and fire prevention projects before the next fire season.”

It “proposes a $1.5 billion comprehensive strategy to achieve the state’s zero-emission vehicle goals by 2035 and 2045.” While it’s focused on larger scale actions to help mitigate climate change within the state, it underfunds programs in frontline communities.

Sanchez noted that, “As we recover from the COVID crisis and the economic crisis, we need to address overall inequities.” During 2020, many Californians were forced to go into poverty or further into poverty due to a lack of jobs and federal funding for unemployment benefits, while large corporations and business owners were able to profit off of the pandemic because of federal funding and tax breaks. The same communities who were disproportionately affected by COVID and consequent economic crises are the same communities that will feel the effects of climate change and air pollution more directly.

But for real change to happen, Sanchez said a few things need to be addressed directly. The first is a reform of how the cap-and-trade funds are distributed, as well as revisiting the program design as a whole.

The program seeks to do environmental good, but the state has a responsibility “to make sure frontline communities aren’t being overly impacted,” Sanchez said.

And the state needs to address whether these communities can get the necessary funding for programs aimed at curbing the effects of climate change, and whether we “can get equity more right, past just clean air.”

He said the state needs to hold utilities and other large corporations accountable for reinvesting in communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Following the Nov. 2018 Camp Fire, the Oct. 2019 Kincade Fire, and the orange skies and record breaking heatwaves of Aug. and Sept. 2020 — Newsom and California lawmakers need to address the key issues surrounding the effects of climate change and statewide socioeconomic inequity now before fire season has the opportunity to further devastate those hardest hit by the COVID economic crisis.