Out of all the strategies to stop the spread of COVID-19, the ability for people to isolate is one of the most obvious and impactful. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that stopping all US evictions and utility shutoffs through November of last year could have saved 164,000 lives lost to the virus. Never has there been a more urgent need to prevent individuals from sliding into homelessness.
On March 23, the Richmond City Council passed a an urgency ordinance to enact a temporary moratorium on evictions related to the pandemic. Richmond tenants are now protected from eviction for the duration of the state of emergency and 60 days thereafter.
With SB91, the COVID-19 tenant relief act signed into law in January, California legislators also took some partial steps to help tenants across the state. The Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency recently published resources and eligibility guidelines for renters and small landlords seeking relief through the Housing Is Key program. This information is also available in Spanish, and by phone at 1-833-430-2122.Read more
By Claudia Jimenez, Richmond City Councilmember
On February 23, after years of planning by City staff, much discussion from City Council, and varied input from Richmond residents, the City Council voted to approve the Safe Parking Pilot Program to be located at the city-owned parking lot at Barrett Avenue and 25th Street. Our vote also approved city staff’s recommendation for Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB) to serve as lead provider.
While council’s approved location was not my first choice, I am glad we came to a decision and were able to secure $560,000 of funding for this one-year pilot project. I believe we need to leverage whatever resources we have to better serve Richmond's many residents who are experiencing homelessness and the community as a whole.
Richmond residents who are interested in working with us to make the project successful can reach out to me at [email protected], and we will connect you to opportunities.
By Sue Wilson
The Richmond City Council is now setting the terms for the Safe Parking Pilot Program, a one-year pilot program that will provide a secure, professionally-managed location for those living in RVs or cars in Richmond. The project is funded by in-lieu fees that the city has collected from developers ($300,000) and by a grant from Contra Costa County ($260,000).
The City Council must choose a location and a management team. At least three sites are still being considered: Hilltop Mall, the Civic Center parking lot, and a vacant-city own lot across from the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) offices on 22nd Avenue. City staff have recommended that the Housing Consortium of the East Bay, which runs a similar program in Oakland, manage the site.
In making their decisions, Councilmembers might take the following factors into account:
Transparency -- At City Council meetings and in his email newsletter, Tom Butt has been promoting the former Hilltop Mall as the location. According to Mayor Butt, the site is being purchased by Prologis, a logistics company, and that company is willing to host the car and RV community on the property and donate an additional $250,000 towards its management. One thing Mayor Butt has not explained is why Prologis has made this offer. Are they expecting something from the city in return? The last time a corporation came to Richmond bearing gifts, the terrible trade-off Mayor Butt and others agreed to was allowing a housing development to be built on top of the polluted AstraZeneca site. So we are asking Mayor Butt directly, are there any strings attached to the Prologis offer?Read more
As the Bay Area struggles with a crisis in affordable housing, there has been a spike in people living in vehicles, including recreational vehicles (RVs). As RVs crop up, East Bay cities are looking at various ways to accommodate – or discourage – them.
For example, in June, Mountain View voted to enact several restrictions on motor homes and RVs, including effectively banning overnight parking (from 2-6am) on large motor homes and trailers. Similarly, Palo Alto is requiring people move vehicles on public roads every three days.
Then a few months ago, Berkeley sent shockwaves through the East Bay when it voted to pass an ordinance banning the overnight street parking of RVs, a move that would affect the 200 or so RVs in the city. Facing public outcry, and concern from neighboring Oakland, the city agreed to delay implementation of the ordinance. Now Berkeley is considering allowing a limited number of RVs to stay under a new permitting process, which would prioritize those with special needs, among others. The city has also approached the school district to inquire whether school lots can accommodate RVs for those with children attending schools in Berkeley.
Oakland, in contrast, opened the Bay Area’s first safe parking location for RVs last month as part of a new pilot program. The lot, near the Coliseum, includes security, a site manager, and portable toilets and wash stations. There is plan to bring in mobile shower trucks every week. The site, which will cost $600,000 per year to maintain, is the first of several that the city is considering. The program will allow RVs to park for six months, with the goal of getting people into permanent housing. Not everyone will qualify for the program, however; its is invitation-only for Oakland residents, and people who live in inoperable RVs and those with children under 18 will not qualify.
A similar plan may come to Richmond as well. In October 2018, Richmond Councilmember Melvin Willis introduced an item to instruct the City to study the feasibility of establishing an RV park to accommodate the increasing number of unhoused people living in vehicles. The study has been completed and should be released shortly. The establishment of such a safe and humane RV park in Richmond is one of the priorities of the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s Housing Action Team. According to Daniel Barth (see interview below) such as park "would provide a place to safely park and establish a stable community for the most secure of the city's unsheltered population, which means people living in RVs with their amenities."
Many experts believe that one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent homelessness is by preventing evictions.
One tactic for preventing evictions is through emergency grants. East Bay cities, counties and non-profits (such as Catholic Charities of the East Bay) offer eviction prevention funds, some of which are supported by federal Housing and Urban Development grants. Eviction prevention funds may be dedicated to particular populations, such as veterans, single moms with children or disabled people facing the loss of housing. Others are more general and can assist families who are falling behind on their rent. For example, a family may experience a health crisis or the death of a family breadwinner, and face a landlord who does not hesitate to begin eviction proceedings. A grant of a few thousand dollars – perhaps in combination with legal assistance from groups like Bay Area Legal Aid -- can serve as a critical safety net and make difference between housing stability and being out on the street.
Other ways to prevent evictions is through strengthening tenant rights and public policy. In Richmond, Measure L – the rent control and Just Cause for evictions ordinance – has helped keep people in their homes. (It has never been a solution to the lack of affordable housing, as opponents have falsely argued.) But on the state level, these anti-displacement measures have struggled to take hold. A state-wide rent control and just eviction ballot measure failed in 2016 after an intense $80 million lobbying campaign by landlords.
But recently, AB 1482, sponsored by Assemblyman David Chiu (San Francisco) has gained momentum and is advancing to the Senate. “We have millions of Californians that are one rent increase away from being forced out of their homes for decades,” Chiu said in a Los Angeles Times article. “They are our neighbors. They are our co-workers. They are our brothers and sisters. They are our grandmothers.”
Chiu’s bill would limit rent increases to a maximum of the consumer price index plus 7% per year. The bill had originally included a lower rate, but it was raised after push-back from real estate and landlord lobby. It would also only apply to units constructed more than ten year ago, and would phase out after three years. Finally, the legislation has some anti-eviction measures but they are weak compared to those in a companion bill, AB 1481, which stalled this session. Although some housing advocates are not happy with Chiu’s (now watered-down) bill, they are encouraged that some progress is being made.
Know of someone facing homelessness? Contra Costa County’s Coordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement (C.O.R.E.) program works to engage and stabilize homeless individuals living outside through consistent outreach to facilitate and/or deliver health and basic need services and secure permanent housing.
C.O.R.E. teams serve as an entry point into Contra Costa’s coordinated entry system for unsheltered persons and work to locate, engage, stabilize and house chronically homeless individuals and families. The outreach teams identify individuals living on the streets, assess their housing and service needs, and facilitate connection to shelter and services.
To notify a C.O.R.E. team about an unsheltered homeless individual or family, please call 211. Please note that C.O.R.E. teams are not designed for crisis response. For medical or other emergencies involving homeless individuals, please call 911.
People facing eviction can contact Bay Area Legal Aid, which provides legal help to low-income individuals.
[Graphic: 2019 CCC homeless point in time count.]
The numbers are in, and it's not pretty: homelessness in CCC increased by a shocking 43 percent in the last two years – one of the tragic byproducts of recent skyrocketing rents.
Emergency shelters are one response of course, but there are not nearly enough beds in Contra Costa to fill the need, especially for single adults. A lack of beds means that more people are sleeping on the streets, in cars and in tent encampments. Neil Donovan of the National Coalition for the Homeless calls encampments “America’s de facto waiting room for affordable housing” and notes that “Living in a tent says little about the decisions made by those who dwell within and more about our inability to adequately respond to fellow residents in need.”
[Photo: Oakland Housing and Dignity Village, 2018]
Encampments can range from the unorganized and informal to the very intentional. They can be organized by charities, government or residents. Safe, humane RV parks as a transitional solution (article below) describes how Oakland is creating an RV encampment to get people into transitional housing. This is an example of a sanctioned encampment, but many are unsanctioned and therefore potentially illegal. An OpEd by Anita De Asis Miralle, Criminalizing the homeless should not be the solution (below) describes the clashes that can occur when a self-organized, family-oriented – but unsanctioned -- encampment forms.
Daniel Barth of SOS! Richmond argues in favor of government-sanctioned encampments, but ones that are organized, managed and governed by residents in partnership with charities and faith groups. By permitting these encampments, it can increase safety, stability, social cohesion and correct public negative perceptions. Barth stresses that this last element is critical, because “The #1 need for change is our own willingness to see homeless interventions happen in our own neighborhoods – not across town.”
Homelessness in Contra Costa increased by 43 percent in the last few years, according to the county’s latest homeless point in time count conducted in January. Several nearby counties also reported significant increases in homelessness, a dire sign of the Bay Area's crisis of affordable housing and displacement. The data show that approximately 60 percent of unsheltered people in Contra Costa sleep on the streets, while about 30 percent sleep in cars. Only three percent sleep in warming centers, which are short-term, temporary shelters that operate during winter months.
About 2,000 people lack housing on any given night in the county (the point in time count, conducted in late January, estimated the homeless population to be 2295 people), and waiting lists for shelters are often long. The study showed that while around 68 percent of homeless families can be served by available shelters, only 28 percent of homeless single adults can access shelter beds.
In a KQED interview, Jaime Jenett, a planning manager with Contra Costa Health Services, directly spoke to the problem of skyrocketing rents and stagnant wages for lower income people. "They need affordable housing that is really targeted to low- and very low-income folks," she said. "A lot of the quote-unquote affordable housing is just completely out of reach for the people that we're working with."
While the majority of homeless people are between 25-54 years old, Jenett noted that there is a disturbing increase in the number of older adults without homes.
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: