The Activist sat down with Daniel Barth of SOS! Richmond (Safe Open Spaces) to talk about how to tackle homelessness in Richmond. Daniel has been a longtime advocate to reduce and end homelessness both in Alameda and Contra Costa. SOS! Richmond works as an important partner with the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s Housing Action Team.
TA: Homelessness has been a problem for decades. What in your view are some of the drivers?
DB: Our communities have for decades seen a lack of community-based support for treatment of mental illness. In the 80’s, crack and AIDS ravaged families. No surprise that intergenerational homelessness exploded during the 90’s. Yet our safety net shrunk as shelters, treatment centers, and transitional housing were shuttered. The federal agenda has been a major driver for increasing homelessness, with decreased spending and losses of public housing. We all know how rental prices continue to rise, resulting in more rent-burdened renters, while homeownership has declined for lower income earners, since higher wages for some households, results in further pressure on rental markets for lower wages earners and those on fixed incomes. What happens? There’s simply not enough access to housing, supportive services, opportunities for making personal change, and emergency interventions to address homelessness.
TA: What are some of the most significant new developments you are seeing these days?
DB: One of the biggest new trends is the aging of the existing homeless population, in parallel with the aging of the general population. More seniors are also falling into homelessness due to the increasing cost of living in the Bay Area – more than half are 50 years of age or older, and yet the average life span for a homeless person living on the streets is 64 years. When we talk with people who are sleeping along freeways, train tracks, and at any edge of our neighborhoods they can stay at, we know that more than 1/3 have been homeless for 5 years or longer, and yet more than 1/3 have been Richmond residents for 20 years plus.
TA: What ultimately needs to change?
DB: The #1 need for change is our own willingness to see homeless interventions happen in our own neighborhoods – not across town. Only then can we enable new opportunities for folks to participate in that are low-cost (to scale-up), encourage self-determination (people “owning” their own changing), and are community-integrated (building partnerships between housed and unhoused neighbors).
The struggle to create Safe, Organized Spaces starts with us. Only through community-integrated approaches can we see improved health & safety in people’s living arrangements; the stability required to address unemployment and other issues; a secure place to store belongings and medications while looking for work; improved quality of life and ability to increase income; a sense of dignity and hope; the focus of having a purpose in a community living environment and the ability to serve others in the benefit of community goals. We all need the same things in life.
TA: What should be done in the immediate, short term?
DB: We can’t wait for housing and services to materialize for unsheltered homeless people in Richmond. We need interim sheltering interventions. What does this look like? These are temporary, transitional "villages". Many successful transitional villages have been sustained in other cities around the country, which have enabled people to stabilize their lives and ultimately find work and housing. A village consists of a number of small sleeping structures on a single lot – either tiny houses similar to the ones used in Seattle, WA, or Conestoga huts like those used in Eugene, OR. These “emergency sleeping cabins” will meet all of the codes required for emergency shelters.
Responsible individuals who truly want to change their lives are selected to live in these intentional communities, in which residents cooperate and share duties. These are safe and visually attractive, and a primary goal will be to have a positive impact on the neighborhood. A clearly defined set of rules are enforced and staff and “Safety Guardians” are present at all times.
TA: SOS! Richmond is working with the RPA’s Housing Action Team on homelessness. What are other things we can do here?
DB: In a Richmond where we stabilize our growing crisis of homelessness, we can then take responsibility for access to housing. One model is to provide affordable, integrated, and well-maintained Municipal Housing. Local governments like ours, supported by the federal government, must build a very large amount of affordable, mixed income, publicly-owned housing, initially by developing existing publicly-owned land. We must stand up for having resources come to West County. We start by developing safety nets of "pocket villages" in our own neighborhoods.
Join us on May 4th 2019 from 4-6pm for a discussion with local author and highly successful housing activist, Randy Shaw!
We will discuss his new book: "Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America” and particularly how it relates to Richmond.
Together we will have a discussion about how to address the challenges Richmond is facing during this ongoing housing crisis, and how to fight racial and economic inequalities in our city. We need solutions to bring more affordable housing to our working- and middle-class communities, and we need local government to encourage and cultivate more inclusive neighborhoods.
This is your time to participate in this conversation. It takes a city to fix our housing crisis!
Please RSVP so we can plan ahead: https://www.facebook.com/events/821260558227855/
More info about Randy’s work:
On February 23rd, at the RPA's Membership Meeting, the Housing Action Team announced its goals for 2019. Our members also had an update on what the HAT has been working on in the past few months.
Below is all the information you need to know:
Housing Action Team Goals for 2019:
1. Speculator’s Tax to support affordable housing
This policy works by establishing a tax to discourage speculative investors “house flippers”, from buying and rapidly reselling properties. In many communities like Richmond, large investors are buying up groups of homes and selling them for a quick profit. When these speculative investors do this, it artificially increases the demand for housing, forcing families to compete and pay higher prices and increasing rents and evictions. This makes it more difficult for moderate-income families to buy a home. A tax on speculators discourages this, which helps lower the high price of homes for sale. The tax also raises public money that can fund city services like youth programs and street repairs. (Haas Institute 2017)
2. Updating the Rental Inspection Ordinance
We are currently working on two angles: Inclusionary Housing & In-lieu fees.Read more
If you missed it, find below the presentation from the Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services (RNHS) on Opportunity Zones in Richmond.
"RNHS has gathered industry leaders, stakeholders, housing and economic development practitioners to lead a conversation from their perspective of the benefits and potential risk of the new tool Opportunity Zones which encourages private investment in communities that have historically been under resourced."
Some background on Opportunity Zones (information provided by RNHS)
Q. What is an Opportunity Zone?
A. An Opportunity Zone is an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Localities qualify as Opportunity Zones if they have been nominated for that designation by the state and that nomination has been certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury via his delegation of authority to the Internal Revenue Service.
Q. How were Opportunity Zones created?Read more
Did you miss it? The RPA Housing Action Team did a superb job in their presentation to the Richmond City Council at an affordable housing study session.
For over a year, the HAT has been researching best practices in other Bay Area cities and counties to promote affordable housing. The HAT’s presentation this month was the culmination of that research, and featured three affordable housing developers.
One of the most notable aspects of HAT’s presentation was the ambition of its vision for affordable housing. Noting that the Association of Bay Area Governments has set a goal of constructing 700,000 new units by 2040 (50% affordable), the HAT pointed out that there aren’t many cities in the Bay Area able to or willing to contribute 5% of the total. However, in Richmond, where we have more vacant land and abandoned or underutilized properties with low market values, we could probably fit 30-40,000 units of housing.
The HAT also urged the City to stop worrying so much about attracting high end developers, who are very cautious about Richmond because upper middle class projects here can’t command the selling prices needed to make expected returns. (Meaning: no “trickle down” model of attracting market rate housing to generate in lieu fees to subsidize affordable housing). Rather, the HAT called on Richmond to work hard to facilitate the construction of 1,500 units per year, including 15,000 housing units at Hilltop and the South Shore, and 15,000 housing units in the Macdonald corridor, 23rd St and on San Pablo Ave
Finally, the Team also pointed out Richmond needs to staff up to ensure that we are well poised to take advantage of affordable housing development opportunities. It noted that we have 3.8 people in our Housing Department, while Oakland has 41.5 people.
One observer called the presentation “a model of what community involvement in the city can be” (not withstanding Mayor Butt’s hostility and arguments with guest panelists). If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, watch the video of the study session - it's around 1hr 14 min mark.
On April 24th, the RPA Housing Action team will present a City Council Study Session on "Thinking Big about Richmond’s Housing Goals." Download the Report
Forces are coalescing at the state, county and city levels supporting the building of affordable housing. We are at a crossroads in terms of affordable housing; now is the time to build a community based on inclusiveness and diversity.
On the state level, the legislature passed several bills that would support affordable housing, including one last year that would impose a $75 fee on certain real estate transactions documents (such as deeds and notices, up to a cap of $225 per transaction). These fees are projected to generate between $200 to $300 million annually for support affordable housing. In addition, this November, there will be a statewide affordable housing bond on the ballot aimed to generate $4 billion for affordable housing programs, infill infrastructure projects and the veterans’ homeownership. On the county level, CCC Supervisor John Goia has been working on getting a countywide affordable housing bond on the ballot in 2020, similar to the ones that Alameda ($580 million) and Santa Clara ($950 million) counties passed last year.
With more affordable housing revenue on the horizon, it is imperative that Richmond be prepared and well-positioned to get its fair share. For example, revenue raised by any County affordable housing bond are slated to go to cities that demonstrate that they are ready and willing to build the housing. Unfortunately, the City currently does not have much staff expertise and capacity to attract or promote new affordable housing development -- and this is where we need all of you to make your voice heard. We need you to help us urge the City to think big, in tens of thousands of units, not just a few hundred.
Tentatively, the Housing Action Team will be presenting a study session before the City Council on Tuesday, April 24. Please mark your calendars and watch this space for more details!
Finally, the HAT is working on a number of other projects, including an effort to transform abandoned housing into affordable housing; pressuring the West Contra Costa Unified School District to stop dragging their feet on a teacher housing project; and studying ways to encourage homeowners to take advantage of new laws designed to make it easier for people to build Accessory Dwelling Units (in-law units, one of the cheapest ways to provide affordable housing). If you are interested in joining this Action Team, the HAT meets every third Saturday 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center (2450 MacDonald Way)
Improving conditions in Richmond means getting more residents into steady good-paying jobs with a future. It is great that warehouses are locating here with thousands of new jobs. But we have to remember that the wages paid for unskilled jobs are not enough to support a family in Richmond. We need more programs like Richmond Build which will help people to advance from seemingly dead-end jobs into skilled work. In this and coming articles we will highlight some of the programs available to Richmond residents as well as discuss some new programs that can make a difference.
Take advantage of programs that already exist like the one below. And spread the word to people you know.
Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342 to open apprenticeship sign-ups
This is a great career that pays well. Apprentices start out at about $23.00/hour with raises every 6 months. After a probationary period, family benefits kick-in. After graduating, the pay is better than $60.00/hr. It is a five year apprenticeship so the commitment has to be serious.
Requirements for applying are minimal: High school or GED, and ability to be on time every day, and pass a physical and drug test. Previous incarceration and spotty work record are not a barrier.
Applicants will then have to pass an initial test covering basic math and spatial relations. It’s worth applying even if you don’t pass this test the first time. You will have a better idea about what the tests are like and can take advantage of some of the special courses and books that help prepare people in these areas.
Applicants will have to apply in person at the training center in Concord February 5- 9. Email Don Gosney [email protected] for an information packet including sample questions.
For more information: http://www.ua342.org/Training.html
On Monday, a group of organizations, including Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on a 2018 statewide ballot initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, a 1995 law that limits California’s cities and counties from implementing rent control on newer properties.
In the words of Richmond City Councilmember and Assembly Candidate Jovanka Beckles, “This leaves millions of California tenants at the mercy of real estate speculators. By repealing Costa Hawkins, we can make sure low income families, students, educators and seniors with fixed incomes have the renter protections they deserve."
The next step is for the Attorney General to give the proposed initiative a title, summary and financial analysis. From there, organizers will have to collect enough valid signatures to place it on the November 2018 ballot.
There have also been attempts to introduce legislation repealing Costa-Hawkins, including a bill introduced this past February by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), but he pulled it in the face of strong opposition from the real estate industry, and landlord/apartment lobby.
Thanks to the efforts of the RPA and our allies we now have rent control and ‘just cause’ eviction in Richmond. The new 5-member Rent Board began work in April setting up what is, in essence, a housing court system. We approved a budget and hired a super-qualified Executive Director, Nicolas Traylor, who is a Richmond resident.
The Rent Board approved, and the City Council approved, a maximum rent increase limit, for rent-controlled units, of 3.4% for 2016 and 2017.
And we assessed a very reasonable fee of $97 per unit per year for those landlords subject to ‘just cause,’ saving many landlords money in the long run as they won’t need an attorney to evict a bad tenant.
But more hard work is ahead in the coming months. As the only tenant on the Rent Board, I need your voice. The Rent Board will be voting on these important issues that will decide the balance of power between landlords and tenants:
Banking in August: ‘Banking’ is defined as the ability of rental property owner to raise the rent up to the “Maximum Allowable Rent” level after deferring past cost-of-living increases. In other words, if the landlords do not take the cost-of-living rent increase that they would have otherwise had a right to take, can they “bank” the increase and add it on to the rent in later years? Should it be allowed? Should there be limits?
Pass-Through in September: Can landlords pass along some of the $97 annual fee to tenants? Many of the rent control programs in California allow half of the fee to be passed along to tenants. Who can better afford the fee? Who will make most use of the Rent Board?
Capital Improvements in October: Under what conditions can landlords raise rents to pay for capital improvements to the property? Where is the balance between keeping up the housing stock and losing affordable housing? This is an extremely complex regulatory question that will likely require a special session of the Rent Board.
If you care about one or more of these issues, please attend Rent Board meetings and speak during the public comment period. The Rent Board meets in the City Council Chambers on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 4 P.M. (except the August, 2017 meeting has been moved to the 4th Wednesday, August 23rd). Here are the current meeting dates:
Wednesday, August 23rd
Wednesday, September 20th
Wednesday, October 18th
For more information about on the meeting agenda and any schedule changes check out the City of Richmond Rent Board web page.