Building Communities of Opportunity by Reducing Barriers to Housing

Parks. Transit. Quality schools. Safe streets. When people imagine the core infrastructure of a healthy community, these are the elements that likely come to mind. Rarely is housing part of the picture. Yet, safe, affordable housing—near good schools, parks, transit, and healthy food options—ensures that individuals can access jobs, obtain the education and training necessary to earn a living, and lead a healthy lifestyle. Increasingly, however, low-income people of color across the state are being priced out of their neighborhoods, relegated to substandard housing, and pushed into areas that lack quality community infrastructure. To ensure that all Californians have an opportunity to reach their full potential, the state must take more aggressive steps to ensure that it’s vulnerable populations have adequate housing.

California’s Housing Affordability Crisis Is Driving Displacement

California is facing an escalating housing crisis. Driven in part by enormous wealth created by the tech industry, corporate investment in local and regional housing markets, and supply constraints, housing costs have soared. At the same time, real wages have been stagnant or declined. These twin challenges – rising rents and inadequate wages – have left the state’s low-income residents and residents of color struggling to meet their housing costs. More than eight in 10 low-income households cannot afford their rent (i.e., they pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent), and close to 60 percent of Black and Latino renters have unaffordable housing costs, versus just less than half of their White counterparts.  Moreover, skyrocketing costs are spreading throughout the state, particularly in the coastal regions, leaving families with limited housing choices. In the Bay Area, for example, two minimum-wage workers can find affordable rent in just 5 percent of the region’s neighborhoods.

The lack of affordable housing options, combined with other factors like inadequate protections for tenants, are driving people out of communities. More than six of every 10 households living across 13 counties in Northern California are now at risk of displacement, according to the University of California–Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project.  In the Bay Area, cities like Oakland are underdoing extreme gentrification. 

Displacement comes with costs – longer commutes, poorer educational outcomes for children, high stress levels for families, and the loss of access to important community infrastructure. In fact, when low-income households leave their homes, they often move to lower-income, under-resourced neighborhoods. A recent study of households displaced from communities in San Mateo found that those families moved to areas with fewer health-care facilities, less jobs, and poorer air quality, substantially reducing their quality of life.

The State Must Do More to Protect Vulnerable Populations

After years of failing to address the housing crisis, in 2017 California took action to increase the supply of affordable housing. The state established a permanent source of funding for affordable housing through a new real estate transaction fee expected to generate $250 million annually and placed a $4 billion housing bond on the November 2018 ballot. 

While a good first step, these efforts, alone, are not sufficient to address the housing crisis. It may take years for projects funded by the real estate transaction fee and affordable housing bond to be built. And even if such projects could be brought on line immediately, more funding is required to meet the state’s affordable housing need.  Meanwhile, rents continue to rise and growing numbers of residents are being displaced from their communities. 

The need for additional action is especially urgent given recent changes to federal housing policy. In January, the Trump Administration effectively suspended the implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, and enacted corporate tax cuts that are expected to reduce funding for affordable housing and, in turn, decrease the number of new affordable units built in California by 48,000 over the next decade.  Perhaps most callously, Representative Dennis Ross recently unveiled legislation that would raise rental costs for low-wage workers receiving federal rental assistance, by $500 per month for some. 

What more should California do to ensure that all Californians have access to quality housing?

  • Strengthen tenant protections. There are a range of reforms the state could enact to enhance protections for tenants, including repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which would allow local jurisdictions to establish stronger rent control policies, and strengthening eviction protections for renters. Fortunately, several tenant protection policies will likely be voted on by the electorate and California Legislature this year, such as the Affordable Housing Act of 2018 (repeals Costa-Hawkins), AB 2343 (provides tenants with more notice before eviction proceedings can be initiated and additional time to respond to eviction complaints), AB 2925 (statewide just cause eviction), and AB 2364 (Ellis Act reforms). Policymakers and voters should support these important measures.
     
  • Prevent discrimination against especially vulnerable populations. Some populations face unique barriers to accessing safe, affordable housing.  For example, individuals with criminal records and Housing Choice Voucher holders are routinely discriminated against by housing providers.  Immigrant families, sometimes faced with the threat of deportation of family members, are also subject to mistreatment by landlords. The state should address barriers faced by these populations, by passing legislation that prevents a landlord from discriminating against voucher holders, restricting landlords’ use of criminal records in the evaluation of housing applications, and providing additional protections for immigrant families.
     
  • Support the rehabilitation of California’s aging housing stock. Due to the lack of affordable housing options, low-income Californians are often forced into substandard, aging, unhealthy housing. Unhealthy conditions found in hazardous housing can lead to cancer, lead poisoning, and mold-related conditions likes asthma, resulting in missed school days and poor school performance for children, as well as missed work days for parents.  The state should work to improve the condition of existing housing for low-income Californians by providing more resources for rehabilitation, strengthening local jurisdictions’ capacity to enforce their housing codes, and passing innovative policies like proactive inspections.
     
  • Facilitate the construction and preservation of affordable housing. California needs 1.5 million additional units to satisfy the demand for affordable housing. To meet the need, the state should work to preserve existing affordable housing, support community land trusts and other tools that facilitate community control of housing, and significantly increase the state’s investment in the creation of new affordable units. Several policy proposals pending this year would provide additional funding for affordable housing, including the Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018, which would provide $3 billion in funding for affordable housing, and SB 912 (Beall), which would provide another $1 billion for affordable housing.  In addition, legislators have requested a state budget allocation of $2.5 billion to support affordable housing and homelessness programs.

Resources

Leveraging California’s Transportation Investments to Achieve Triple Bottom Line Return

At all levels of government the transportation infrastructure sector comprises one of the largest arenas of public spending.  In California, state transportation dollars are estimated to grow more than $20 billion in 2018-19, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018-19 Budget Report.  This is in part due to the recent passage of SB 1 (Beall), the Road Repair and Accountability Act, which increases our transportation funding by $54 billion over the next decade for “fix it first” highway and road projects, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, public transit, and other uses. With many new transportation projects underway in California, and more on the horizon, now is the time to leverage these massive investments to achieve triple bottom line returns and maximize positive mobility, safety, and economic outcomes throughout the state.

Transportation plays a powerful role in shaping access to opportunity and creating healthy, socially vibrant communities. The type and location of projects that our state and regional transportation agencies choose to fund directly determine whether communities are able to access critical amenities and resources and breathe clean air, which impacts the health and productivity of all residents.

With the passage of SB 1, California has taken an important step to provide much needed resources for public transit and active transportation, and target planning dollars to our communities of highest need.  California should build on this momentum by further aligning state transportation programs with equitable investment goals and prioritizing the mobility and safety needs of low-income people of color living in neighborhoods that lack adequate transit service and basic pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. State investments should also be mandating strong public participation requirements to ensure that resources are supporting projects that provide meaningful, effective transportation solutions to community identified priorities, and to ensure that displacement, increased traffic pollution, and other harmful impacts, are avoided.  This is especially important as SB 1 contains a harmful provision that exempts diesel trucks from stronger air quality regulations, allowing them to continue polluting in communities already overburdened by poor air quality.

New investments in transportation infrastructure also provide an opportunity to bring important economic benefits  to disinvested communities in the form of workforce development, well-paying jobs and contracting opportunities. As low-income communities and people of color continue to struggle with persistent poverty and high levels of unemployment, the state can and should do more to target transportation jobs and careers to individuals facing multiple barriers to employment. SB 1 includes an annual investment of $5 million for pre-apprenticeship programs that focus on the recruitment of people of color and disadvantaged youth, which will support their preparation and pathway into apprenticeships and other credential attainment programs.  While this is a critical on-ramp to good paying jobs in the construction industry, the real economic impact of these workforce investments won’t be fully realized unless we ensure that these same communities are connected to the employment opportunities that are created from building, operating, and maintaining our transportation system. This is critical for strengthening our families and neighborhoods, and boosting regional economies through the increased purchasing power of women and men who secure and maintain employment.  It also comes at a time when we need California to assert leadership and commitment toward equitable employment outcomes and protect against the current federal administration’s decision to eliminate the Department of Transportation Local Hire Pilot program in 2017.

To increase job access in the transportation sector for those that need it the most, the state should prioritize projects that employ effective strategies for recruiting, training, and hiring local, low-income, underemployed, and underrepresented youth and adults such as community workforce agreements, project labor agreements with targeted hire commitments, and partnerships with community based training programs. An additional component that a targeted hire policy should address is the widespread racial discrimination and implicit biases in hiring that exists throughout our institutions. Based on the demographic breakdown of many jurisdictions, specific populations, including the African American community, are often underrepresented in industries such as construction, even when workers have successfully completed their training programs. Therefore, these policies must include criteria and/or a status for underrepresented workers to ensure that the workers who are recruited and hired reflect the workforces of our regions.  Lastly, in order to foster strong accountability and ongoing monitoring of these policies, they should require a minimum of 30 percent of the work hours to be performed by individuals with barriers to employment, and robust project reporting data on worker demographic information and job quality.

California has an opportunity to lead the nation in advancing a more equitable public infrastructure system that ensures everyone has the resources and supports they need to contribute and thrive.  By taking advantage of our state’s enormous transportation arena to achieve multiple benefits in all communities, we can secure a future of shared prosperity.

Resources:

California’s Infrastructure Needs a Makeover for a Climate Resilient Future

The science is clear. Our climate is changing. In California, we are already feeling the impacts of climate change in the form of more regular and longer lasting droughts, flooding, wildfires, higher temperatures, and impacts on our fisheries, forests, wildlife, and other natural resources. As global temperatures continue to rise, all Californians will feel the impacts. However, communities of color and low-income communities, those who have born the negative consequences of our fossil fuel economy, will be hit first and worst by climate change.

This fact has serious implications for our state’s future.  While the United States is projected to become majority people of color by 2042, California hit that mark decades ago. To secure an equitable and prosperous future for California, implementing strategies that allow our communities to thrive—even in the face of a changing climate—is critical.

As our earlier blog noted, smart, targeted investments in infrastructure can build community resilience by expanding economic opportunity, improving community health, and connecting people to critical services.  Unfortunately, California’s infrastructure is crumbling, and we need significant investments over the next decade to repair, upgrade, and expand our infrastructure. Last year, state lawmakers committed to getting started by making new investments in transportation, climate infrastructure, and housing. This year, the legislature and voters are considering a range of proposals that would create another set of investments in water, parks, and housing. While this represents a fraction of what is necessary, they present real opportunities to innovate and think about how we build infrastructure that can physically withstand climate change, and, lift up disinvested communities so that they are able to thrive even as our climate changes. So, how do we make sure we take advantage of this opportunity? In addition to the principles we outlined earlier this week, here are four ideas that we think are important:

 1. Include Impacted Communities in Infrastructure Decision Making from Planning to Completion

Frontline communities have been left out of the conversations and decision-making around the planning and designing of their own communities, leaving their destinies to the often discriminatory and profit-driven practices of corporations and government representatives who have little knowledge of their unique challenges and needs. As a result, these communities and their members are left fighting for their right to live healthy and free from pollution with access to opportunity. To begin reconciling this, California should ensure that low-income people, communities of color, and other populations that are vulnerable to climate change are provided with meaningful opportunities to shape infrastructure decisions that will impact their lives. Furthermore, California should provide direction and resources to local and regional agencies on integrating climate justice in planning efforts, policy development and implementation, and distribution of resources with an emphasis on intentionally engaging and including frontline communities throughout the process. Ensuring early, continuous, and meaningful participation in the development of policy and funding decisions will lead to more thoughtful, effective, long-term solutions.  
 

  1. Promote Interagency Coordination to Build Climate Resilience

In Built to Last: Challenges and Opportunities for Climate-Smart Infrastructure in California, our partners at the Union of Concerned Scientists note that the overarching challenge to California effectively supporting a climate resilient future is that we do not currently have a state level body dedicated to addressing this problem and providing coordination, data, and technical support to other state agencies as well as to local and regional agencies. To address this, they recommend that California should establish a well-resourced center that provides agency staff with actionable climate related information and guidance that is updated regularly. The center would serve in a coordinating role, would respond to requests for technical assistance, provide support to state agencies working to incorporate climate resilience in their programs and decisions. Finally, the center could serve as a resource to local agencies and technical assistance providers working with communities to develop resilience strategies. Establishing a centralized hub of information and capacity would strengthen a network of climate resilience advocates, nonprofits, government agencies, and policymakers to ensure a coordinated effort towards climate resilient communities across the state.  
 

  1. Conduct Vulnerability Assessments

We know that low-income communities and communities of color will be hurt first and worst by climate change. However, California does not currently have a clear picture of how different communities will be impacted by climate change, where infrastructure investments can increase community resilience, or where existing infrastructure may be prone to failure. To prepare for the future, California should take the recommendations of the Climate Justice Working Group and conduct regional cross sector vulnerability assessments that:

    • Identify and prioritize climate change related threats to the region’s frontline communities.
    • Assess how existing critical infrastructure and public services will handle changing conditions, and how the state can develop new and strengthen existing infrastructure and services to enhance climate resilience.
    • Provide direction and resources, such as funding and capacity building, to local and regional agencies on integrating climate justice in planning efforts, policy development and implementation, and distribution of resources.
    • Ensure these local and regional agencies are also engaging frontline communities in their research, planning, implementation, and decision-making.
       
  1. Build Infrastructure to Withstand the Impacts of Climate Change

It seems obvious, but building infrastructure that can actually withstand the effects of climate change is important to making sure money is well spent and making sure the infrastructure functions when disasters hit. Government agencies, utilities, investors, and other infrastructure decisionmakers typically do not include climate related cost and benefit information when evaluating infrastructure investments and infrastructure codes and standards frequently do not consider what the science tells us about our changing climate. This omission results in projects that are ill-equipped for longer-term climate stressors, and is a missed opportunity to avoid damages and maximize cost and risk saving. State and local governments and agencies should update their assessments and standards to better integrate climate risk considerations, as well as the benefits and opportunities of climate-smart projects. These changes should incorporate the latest climate data and technology and should be done with an eye towards protecting our most vulnerable residents. This will ensure sound decision-making and will result in projects that will continue to serve us for many decades to come. 

From the current President’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, to attacks on the EPA, and the intensifying effects of climate related natural disasters, there is barrage of challenges to building climate resilient communities and infrastructure.  However, California is already positioned as a global leader on climate change and has a major opportunity to capitalize on the advancements we have made to date. But we must demand climate smart planning and decision-making from our state and local policymakers. Climate smart improvements to our state's infrastructure are long overdue and will provide the literal foundations for our communities to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of a changing climate.

Investing in Water Infrastructure Now is Critical for California's Future

For decades community leaders and environmental justice advocates have worked to bring attention to the water problems impacting low-income communities and communities of color across California. Together they have secured significant water equity wins. In 2012, California became the first state to establish the human right to water.  Substantial new investments have been made to expand access to safe and affordable drinking water. And new requirements have been established to ensure that local planning processes identify water infrastructure deficits in disadvantaged communities and develop strategies to address these deficits.

Despite these important wins, our work is far from done. Over one million Californians live in communities that do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. Many live in places where the cost of water is so high that residents are forced to forgo spending on other critical household needs in order to pay their water bill.  Children attend schools where their drinking water is contaminated with lead.  The availability and quality of our drinking water resources are increasingly impacted by the changing climate.

And drinking water is not the only water challenge low-income communities and communities of color are facing. Dams, water management practices, changing water temperatures due to climate change, and a host of other factors are decimating California’s fisheries—impacting the livelihoods, food sources, and cultural traditions of Native American communities who have managed these natural resources for thousands of years. Climate change induced flooding and sea level rise threaten people’s homes and their lives. Failing or completely absent wastewater treatment systems are causing public health and economic impacts for households and communities.

We have a lot to take care of and investing in our water infrastructure now is critical to begin tackling these problems. While California has a history of leading the nation on protecting its’ natural resources, applying this leadership is more important than ever. The Trump administration has demonstrated over and over their desire to unravel the national Clean Water Act, promote privatization of our water resources and management systems, reopen our coastline to offshore oil drilling, and defund key programs that fund water infrastructure.

To protect what we have already accomplished and secure water equity for all Californian’s it is critical that Californians, and our elected leaders, step up. Fortunately, there are some important things California can do now to secure our water future.  

  • State legislators are considering a variety of important proposals that would address critical water infrastructure challenges for low-income communities and communities of color.
    • SB 623 (Monning) would establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, a permanent source of funding for safe and affordable drinking water. Water justice advocates and state water agencies have been calling for this for years. The fund would provide grants to address critical operations and maintenance needs, fund repair and replacement of failing drinking water infrastructure, provide technical assistance, conduct lead pipe replacement, consolidate water systems, and other projects designed to secure long-term safe drinking water for all.
    • AB 1215 (Hertzberg) would bring much needed sewer service to communities that do not have adequate service by facilitating service extension and consolidation of service providers where it makes sense.
    • Advocates are asking for a $23.5 million budget allocation to address emergency drinking water needs.
       
  • Voters can support proposition 68, a bond proposal that is on the June ballot. If passed, $4 billion dollars in bond revenues would be invested in water, parks, and natural resources. Unlike many bonds of the past, proposition 68 includes a significant focus on investing in our most disadvantaged communities.
     
  • California voters and California leaders can also support Rep Keith Ellison’s federal Clean Water Act of 2018, H.R. 5609. The bill would invest $35 billion each year in water infrastructure and clean water programs, and target important resources to communities with clean water violations.

Six years ago, California set a national precedent by recognizing the Human Right to Water.  It’s time to deliver on that promise by addressing the water infrastructure needs of low-income people and people of color across our state.

Additional Resources:

National Infrastructure Week: Equitable Infrastructure Investments Can Transform Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color

At PolicyLink, we know that smart, targeted, equitable investments in infrastructure can have a transformative impact on low-income communities and communities of color. That’s why we are excited to join equity infrastructure advocates in California, and throughout the nation, for National Infrastructure Week—a time to collectively garner more public awareness and advocacy to support increased investments in infrastructure.

This week we will be posting a new blog each weekday exploring infrastructure equity in our home state of California. We encourage you to share our blog posts with your network and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #Build4Equity. Also, join the Union of Concerned Scientists and PolicyLink for a twitter chat on Wednesday, May 16 @ 12 pm PT/ 3 pm ET. The discussion will focus on the role of climate smart infrastructure in building community resilience, advancing climate justice, and fostering an inclusive economy. Register today and follow the chat on twitter at #Build4Resilience.

California’s changing demographics and the need for equitable growth

Over the last several decades California has undergone a radical demographic change. Today, people of color represent over 60 percent of all Californians. Because youth are at the forefront of this demographic transformation, there is a racial generation gap between old and young: 62 percent of Californians over age 65 are White, and 73 percent of those under age 18 are of color. Today’s elders and decision makers are not investing in the same educational systems and community infrastructure that enabled their own success. This investment gap puts all of California’s children—and the state’s economy—at risk. A growing body of research tells us that inequality is not only bad for those at the bottom of the income spectrum but subsequently puts everyone’s economic future at risk. Greater income equality contributes to more sustained economic growth and to more robust growth. California’s ability to maintain its leadership in the global economy hinges on its ability to remove barriers and create the conditions that allow all to flourish.

Investing in California’s Future

Unfortunately, California is not doing well. Our state has some of the highest income inequality in the nation and 14 million Californians—over 36 percent of our population and disproportionately people of color—live at or near the poverty level in communities that frequently lack the basic infrastructure of a healthy place. Decades of disinvestment, deeply entrenched patterns of discrimination, and a host of tax and land use laws affecting development patterns have isolated residents of these communities from quality opportunity and services, exposing them to environmental harms, and ultimately shortened lifespans.

Infrastructure is vital for sustaining and reinforcing community. The networks, roads, schools, drinking water, sewer systems, facilities, and properties that comprise public infrastructure define neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Unfortunately, too many Californians live in communities where critical infrastructure is deteriorating or is completely lacking. Residents of these infrastructure deficient places may be unable to access safe and affordable drinking water or wastewater treatment services; connect to good schools and jobs; benefit from libraries, health-care facilities, and emergency services; or safely walk, bike, or play in their neighborhoods. Over the next 10 years, an estimated $750 billion is needed to upgrade and repair our existing facilities and meet the needs of our growing population. While this problem is affecting the entire state, the duel burden of poor infrastructure choices in the past, and insufficient investment in infrastructure for the future falls heaviest on low-income communities and communities of color—the very people who constitute most of our population.

Recently, California has begun to get serious about tackling our infrastructure problems by dedicating new funding to transportation, climate infrastructure, water, schools, and housing. However, in most instances, equity has not been sufficiently incorporated into these discussions or woven into policies and programs. To ensure that our infrastructure investments contribute to a future of shared prosperity we must make sure our investments are guided by principles that expand equity for our most disinvested people and places. Here are four recommendations that can set us in the right direction.

Recommendations:

  • Choose strategies that promote equity and growth simultaneously. Equity and growth have traditionally been pursued separately, but the reality is that both are needed to secure California’s future. The winning strategies are those that maximize job creation while promoting health, resilience, and economic opportunity for low-income workers and communities of color.
  • Target programs and investments to the people and places most left behind. Public resources must be spent wisely. Focusing the state’s programs and investments on climate smart infrastructure that upliftsthe low-income families and communities that have been left behind will produce the greatest returns.
  • Assess equity impacts at every stage of the policy process. As the policy process begins, and throughout, ask who will bene­fit, who will pay, and who will decide; and adjust decisions and policies as needed to ensure equitable impacts.
  • Ensure meaningful community participation, voice, and leadership. California’s new majority needs avenues for participating in all aspects of the political process—from the basic act of voting to serving on boards and commissions to being elected as state leaders. Recognizing historical and ongoing patterns of exclusion and being intentional about establishing transparent processes for low-income communities and communities of color to meaningfully shape infrastructure decisions will lead to better programs and projects.

A half-century ago, California set a precedent for investing in its future—and succeeding. Under the leadership of Republican Governor Earl Warren and Democratic Governor Pat Brown, the state built a world-class education system and infrastructure that enabled a poor, uneducated population to create the world’s ninth largest economy. Bold leadership is needed to build the next economy, and having an equitable and inclusive society results in shared prosperity.

California Leads on Juvenile Justice Reform

This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 190, co-authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara — ending the regressive and racially discriminatory practice of charging administrative fees to families with youth in the juvenile system.

California and nearly every other state charge parents of youth involved in the juvenile justice system with various fees, including fees for detention, legal representation, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug testing. These fees trap poor families in debt, particularly families of color, and according to a study by the U.C. Berkeley Law School Policy Advocacy Clinic, significantly increase the likelihood of recidivism. Though the fees are designed to reimburse local governments for costs related to a child’s involvement in the juvenile justice system, counties often spend as much, if not more, to collect the fees as they take in. 

PolicyLink, working in coalition with state advocacy organizations, co-sponsored and advocated for SB 190, which will prevent California counties from charging juvenile administrative fees. As the first state in the nation to eliminate the fees, the passage of Senate Bill 190 could spark similar reforms in other states. According to PolicyLink senior associate Lewis Brown Jr., “Imposing fees on poor parents who are struggling to make ends meet is not the way to fund our juvenile justice system. Hopefully, Senate Bill 190 is the first step toward eliminating these destabilizing and counterproductive fees throughout the country.” 

We applaud our coalition partners, as well as Senator Mitchell, Senator Lara, and Governor Brown, for their leadership in addressing this important issue. We look forward to working with others to ensure that SB 190 will serve as a model for other states looking to address juvenile, and other types of criminal justice fines and fees.

Click here for information on Senate Bill 190>>>

L.A.'s Housing Crisis Is Now the Nation's Housing Crisis

Crossposted from LA Weekly

The impact of Los Angeles' postrecession housing crisis became clear in 2014, when a UCLA report found that L.A. is "the most unaffordable rental market" in the United States. Since then, L.A. has seen renters become the majority of households in the market. And earlier this year, a report marked a 23 percent rise in homelessness  countywide, a number that some experts say is directly tied to out-of-reach rents.

To kick off an awareness campaign called the Renter Week of Action this week, a number of organizations released an analysis of the city's and nation's increasing rent burdens, noting in a summary that renters from coast to coast now "face a toxic mix of rising rents and stagnant wages."

Expansion of CalEITC to Reach More than One Million Additional Low-Income Working Families

 

On June 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget that significantly expands the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), a refundable state tax credit that increases the economic security of low-income working families. Effective for the 2017 tax year, low-income workers with self-employment income and working families with incomes up to about $22,300 will be able to benefit from the credit. Initial estimates from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy indicate that more than one million additional families could benefit under the expansion.

“The expansion of CalEITC represents a significant step toward creating a more equitable California, one in which all Californians, no matter race, gender, or socioeconomic status, can thrive and reach their full potential.” – Lewis Brown, Senior Associate, PolicyLink

Read Full Statement at Children's Defense Fund -- California 

The New Path of Shared Prosperity in Fresno

Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Fresno County, released on Monday, highlights persistent inequities in income, wealth, health, and opportunity. The profile and accompanying policy brief were developed by PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC, in partnership with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
 
“These findings confirm what community residents and advocates have long known—racial and place-based inequities continue to dramatically impact residents’ access to economic opportunity, housing, health, and well-being in the Fresno County region,” says Ashley Werner, senior attorney at the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “We must continue to work together and strengthen our efforts to demand that our elected officials do not remain complicit but actively and strategically work to create opportunity for all.”
 
Key findings in the report include:

  • Fresno has the 12th highest renter housing burden among the largest 150 metro areas in the country. The county’s Black and Latino renters are more likely to be burdened: 68 percent of Black renter households and 60 percent of Latino renter households are cost-burdened.
     
  • Very low-income Black and Latino residents are extremely reliant on the regional transportation system and limited numbers have access to automobiles. 12 percent of Black workers who earn an annual income of less than $15,000 use public transit compared with 1 percent of White workers.
     
  • The average Fresno resident is exposed to more air pollution than 70 percent of neighborhoods nationwide, but Black and Asian or Pacific Islander residents have the highest rates of exposure.
     
  • Latinos are nearly three times as likely as whites to be working full time with a family income less than 200 percent of the poverty level.
     
  • At nearly all levels of education, Latino workers earn $4 dollars less an hour than Whites.

Since 2011, PolicyLink and PERE have engaged in a formal partnership to amplify the message that equity—just and fair inclusion—is both a moral imperative and the key to our nation’s economic prosperity. Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Fresno County incorporates indicators that undergird policy solutions to advance health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health. 
 
The profile provides unique data and actionable solutions for residents, advocates, funders, business leaders, and policymakers seeking to reduce racial inequities and build a stronger Fresno. This engagement with Fresno advocates is also a part of the All-In Cities initiative at PolicyLink. Through this initiative, PolicyLink equips city leaders with policy ideas, data, and strategies to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

Oakland Attorney Angela Glover Blackwell Wages Fight for Equity

Cross-posted from The San Francisco Chronicle

Nearly 40 years ago, when San Francisco’s struggling Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was losing yet another business to hard times — in this case, a grocery store — one attorney had seen enough.

Angela Glover Blackwell, an early believer in the need for fresh foods in the inner city, petitioned the governor’s office to intervene and make sure the community maintained a full-service grocery. The alternative was letting residents shop at liquor stores and gas stations.

The petition didn’t go as planned — a new store didn’t open. But the case marked the dawning of Blackwell’s long and distinguished career in social justice, which most recently had her working with the Obama administration to bring grocery stores to underserved cities nationwide.

“I think the last 10 years have been my best,” said Blackwell, now 71, as she sat in her window office on a recent weekday at PolicyLink, the Oakland research and advocacy group she founded 18 years ago. “We need to keep working to make sure we’re creating opportunities.”

From her desk, which sits beneath pictures and posters that sound rallying cries such as “Equity” and “Protect Oakland renters,” Blackwell oversees a staff of 70 public policy experts and attorneys in California, Washington, D.C., and New York. Her organization partners with communities all over the country to help disadvantaged people, often minorities.

The effort, which not only involves healthy food but issues ranging from housing to transportation to education, earned Blackwell a nomination for the 2017 Visionary of the Year award sponsored by The Chronicle and the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College.

“With shifting demographics, the big story is that the majority is becoming people of color,” she said. “The fate of our nation will depend on what happens to people of color.”

Among her organization’s recent work is helping implement the federal government’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. The program assists with planning in depressed neighborhoods; for example, making sure residents have basics like public transit and Internet.

PolicyLink is also helping with business development in poorer parts of Detroit, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It’s also aiding in the creation of community art projects from Alaska to Mississippi.

“We cross all the issue areas and all the work domains,” said Blackwell, as she clutched a copy of “The Equity Manifesto,” PolicyLink’s call to action that takes its employees to wherever they might find inequality.

While Blackwell frequently travels in the pursuit of social justice, as well for speaking engagements and fundraising, sometimes the need is right in her backyard.

PolicyLink recently helped create Oakland’s affordable housing strategy, a work in progress designed to protect 17,000 city households from being pushed out of town by rising real estate prices and to create 17,000 new homes over eight years.

“They’ve been a critical partner to me as mayor,” said Oakland’s Libby Schaaf, noting that Blackwell was a source of inspiration for her long before the two got to know each other and exchange cell phone numbers.

“As a young college student, I saw her speak at a League of Women Voters event, and it’s really the first time I felt inspired to get involved with local politics,” Schaaf said. “I remember almost feeling drawn, like you’d be drawn to a minister.”

Blackwell lives near Oakland’s Lake Merritt in a house she’s been in for four decades. She is married with two grown children, and three grandchildren, all of whom live locally. Trying to make time for work and family — her husband is an orthopedic surgeon — is tough, she said, but she manages, eating out a lot and waking up early to go to the gym.

Blackwell grew up in St. Louis, where her neighborhood was anything but the neglected communities she advocates for today. It was an economically diverse area with good schools, parks and a healthy mix of businesses, she said, though as she got older she saw it slide.

“Rather than walking to a grocery store, or driving, we were driving farther and farther into the suburbs,” she said.

Blackwell got her bachelor’s degree at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University before going to law school at UC Berkeley.

Before PolicyLink, she worked as a senior vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, overseeing the organization’s cultural activities. Before that, her career had a number of chapters, including 11 years practicing law at the nonprofit firm Public Advocates in San Francisco.

It was during her time there, in 1979, that she fought unsuccessfully for a grocery store in the Bayview, though her effort prompted Gov. Jerry Brown, during his first time around in the office, to form a commission to explore the problem of “food deserts.” The state Department of Agriculture followed up with money to support farmers’ markets in communities that lacked fresh food.

As chief executive officer at PolicyLink, Blackwell’s push for fresh foods continued when she helped the Obama administration launch the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which today provides funding for groceries and markets in low-income areas.

While she worries that government assistance programs may take a hit under President Trump, she tries to remain optimistic.

“It’s too early to say there’s going to be no opportunities,” she said.

This winter, Blackwell authored an essay called the “The Curb-Cut Effect” in a Stanford University journal about how assisting one group, say the disabled, benefits everyone. She hopes Trump’s moves to help red state voters who supported him out of economic concerns will also help those suffering in poor, urban areas.

“The good news,” she said, “is that the economic inclusive agenda that will reach people who are white, rural and working class is the same economic inclusive agenda that will reach people of color.”

Visionary of the Year award

This is one of six profiles of nominees for The Chronicle’s third annual Visionary of the Year award, which is presented in collaboration with St. Mary’s College’s School of Economics and Business Administration. The honor salutes leaders who strive to make the world a better place and drive social and economic change by employing new, innovative business models and practices. The six finalists were nominated by a distinguished committee that included Chase Adam, co-founder of the nonprofit Watsi and winner of the 2016 award; Greg Becker, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Bank; Emmett Carson, founding CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Ron Conway, angel investor and philanthropist; Zhan Li, dean of the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary's College; Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland; Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker; and Michael Walker, executive vice president and regional executive of City National Bank.

Chronicle Publisher Jeff Johnson, Editor in Chief Audrey Cooper and Editorial Page Editor John Diaz will select the winner, which will be announced during a March 30 event.

To read more: www.sfchronicle.com/visionsf

"A Movement Is Not a Flash of Light"

Current events leave many feeling disillusioned and in despair. Yet hope emerges from the visionaries, disrupters, activists, and all those who are taking to the streets to resist attacks on our constitutional and human rights; to defend hard-fought policy gains; and to safeguard freedom, dignity, and equity.

That hopeful spirit recalls the wisdom of poet Mayda del Valle shared in Our Moment, the video that opened the 2015 PolicyLink Equity Summit: “A movement is not a flash of light — it is a flame, a torch passed from one generation to the next."

Recent changes have only strengthened the resolve to fight.  “Our moment” is not lost, far from it. Now is the time to build on the progress and diversity of powerful movements — from Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Dreamers, the Fight for $15, and water protectors to the bold display of resistance in the women’s marches in the United States and abroad and protests against travel bans and deportation.  Resolution is essential; Resistance is the call to action.

#ClaimTheTorch

“Best for NYC Challenge”: Small Businesses Leading the Way in Best Practices

As many cities struggle with rising income inequality and unemployment, some urban leaders are looking to businesses as potential sites for social action.

"The question becomes, how can we support and encourage businesses in being good employers and good community members?" said Christine Curella, director of business initiatives and job quality in the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development in New York City.

Enter the "Best for NYC Challenge," a first-of-its-kind, New York City-based program designed to teach businesses how to create high-quality jobs and be a stronger force for good in their communities. The program is directed by the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development, with support from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and in partnership with diverse community-based business organizations. Now in its second year, Best for NYC gives participating businesses access to tools and services that help them measure and improve their business practices. 

"Cities cannot be only a place of regulating business practices; they will need to foster a culture in business where companies are voluntarily striving to do good for their workers above and beyond what is required," said Hardik Savalia. Savalia is a senior associate at B Lab, the organization that invented B Corporation certification and the technical partner that powers the Challenge's assessment tool.  Though New York City was the first city to launch the Challenge, B Lab has more cities in the pipeline, and Savalia noted that several dozen cities are interested in launching similar efforts.

In its inaugural year, the program reached more than 1,200 New York City businesses with its impact assessment tool, which provided businesses with insight into how their practices compare to other businesses, by sector and size. The 101 top-scoring businesses were recognized in 2016 as "Best for NYC Honorees." For those already doing well, or those who wish to do better, the idea is to "get companies immediately in communication with peer businesses who can discuss best practices and share lessons learned on implementation," Savalia explained.

"Most business owners aren't trying to make a quick buck. They want to leave a legacy in their community," he added, and campaigns like Best for NYC can help shape that legacy in the mold of a more inclusive economy.

The three businesses profiled below, representing three New York City boroughs, were honored as some of the top scorers in the Best for NYC.

The Bronx: Spring Bank

Spring Bank is an exemplar of equitable business practices — from the services it provides to the jobs it creates to the assets it brings to the community. 

"We opened our doors to provide affordable and transparent banking products to low-income customers and to move people away from predatory lending and check cashing," said Melanie Stern, director of Community Lending. The bank is a federally certified community development financial institution, which allows it to leverage U.S. treasury grants to offer services to low-income communities that are underserved by mainstream banks. 

With 3,500 customers and assets of just over $160 million, Spring Bank offers a variety of products and services. Small business loans make up the bulk of their business and help subsidize unique products aimed to meet the needs of low-income residents.

"Our small-dollar loans have become our marquee products because they give people an alternative to predatory payday loans and use a more holistic gauge of ability to pay — not just a credit score," Stern said.  Through its newest product, Employee Opportunity Loans, Spring Bank partners with employers so that they can offer employees loans of up to $2,500 that are paid back over time through paycheck deductions. These loans are designed to encourage savings by deducting monthly paycheck payments into a Spring Bank savings account, from which the loan is repaid.

"The idea is that once the loan is paid, employees can continue to save into that same account because they've become accustomed to the paycheck deduction," Stern said. Of the 30-plus customers whose loans have been fully repaid, the majority have chosen to continue saving in this way.

As an employer, Spring Bank focuses on hiring locally so that the majority of staff are bilingual (the majority of its customers are Spanish speaking). They also start wages at $15/hour and employ staff full time with benefits, including health care and retirement plans.  

As a community member, Spring Bank provides free tax filing services, lends its office space to community organizations, offers free financial counseling days, and is pursuing ways to share its business best practices with others. 

"It's more than doing good work, it's being part of a movement of corporations doing good," said Stern.

Queens: Valente Bakery Supplies

At the height of the recession, Valente Yeast Company, Inc. was struggling.  Though Valente had been a leading bakery ingredient wholesale supply business serving NYC bakers and bakeries since 1909, the recession required an overhaul of the business's operations.  It was then that employees Bob Chory and Tom Siegenthaler saw an opportunity to take the company in a new direction that could help turn its fortunes around.

"We both believe a successful business had to be based on our customers loving us and our employees feeling that they are valued as an important part of our team," said Chory, now CEO of Valente Bakery Supplies.  "When you're driven only by profit you risk skimping here and there; and you might lose sight of what makes your company great and stop investing in your future and your people."

On the business side, Chory and Siegenthaler updated the company's facilities with energy-efficient systems and brought in business consultants and technology solutions to help modernize and streamline operations to increase efficiency and boost sales.

On the employee side, they adopted a holistic view of seeing their workers as long-term partners in growing the company. For Chory this means that basic benefits are a must: in addition to standard medical and dental benefits, Valente contributes to workers' retirement plans, and offers profit sharing to all employees after their first year.

The company's new approach also means investing in professional development for employees who want to learn a new skill set, or promoting from within to enable career progression such as transitioning a driver to a leadership role. It means offering compassionate paid leave when a worker's child or spouse is sick. It means hiring those that may face barriers to employment, including recent immigrants, veterans, and formerly incarcerated workers.

"The way I see it, making a business better starts with enabling your employees to better themselves and their life opportunities" Chory said.

Brooklyn: GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning

When GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning began in 2006, founder Saudia Davis had a vision of a healthier, safer cleaning service — one that spared both clients and workers from exposure to harsh chemicals.  This mission was a deeply personal one, as Davis's grandmother, a housekeeper from the West Indies, had lost a battle with cancer that was likely caused by a lifetime of inhaling toxic cleaning fumes.

Eleven years later, GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning is a certified B Corporation that employs 40 full-time workers and uses its own line of products made from vegetable-based, organic, biodegradable ingredients.

"When we started it was about bringing healthy options to both our employees and our clients, but it has grown into a place where we not only keep staff healthy, but empower them," Davis said. 

In addition to benefits like paid sick leave and paid time off, the company partners with local community colleges to provide financial literacy classes and with Neighborhood Trust to bring in financial advisers skilled in the socioeconomic challenges of lower-wage workers. They also provide paychecks on ATM cards that allow employees to withdraw money free of charge without having to set up a bank account.

"We try to bring in resources that can assist them with whatever goals they're setting for themselves," Davis explained. For example, when employees reported that changing apartments is prohibitively expensive in New York, because move-in costs require tenants to come up with multiple months' rent, GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning responded by forming a new partnership with Spring Bank to offer Employee Opportunity Loans — short-term loans to help longstanding employees access capital without turning to predatory payday lenders.

"We are in an industry that considers workers a commodity; where people are often abused, underpaid, and not given the security or benefits of full employment. We wanted to set a new standard, and B Lab has helped us see that there are others in the city fighting the same fight," said Davis.

An Overview of Governor Jerry Brown's Fiscal Year 2017-2018 Budget Proposal for California

On January 10, Governor Jerry Brown revealed his proposed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which projects a state budget deficit ($1.6 billion) for the first time since 2012. The $179.5 billion proposal maintains the state’s commitment to implementing the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), preserving the California Earned Income Tax Credit, and expanding healthcare access to vulnerable groups. Unfortunately, the budget proposal also recaptures nearly $1 billion in one-time expenditures provided in the Budget Act of 2016 (Budget Act) and delays spending increases for various programs and services, some of which, like LCFF, are designed to improve outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color.
 
We applaud the Administration’s continued commitment to important issues like healthcare access, LCFF implementation, and transportation, but believe more should be done through the budget to build an equitable California, one where all of the state’s residents can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. We urge the Governor to work with communities, advocates, and the Legislature in the coming months to develop a budget that allows California to address its intensifying housing crisis, maintain health insurance for the newly insured, guarantee immigrants targeted for deportation have effective legal representation, and protect and invest in the state’s most vulnerable populations.
 
Below we highlight areas of the budget that are likely to be of interest to equity advocates, including health and human services, education, housing, transportation, public safety, and climate change.
 
Health and Human Services
The budget maintains current spending levels for programs that ensure California residents have access to quality, affordable health care and services. For example, the proposal provides funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as the expansion of Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children and individuals earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It also maintains funding for substance abuse programs and the transition of new immigrants from Medi-Cal to Covered California. In addition to continuing financial support for these services, the budget provides new funding to reflect the repeal of the Maximum Family Grant rule.
 
While we are encouraged by these aspects of the budget, we urge the state to continue investing in care coordination and integration programs for vulnerable residents, including the Coordinated Care Initiative, health care workforce initiatives, community infrastructure grants, and children’s mental health services grants. 

Education
The education budget provides a small increase of $2.1 billion in Prop. 98 funding for K-14 education and proposes cost-of-living adjustments for LCFF funding targets, as well as for various programs funded outside of LCFF. Unfortunately, due to the projected revenue shortfall, the Governor’s proposal, while providing an additional $744 million for LCFF implementation, “maintains the implementation formula at the current-year level of 96 percent.”[1]  Though we understand the new economic reality the state faces, we urge the Governor to fully implement LCFF as quickly as possible.
 
The budget also boosts investment in California’s Community College system. Notable areas of increased spending include efforts to address student disparities; the Guided Pathways program, an institution-wide approach to improving student completion rates; and school facilities energy efficiency projects financed through the Prop. 39 Clean Energy Job Creation Fund, which, in addition to improving energy efficiency on school campuses, targets training and jobs to individuals with barriers to employment.
 
Despite these positive investments in the community college system, the budget disappointingly proposes to phase out the Middle Class Scholarship Program, which provides has helped thousands of student to afford enrollment at CSU and UC campuses.
 
Housing
Even though the state faces a growing housing affordability crisis, the budget provides virtually no new funding for affordable housing. The proposal recaptures $400 million for affordable housing development included in the Budget Act,  and conditions continued financial support for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Initiative (AHSC), a major source of state funding for affordable housing in recent years, on the extension of the cap-and-trade program by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
 
In the coming months, we urge the Administration to partner with the Legislature to allocate resources for AHSC without condition, provide meaningful new investments in affordable housing, and establish a permanent source of funding for the construction, preservation, and rehabilitation of affordable units.
 
Transportation Infrastructure
Although much of the transportation budget continues to focus funding on maintaining highways and roads in California, we are pleased to see an annual increase of $100 million for the state’s Active Transportation Program, which aims to improve the mobility, health, and safety of vulnerable residents by targeting walking and bicycling infrastructure in low-income communities.

To ensure our increased transportation spending achieves state equity and climate goals, funding should be targeted to grow investment in transit operations and complete streets, prioritize transportation projects that provide meaningful benefits to low-income people of color, and connect disadvantaged community residents to transportation sector training and jobs.
 
Public Safety and Justice
While the budget’s public safety proposal highlights many of the anticipated positive effects of Proposition 57[2], we hope the revised budget will deepen California’s commitment to investing in our people and communities, divesting from systems that separate families and perpetuate trauma, and eliminating policies that serve as barriers to the success of low-income people and people of color. These values are reflected in the budget’s proposal to end the use of driver’s license suspensions as a debt collection tool, a counterproductive practice that has caused financial insecurity throughout California’s low-income communities of color.
 
We hope the May Revision will build on the proposed repeal, by reducing funding for harmful institutions, including immigration detention centers, prisons, and law enforcement, and investing in reintegration services, quality legal representation for immigrants, and support for other vulnerable groups.
 
Climate Change and Natural Resources
The budget proposes a $2.2 billion dollar Cap-and-Trade Expenditure Plan using revenues generated through the State’s carbon trading program. This plan includes needed investments in transportation, housing, pollution reduction, and other programs that provide benefits to low-income, pollution-burdened communities. Unfortunately, the budget makes allocation of these proposed investments contingent upon the Legislature approving an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program. Accomplishing this will require support of two-thirds of the Legislature and poses a significant hurdle to securing these important investments.
 
The Governor’s environmental and natural resources proposal also acknowledges the severe drinking water challenges faced by disadvantaged communities across California and commits to working with the Legislature and stakeholders to address these challenges. This commitment is very encouraging. However, with over one million Californians being served drinking water from systems that do not meet safe drinking water standards, we urge the Administration to take this commitment further and prioritize developing a sustainable funding source to ensure that all Californians have safe and affordable drinking water.

Conclusion
As we learn more about the incoming presidential administration’s policy goals, the Governor’s budget proposals are likely to change. In the coming months, advocates should engage their legislators and the Governor to ensure that hard fought gains for California’s low-income communities and communities of color are protected and expanded.
 
________________________________________


[1] Governor’s Budget Summary – 2017-18, “K-12 Education,” 20, http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2017-18/pdf/BudgetSummary/K-12Education.pdf.
[2] Proposition 57 allows non-violent offenders who have completed the prison term for their primary offense to be considered for parole and authorizes the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to establish a “credit” system under which individuals can earn an early release from prison. The law also provides that only judges may determine whether juveniles 14 and older can be prosecuted or sentenced as an adult.

Secure Retirement for All Californians: An Interview with State Senator Kevin de León on the Nation’s Largest Retirement Savings Program Since the New Deal

Thanks to nearly a decade of advocacy and research, and to the inspiring leadership of California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León — the kind of leader the nation needs — California has taken another step forward by making  portable, auto-enrolled, individual retirement accounts available to millions of Californians who lack such benefits.  Workers participating in the newly passed Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program will have at least 3 percent of their earnings deducted from their paycheck and deposited in an individual retirement account, managed by the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Investment Board. They will be able to opt out at any time.

Given that many participants will have no experience with saving for retirement and many may currently rely on public benefits programs, PolicyLink worked with partners and De León's office to advocate for equity measures within the bill to ensure that the program best serves the needs of low-income workers. Thanks to this advocacy, the Board is required to establish a comprehensive outreach and education program to inform eligible workers of the risks and benefits of the program, and there is now increased attention on ensuring that retirement savings do not count toward assets, which could potentially disqualify low-income workers from receiving vital public benefits.

Touted as the broadest enhancement of retirement benefits since Social Security, Secure Choice provides a crucial opportunity to prove the merits of state-backed retirement pans. 

Senator de León spoke with Christopher Brown, director for financial security at PolicyLink, to share his insight into this innovative new policy and discuss how other states might follow in California's footsteps.

Why is it so important that the state step in to provide opportunities for workers to save for retirement?

We have close to seven million workers in California in the private sector with no access to any retirement security plan — neither a defined benefit nor a defined contribution plan. This means that 50 percent of middle-income workers are at risk of retiring into poverty. The numbers are worse for women retirees, who make up two-thirds of retirees today who live in poverty. When I think of women like my mother or my aunt, women who raised us, clothed us, fed us — it's immoral that these women should retire into poverty. After a lifetime career of hard work, helping to make California the sixth largest economy in the world, they deserve to live with a modicum of dignity and respect. This is a not a partisan issue. Retirement insecurity impacts all Americans, regardless of the hue of your skin or your geographic location. Secure Choice is a complete game changer. It gives millions of workers the option to save automatically, through their employer's payroll.  No matter what job you hold in California, you can plan for your future. 

What were some of the challenges you faced in creating this legislation, and how were they overcome?

It's been a long, arduous journey to get this approved. The first iteration of this measure failed in 2008, and again in 2009. But in 2012 Governor Jerry Brown signed a measure that allowed us to appoint a Secure Choice Board and raise money to conduct the necessary feasibility studies and market analysis to show that this would be financially viable and self-sustaining.  It took years of going back and forth to Washington, DC to meet with the Department of Labor, the Treasury Department, and other key players on Capitol Hill. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work, going over the arcane technical aspects and trying to find a solution to this vexing problem of retirement insecurity.

All along the way we had very strong opposition on Wall Street and in Washington, DC, because our program was seen as competing with financial markets for retirement.  However, we were able to make the case that this wasn't about competition or cannibalizing an existing financial market sector, because we are trying to reach a highly fragmented, diverse community made up largely of lower-income workers who need retirement security the most and aren't being reached by private financial providers. We also stressed that this is a policy issue, not a commercial one — that too many people are hurting because they don't have access to retirement savings as part of their employment, and too many people would be forced to rely on government assistance in retirement because they had not had the opportunity to save throughout their careers.

What will be the next steps in implementing Secure Choice?

The law will go into effect on January 1, 2017, and will authorize the Secure Choice Board, chaired by Treasurer John Chiang, to begin the development of the program. Over the course of three years we will phase in employers by company size; ultimately, all employers with five or more employees will be required to participate.  We still have a lot of work to do to educate consumers about what's going to happen and why it's important. We have seven million people in California who will be eligible for this, so we need to take them all on a journey to educate them about the importance of retirement savings, and the power of saving early so that you compound your principal investment.

We've scaled the mountain and withstood the powerful, well-moneyed opposition, but now we need to roll up our sleeves and take this to the people to make sure the outcomes are positive.

The Department of Labor recently issued a proposed rule that would pave the way for local governments to follow California's lead in providing retirement plans. What advice would you give to other states wishing to provide their own retirement savings plans?

I'd say the critical thing that is going to help expand these policies is leadership — both nationally and within states. This leadership needs to be bipartisan, as it was in California, and they need to step up and make their fellow politicians understand that their citizens are hurting in retirement. They have a choice: they can represent the people and try to increase access to retirement benefits, or they can represent the interests of Wall Street and do nothing. The good news is that the concept of state-backed retirement savings has caught on like wildfire.  We know of at least 15 other states that are following our lead with plans to adopt similar programs in the future, and we couldn't be more excited.

We Are The Humanities

Cross-posted from California Humanities

What are the humanities, why do they matter? How have they made a difference in your life?

To celebrate our 40th year anniversary of grant making, programming, and partnerships that connect Californians to each other, we invited a group of 40 prominent Californians to explore what the humanities mean to them. 
 
We invite you to watch, listen, and read as they dig into the deep importance of the humanities in shaping their lives and understanding the world. We are sharing what they have to say every week via our website, and social media channels, and invite you to tell us why the humanities are important to you!
 
 

Vote Yes on Measures KK and JJ for an All-In Oakland

As America’s cities face the challenges of inequality, structural racism, and displacement, local governments must take bold steps to put in place a new model of equitable growth. One imperative is to transform underinvested neighborhoods into “communities of opportunity” that provide their residents with the ingredients needed to thrive. That is why I am excited about Oakland’s Measure KK, a $600 million infrastructure bond that promises to boost opportunity and mobility for residents in long-underserved Flatland neighborhoods, and Measure JJ, a measure to extend and reform renter protections for Oakland’s residents vulnerable to displacement.

Infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, parks, water lines, and more — might not sound like the solution to Oakland’s challenges of uneven growth. But it is crucial. As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx likes to say, infrastructure is a “ladder to opportunity” for struggling families. Streets and transit routes make it possible to access family-supporting jobs. Parks and recreation centers provide spaces to exercise, play, and socialize. Libraries connect people to learning opportunities. And so forth. Infrastructure is the skeletal support that connects people to resources, opportunities, and each other.

Despite its critical role in bridging to opportunity, years of discriminatory land use planning and inequitable investment have saddled low-income communities of color with some of the worst infrastructure deficiencies. Oakland overall needs an estimated $2.5 billion in infrastructure investment — including a $443 million paving backlog. The neighborhoods where cash-strapped families can afford to live are more likely to have potholes, crooked sidewalk squares, and tattered playground equipment. These inequities aren’t just inconveniences: they drain already-tight family budgets. Oakland residents spend hundreds of dollars every year on flat tires and car repairs due to potholes and bad roads — and this “hidden tax” hurts low-income residents far more than wealthier drivers.

Measure KK has the potential to dramatically improve health, quality of life, and economic security for thousands of Oaklanders. With Measure KK funds, Oakland’s new Department of Transportation is prepared to deliver ten times the current levels of street repairs for 10 years. Imagine, instead of just a quarter of our streets being in good shape, in ten years 72 percent of our roads could be smooth and safe.

Moreover, the funds would go where they are most needed. While typical infrastructure bonds do not target resources, Measure KK includes historic social equity requirements that will ensure that investments are distributed fairly across Oakland, and especially in underinvested, low-income communities of color. Projects will be selected through a transparent, multilingual public process, and an oversight committee will conduct independent audits of the spending. My organization, PolicyLink, is looking forward to working with the city, under our All-In Cities initiative, to develop the best possible equity criteria and make this infrastructure bond a model for the nation in terms of equitable infrastructure funding.

In addition, Measure KK has an intentional focus on “investment without displacement.” $100 million of the proceeds will fund anti-displacement and affordable housing preservation. This is essential in a city facing a ballooning housing crisis, where rents have increased 34 percent since 2011. Measure KK will provide critical funds to protect Oaklanders all across the city from being forced to move out of affordable housing so we can keep long-term residents in our community. Measure JJ will in turn add protections to residents in their existing rental homes as their neighborhoods improve.

Building the infrastructure needed to transform neighborhoods is the right thing to do for our neighbors who are struggling to stay and succeed in a rapidly-changing city. It is also a smart economic strategy. With the right hiring, job quality, and workforce development strategies in place, this investment can provide career pathways to hundreds of Oaklanders of color who are currently locked out of good jobs. Improving infrastructure in distressed neighborhoods will also have indirect economic benefits because living in a neighborhood with quality parks, safe streets, sidewalks, and other quality infrastructure improves one’s economic chances. There is also evidence that lower-wealth residents who stay in gentrifying neighborhoods improve their financial conditions (thus also adding to the local economy), while those who move out end up living in neighborhoods with higher unemployment, lower-performing schools, and lower quality of life.

On Tuesday, Oaklanders have a chance to truly expand opportunity and take a serious step toward making Oakland an “all-in” city where everyone — especially those who’ve been waiting the longest for this moment of resurgence — has a chance to fully thrive. I encourage all Oaklanders to vote YES on Measures KK and JJ this election day.

Angela Glover Blackwell is the Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.

California Ballot Guide 2016

In the upcoming general election on November 8, 2016, California faces an unprecedented number of propositions. Many of these propositions will have direct equity impacts on the state's low-income communities and communities of color. To help inform your decision making, PolicyLink has studied the issues and created a 2016 ballot guide available in English and Spanish. Please share it widely and encourage your families and friends to participate and vote. For further information, please see the Official Voter Information Guide, polling place information, and additional voting resources offered by the office of the California secretary of state.

Read more >

Free Our Dreams: California's Youth Gather for Advocacy Day

 

Across California, young people of color are courageously leading the charge to protect basic dignity, justice, and fundamental rights for themselves, their families, and their communities. From the Black Lives Matter to the Dreamer movement, from school board meetings to corporate board rooms, these youth are demanding that their voices be heard and their lives valued. 

On Monday, August 8, over 400 youth of color from across the state will convene in Sacramento for the Free Our Dreams Youth Organizing Summit and Advocacy Day. Organized by the Movement Strategy Center, PolicyLink, and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, this event will strengthen youth leadership and advocacy skills, build power for a movement led by youth of color, and engage statewide decision makers on key legislative priorities for some of California’s most vulnerable communities.

The rally takes place on the west-steps of the Capitol from 12:00pm-1:00pmET. 

In addition to youth engaging legislators, the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color will be reaching out to its supporters to help pass these key pieces of legislation, throughout the legislative season.  For a full list of legislative priorities, see their statewide campaign page. 

  • We need to close loopholes in the TRUTH Act and hold police accountable, vote yes on AB2792 #freeourdreams
     
  • Youth need legal counsel to ensure they understand their Miranda rights, vote yes on SB1052 #freeourdreams
     
  • No youth should have a criminal record because they can't pay a transit fare. Decriminalize fare evasion, vote yes on SB882 #freeourdreams
     
  • Secret police databases of alleged "gang members" violate due process & criminalize POC youth.  AB2298 brings transparency & oversight
     
  • For-profit immigration detention facilities are known to abuse detainees. SB1289 will stop police dept from using tax $ to hire them
     
  • Solitary confinement is no way to deal with kids. Vote yes on SB1143 to limit its use on juveniles #freeourdreams

 

Summit Snapshot: The Moment

A reflection on the PolicyLink Equity Summit, which took place in Los Angeles, Oct. 2015.

As I sit here among 3,000 people, I cannot help but think this is the moment. I look out and see the faces, young and old, new and familiar. I cannot help but think this is the moment.

The affirmative advancement of fair housing, the empowerment of low-wage workers, fighting urban displacement, ending mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter, addressing immigration, improving the lives of boys and men of color, addressing income inequality. These issues are front and center, with thoughtful leaders ready to take action.

I think this must be the moment. But what moment is it?

Is it the moment that we fear? The moment that we realize the great American dream of opportunity for all is really just the opportunity for a few? That the promise of this young nation is just another in a long line of promises unkept? Is it that moment?

Is it the moment that we throw up our hands and say that our differences are just far too wide, too deep and too complex, and go to our respective corners and try to make it work separately and segregated by race, class, or party affiliation? Is it that moment?

Or is it the moment we’ve been waiting for? The moment when we finally realize that our fates are linked, the moment when we find the highest common denominator. The moment when we find our best selves and live up to the promise of liberty and justice for all.

I hope it’s that moment. No, let’s make it that moment.

See new video: What does it mean to be Bay Area Bold?

AB 2060 Workforce Bill Signed Into Law

California has one of the largest and most expensive prison systems in the nation and is currently under a federal court order to reduce its prison population. System and community leaders across the state have recognized the urgent need to lower the numbers of current prisoners and the rate of recidivism, in order to decrease state prison costs and increase public safety. 

Earlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown helped California take a major step toward achieving these goals by signing AB 2060 (Supervised Population Workforce Training Grant Program) into law. Authored by Assemblymember Victor Manuel Pérez and co-sponsored by PolicyLink, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, and the California Workforce Association, AB 2060 will establish a new competitive workforce training grant program for women and men re-entering our communities and families after being released from prison, to ensure that they have access to training and education, job readiness skills, and job placement assistance. The bill was also identified as a priority by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color.

Law enforcement officials and judges agree that opportunity-enhancing strategies are less expensive than incarceration and more effective at reducing recidivism and improving community safety and stability. Investing in workforce development opportunities for reentry populations is a critical step toward expanding access to well-paying jobs and careers, which in turn will improve offender outcomes and reduce recidivism rates, resulting in economic savings and improved public safety.

The program established by AB 2060 is designed to serve the distinct education and training needs of individuals who require basic education and training in order to obtain entry level jobs with opportunities for career advancement, and also individuals with some postsecondary education who can benefit from services that result in certifications and placement on a middle-skill career ladder.

Administered by the California Workforce Investment Board, the new grant program will build on the most promising workforce development strategies and incentivize counties to foster collaboration and coordination with Local Workforce Investment Boards (LWIBs), the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, community-based organizations that serve re-entry populations, labor, and industry. Regional coordination also advances realignment goals, which shift some of the responsibility for housing prisoners from the state to the local level.

An allocation of $1 million from the Governor’s Recidivism Reduction Fund was secured to launch this effort through the budget process earlier this year. AB 2060 will leverage the State’s investment by rewarding counties that commit matching funds. This translates into additional dollars for the program and will help to sustain the strategy over time, ensuring that more women and men can be served.

We must work at the regional and state levels to ensure that every Californian has a fair chance to contribute and thrive. By investing in workforce training and job placement for the women and men re-entering our families and communities, we can improve neighborhood safety and stability and secure a more prosperous future.