History of Housing

The affordable housing movement is a social justice movement

History of Housing in the Bay Area

The creation of affordable housing is one part of a larger social justice movement that asserts that all people, no matter their skin color, ability level, or background, should have their basic needs met in order to thrive and contribute to the community. People without safe, affordable housing are at a significant disadvantage in pursuing education, employment and other aspects of a fulfilling life. Through decades-long public policy decisions, our nation has systematically excluded low-income people, especially people of color, from housing that is safe and affordable. Building and preserving affordable housing is a vital part of fostering equity in our communities. Affordable housing directly challenges the exploitative segregation of low-income people and families by promoting inclusion of community groups that have been historically underserved.

Housing discrimination has immediate and apparent impacts on individuals and communities. It frequently forces families into substandard housing, causes workers to live far from their jobs, reinforces segregation in other aspects of life, like education, and can cause great physical and emotional harm to the person experiencing it. Growing research shows that those immediate impacts compound over time and discriminatory housing leaves generations disadvantaged. A study of Oakland neighborhoods in the 1930’s that were redlined to discriminate against African American and other ethnic groups, effectively denying them access to home loans and insurance, showed that these neighborhoods have a statistically significant prevalence of preterm birth and infant mortality than neighborhoods that did have access to investment. More than 80 years later, communities that experienced redlining are more likely to have worse health outcomes.

Discrimination in housing policy and practice has a compounding impact. The official policies of the distant past blocked generations of African American and Latino families from accessing homeownership, the most significant tool for wealth building in the United States. This history, combined with more recent predatory lending practices, most apparent in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis, has led to a deep divide in homeownership. As of 2017, more than 70% of White households were homeowners, while 41.3% of African American and 47% of Latino households were homeowners – a gap of 30%. Compounding this divide is the role homeownership plays between ethnic groups. While White households have a much higher homeownership rate, only 34% of White wealth is based on homeownership, while it represents more than 50% of African American and Latino wealth. Fewer African American and Latino households have historically had access to home ownership and as a result, equitable wealth-building policies and programs are imperative.

The creation and preservation of affordable housing, both rental and homeownership, is action that helps directly address the wrongs of discrimination in the past. At the same time it provides better access to education, jobs, financial freedom, health and a better quality of life to individuals and families who would otherwise only be able to afford to live in buildings and communities where poverty is concentrated and public services are overstretched. 

Historically, the creation of housing for the working poor was done by the federal government then doled out by local housing authorities. State and local governments were often an impediment to public affordable housing, such as by adopting policies to site developments in existing low-income neighborhoods, with the intention of exacerbating racial segregation and concentrating poverty. Starting in the 1970’s the Federal government began a retreat from its role in creating housing, leaving state and local governments to maintain and occasionally create new affordable housing. During this time, the Federal government introduced the Section 8 voucher program and the Low Income Tax Credit, which put the creation and management of affordable housing in the hands of the private sector. By the 2000’s, creating affordable housing involved numerous layers of Federal, State and local layers of funding.

In California, this complicated work was done by the redevelopment authorities in each city and region which had dedicated affordable housing funding. By State law, redevelopment agencies were required to spend 20% of all the tax increment revenue on affordable housing. In the final years of redevelopment, this amounted to approximately $58 million throughout all the redevelopment agencies in Alameda County. In 2012, these redevelopment authorities were liquidated in the interest of filling budget deficits, leaving Alameda County, like most areas of California, without the institutions and funding to respond to a rapidly worsening housing crisis.

Since the loss of redevelopment housing funds, localities have missed out on more than $2 billion in Bond Cap revenue from the federal government because local governments did not have the required matching housing funding for affordable housing, exactly when it has been needed the most. The wealth of the tech boom and the lack of affordable housing swept thousands of County residents out of their homes, leaving them to double-up with other families, migrate to less expensive areas of the state, or to live on the street in tents, cars, and other types of unfit shelter. Such situations leave our low-income neighbors more exposed to health threats, less able to provide the basics for children, and more vulnerable to economic exploitation.

Measure A1 provided Alameda County with the much-needed funding to adequately leverage state and federal resources to build more affordable housing.