Building People Power To Address California’s Housing Crisis

In California, a statewide network of racial and economic justice organizations are placing the housing needs of low-income communities of color at the center of efforts to advance housing justice.

With funding support from the Convergence Partnership, the Miyako Group* — a network of 36 racial and economic justice organizations across California — brought together 49 advocates and organizers in 2018 to develop a coordinated state-level advocacy campaign for affordable housing. Several members of the Miyako group previously worked together on another Convergence Partnership funded effort in 2014 that created a shared advocacy platform around California’s SB 375 policy to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The Miyako Group’s strategy meeting in 2018 brought together tenant organizers, community-based organizations, faith groups, policy institutions, researchers, legal service groups, non-profit developers, and others interested in addressing California’s growing housing crisis. Participants affirmed their commitment to racial and economic equity and developed an advocacy agenda focused on the “Three P’s”: Protecting people from displacement — helping stop the displacement as a result of rent increases, freeway expansion, or lack of tenant protections; Preserving existing homes — pursuing strategies to make sure that existing housing stock is affordable and properly maintained; and Producing affordable housing — creating new affordable housing for low-and moderate-income people who are not served by the high-end housing that developers often pursue.

Convergence Partnership funding in 2018-2019 allowed the members of the Miyako Group to focus both on policy education around housing justice and vital base-building work — including leveraging support to grassroots advocates in otherwise under-resourced parts of the state. The knitting together of a statewide housing equity campaign with focused regional and local engagement has fostered deeper and more geographically diverse grassroots connections and allowed more community voices and organizations to participate with strength and unity in state policymaking around affordable housing. Miyako members worked together to strengthen and solidify the renters’ rights movement with an unprecedented level of coordination and planning among community-based groups and state policy advocates. A core component of the Miyako strategy was to introduce a new equity-based narrative as part of housing policy conversations in California: that the market itself is the problem, and as a result, “the rent is too damn high.” This narrative allowed the Miyako advocates to capture the attention of the public and grassroots advocates alike, effectively countering the prevailing messaging from real estate-aligned groups that pushed for more housing production but did not support measures for equity or low-income housing. While the struggle for affordable housing in California is far from over, the strategies pursued by Miyako beginning in 2018 have served as a model to spur action across the country to advance housing policies based on racial and economic justice. 

SUPPORTING COMMUNITY POWER THROUGH A ‘COMMUNITY-FIRST’ FUND IN CALIFORNIA’S SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY

In California’s San Joaquin Valley, over 150 community partners and funders are working together to build and advance a racial and health equity agenda based on the priorities of community members.

Launched in 2015, The San Joaquin Valley Health Fund (SJVHF) — managed by the Center at Sierra Health Foundation — is a funder collaborative that invests in the capacity and leadership of communities and organizations across the San Joaquin Valley to advance the racial and health equity priorities of the region. As a “community-first” funder collaborative, the SJVHF approaches community-power as a core social determinant of health by placing the experiences, priorities, and leadership of community partners and the communities with whom they work at the center of all the work. It is the Fund’s community partners who set the agenda for all convenings and who create the annual policy platform that serves as the core of SJVHF’s grantmaking, communications, technical assistance, and learning opportunities.

Funding from the Convergence Partnership in 2018 and 2019 helped support further grassroots leadership development and strengthen the learning community among SJVHF’s community and funder partners. Convergence support bolstered the infrastructure of the Fund itself to better respond to community priorities by creating more opportunities to engage with and learn from community partners, including the creation of policy platform sub-committees comprised of community partners. This resulted in an expansion of the Fund’s annual policy platform to include immigration and housing as explicit policy priorities — the current platform is now focused on Immigration, Health, Housing, Education, Environmental Justice, Land Use and Planning (IHHEEL). The Fund was also able to invest in efforts to elevate community voices and leadership by bringing over 1,500 Central Valley community members in 2018 and over 2,000 in 2019 to Sacramento as part of Equity on the Mall to educate gubernatorial candidates and elected officials on the IHHEEL platform and make them aware of and accountable to San Joaquin Valley priorities. In preparation for Equity on the Mall, SJVHF staff coordinated capacity-building efforts so participants were prepared to actively engage with policymakers and advocate for their policy priorities through educational visits, social media, and testimony. The Fund demonstrates that if funders truly want to achieve lasting community change, they must provide supports — including direct funding — that bolster grassroots power. Click here to read more about the experiences and impacts of this work from the perspectives of the community members, grassroots and community organizations, and funder partners involved.

* The Miyako Group was named after the San Francisco hotel that hosted their first joint meeting.