PolicyLink Awarded Hewlett 50 Arts Commission for “We, the 100 Million”

Art is a must-have for any thriving community. And that’s why we are proud to announce today that we have been selected as a recipient of a Hewlett 50 Arts Commission. Launched in 2017 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary, this is a five-year, $8 million initiative supporting the creation and premiere of 50 new works by world-class performing artists working in five disciplines. PolicyLink is among a group of 10 Bay Area-based non-profit organizations that will receive $150,000 each to create important and unique work that facilitates discussions around the most pressing local issues.

“We, the 100 Million,” will be a series of place-based, community-driven choreo-poems performed with music and multimedia storytelling exploring inequity in the United States. "We, the 100 Million" expands on the work of PolicyLink over the past two decades to advance racial and economic equity in the United States by combining data, policy, performance and poetry. The piece will be a 10-part spoken word performance that lifts up the lives of the 106 million Americans living near or in poverty. (See also: “100 Million and Counting: A Portrait of Economic Insecurity in the United States,” the newly published data profile that provides a breakdown of who is economically insecure in America.)

One source of inspiration for the development of the performance will be data from the National Equity Atlas (the PolicyLink partnership with the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California). Another important source will be direct engagement with people in communities across the country affected by economic insecurity. Lead artist Michael “Quess?” Moore and PolicyLink Senior Fellow and creative director of “We, the 100 Million” Jeremy Liu will work closely with our staff of researchers and public policy experts and local communities to communicate a richer and more nuanced understanding of the lived experience of 100 million Americans struggling to make ends meet.

To learn more about the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission and the nine other awardees, click here.

Winning on Equity

Yesterday Americans were given a clear choice at the voting booth: continue to endorse a dystopian vision of this country — one rooted in bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism — or instead aspire to the better angels of our nature and take a step in a more optimistic direction.

Millions of Americans chose to embrace the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a result, we not only witnessed a historic level of turnout for a midterm election, but a record number of women and people of colorwere elected to Congress. Voters in congressional districts from the heartland to the coasts sent a message that said: "enough" with the hate and fearmongering.

  • Enough with the anti-immigrant rhetoric and race-baiting.
  • Enough with the voter suppression.
  • Enough with the misogyny.
  • Enough with the lies and hypocrisy.
  • Enough.

What we saw instead is millions of Americans supporting candidates who endorsed the cause of equity — just and fair inclusion for all — as the best way for everyone to participate, prosper, and reach our full potential. Around the country, voters came out in favor of progressive policies protecting health care, creating more affordable housing, and adopting measures to strengthen representation for all voters by establishing nonpartisan redistricting commissions.

Not every race turned out favorably for the cause of equity — and we suffered some tough setbacks that will require more hard work ahead.

We've also been challenged to turn away from the wishful thinking of the past that said "someone else will advance our cause."

It's on us.

It's on us to free our democracy from its history of oppression built on racism, misogyny, and greed.

It's on us to use our power to rewrite the rules that have concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a few, so that our elected officials become responsive to our concerns.

It's on us to ensure that people who were previously left out can participate fully in our economy and society.

With renewed hope, while recognizing so much work remains, let's redouble our efforts to ensure everyone can do well in this great country and reach their full potential. Whatever cause you embrace — removing barriers to work, increasing affordable housing, reforming the criminal justice system, protecting the vote — let's celebrate the fact that we are in this fight together, because our futures are intertwined.

It's on us.

Act Now to Defend Trans Rights!

An attack on any of us, is an attack on all of us!

The present Administration continues to demonstrate that the society it seeks for America is the exact antithesis of an equitable society. An equitable society is one in which ALL can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. The New York Times reported this weekend that the Trump Administration intends "to establish a legal definition of sex" that would "exclude [transgender individuals] from civil rights protections under federal civil rights law." Such actions defy the very principles of equity and put the Administration's inhumanity once more on full display.

The proposal would impact the lives of two million people, causing disarray and revoking equal access to health care, housing, education, and fair treatment under the law. Like so many efforts promoted by this Administration, the proposal ignores the legal and medical precedents, strong science, and general decency and compassion that undergird these supports for transgender individuals.

We must all lift our voice to register our outrage at this blatant bigotry. Let this Administration know that we will not stand by quietly while it attacks any of us. The strength of the equity movement lies in our solidarity. An attack on any of us, is an attack on all of us!


  • Contact senior Administration officials. Let them know that you are opposed to any proposed rule that would strip transgender — or any — people of their civil rights and other protections.

Equity Is the Driving Force: How Advocacy Led to Oakland’s New Cultural Development Plan

By Francis Yu, PolicyLink Arts & Culture 2018 Intern

The Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC) – which brings together cultural organizations, neighborhoods, artists and residents of color – has accomplished many feats in the few years of its advocacy and community organizing in Oakland, a city that locals proudly refer to as “The Town.” From being an integral component in budget wins that led to the hiring of Roberto Bedoya, the city’s first cultural affairs manager in fall 2016, and increasing grants funds for local artists and organizations last summer, OCNC has proven to be a critical community voice and has won on several equitable arts and culture policies in a city that has been lacking in such policy work for more than a decade.

On September 17, the City of Oakland released Belonging in Oakland: A Cultural Development Plan, in addition to announcing a restructured and expanded arts grant program, approving 80 projects totaling over $1 million.  The plan, one of OCNC’s original policy goals it identified several years back, is a guiding framework that centers on a cultural equity lens in developing policy, apparent in its tagline: ”Equity is the driving force. Culture is the frame. Belonging is the goal.” Through this framework, both community groups and city officials can design policies and interventions rooted in equity – just and fair inclusion for all. Anyka Barber, co-founder of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, adds that, “cultural equity is going to be about making sure that equitable implementation happens.”

Below is a diagram that shows the process of how Oakland’s civic leaders, advocates, and residents informed the development of the plan.

A unique and defining feature of Oakland’s cultural plan is its purposely broad nature: by looking at how cultural equity applies to broader policy areas, strategic development of specific policies and programs would center and consider its effects on the culture and identity of Oakland’s residents. “The goal of this plan was to bust the framing of culture within policies wide open, to not see it in a narrow way,” says Vanessa Whang, who authored the plan under Bedoya. She emphasized the importance of looking at “culture as ways of being,” which has broader implications on the cultural aspects of other city agencies and departments.

This was an important organizing principle for OCNC in that this frame values culture as critical to one’s identity and broadens their advocacy efforts to the community at-large, who feel the city’s culture is under threat as Oakland experiences rapid change. “The displacement of culture and knowledge – cultural entities, churches, spaces – are part of a systemic erasure of community,” states Barber. The threat of this change is critical to the formation and the work around arts and culture that OCNC has undertaken.

As OCNC moves to its next chapter, a cultural development plan that centers on cultural equity provides a shared language communicating the importance of culture as OCNC strengthens its relationships with other advocacy organizations such as ReFund Oakland, a multisector coalition that organized around the City of Oakland’s budget and was integral to OCNC’s policy wins. OCNC is also currently advocating for the re-establishment City of Oakland Arts & Culture Commission, which has been inactive since 2014.

Funding from The Kresge Foundation and support from PolicyLink has supported the work of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition. PolicyLink has provided capacity and technical assistance in helping prepare OCNC leadership to develop, frame, and organize their policy agenda;  prepare for meetings with elected officials; and build and support their communications strategies. Additionally, Leon Sykes, who helps in the operations of OCNC, emphasized the role of OCNC’s presentation to the 2018 PolicyLink Equity Summit. “It was important in helping us realize just how much work we’ve accomplished.”

California Needs to Do More to Advance Climate Justice

Tomorrow launches a week of global action and gatherings to deepen commitment and accelerate action to tackle climate change. Around the world, indigenous people, frontline communities, and their allies, will be gathering in thousands of cities and towns to demand that our leaders commit to building a fossil free world that puts people and justice before profits.

This call to action comes at a critical time for California, which is why PolicyLink will be joining partners in our home state to Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice! While California has been lifted up as a leader on climate policy and inclusion, the reality is that for low-income communities and communities of color, we have a long way to go to deliver on equity and ensure that all Californian’s can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

Today, approximately one third of our state’s residents, more than 14 million people who are disproportionately of color, are living at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. By just about every health indicator (asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity) communities of color fare worse than their white counterparts. For decades studies have told us that people of color are disproportionately exposed to harmful air pollution and a recent national study found that the pollution exposure disparity between White and non-white communities in California is among the starkest in the nation. In fact, a report by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessmentfound that one in three Latinos and African Americans live in census tracks ranked as having the highest pollution burden and vulnerability in California. In contrast one in 14 Whites live in these census tracts.

These disparities are not accidental. They are the result of historic and ongoing racial bias and discrimination in policy and practice that have segregated people of color in communities that lack the basic characteristics of a healthy place, have cut individuals and entire communities off from economic opportunity, and have used our political and justice systems to isolate and criminalize people of color.

Climate change, and the devastating impact it is already having on low-income communities and communities of color is another manifestation of these structural inequities. While California has made some important strides in addressing climate change we have not done enough to ensure that our policies advance equity and climate justice. It is time for California to step up to this challenge.

  • Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy. California has led the nation in its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, our state institutions continue to put forward policies, investments, and programs that perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels. The time for fossil fuels is over. For too long our communities and our planet have suffered the negative consequences of fossil fuel extraction, refining, transport, burning, and disposal. California needs to join Indigenous and environmental justice leaders to accelerate a full transition to a fossil free clean energy future.
  • Build Community Resilience. Reducing carbon emissions is critical to slowing and minimizing the impact of climate change but climate change is already here, and low-income communities and communities of color are suffering the consequences. California needs to move beyond thinking about climate adaptation as disaster recovery and needs to tackle the systematic and structural inequities our communities experience. This will require significant, immediate, and sustained investment of public resources to reduce social, economic, and health disparities and ensure that all communities have the physical infrastructure, social institutions, and economic opportunities required to thrive before, after, and despite climate change impacts.
  • Ground Solutions in Community LeadershipThe people closest to our State’s challenges have the solutions to solve them. When the voice, wisdom, and experience of impacted communities drive policymaking processes, profound transformations happen. Policymakers need to partner with impacted communities to eliminate the climate gap and secure a future where all can flourish.

Join us in San Francisco tomorrow, or in your own community, as we call on our elected leaders to commit to a just and fair transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

The Next Chapter for PolicyLink Begins

Today marks the official beginning of the next chapter in the PolicyLink story as Michael McAfee becomes the new President and CEO of PolicyLink. As Founder in Residence, Angela Glover Blackwell will continue to serve as a resource to the organization and the national equity movement.

"I'm honored and excited by the opportunity to lead this talented organization at such a critical moment in history, and I'm deeply humbled to follow Angela, who has been the guiding light and force behind the national equity movement for decades," says McAfee. "I'm eager to build on the many successes of PolicyLink and to work with our partners to make racial and economic equity a reality for every person living in America."

"Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for me and for PolicyLink," states Glover Blackwell. "I'm looking forward to having time to write, speak, and pursue new equity endeavors under Michael's fresh and inspirational leadership."

Join us in celebrating this exciting time for PolicyLink. Connect with
@PolicyLink, @mikemcafee06, and @agb4equity on Twitter or Facebook, and sign up for our issue-based emails.

For more information, read the full press release.

Baltimore Reckons with Its Racist Past—and Present

Crossposted from The American Prospect

Just over a century ago, in 1911, the Baltimore city council adopted the first residential segregation law in the country, forbidding black people from living in predominantly white neighborhoods. Though the Supreme Court ruled such policies unconstitutional seven years later, the consequences of the law, as well as the consequences of subsequent racist policies and practices like redlining, the displacement of black families, and mass incarceration remain. Today, Baltimore is one of the most segregated cities in the nation, where black residents make up a majority of the population but do worse than the average black American—and far worse than the average white Baltimore resident—on almost every measure of general well-being.

But over the past decade, Baltimore and other city governments have taken active steps to reverse the centuries of inequality that remain embedded in policy and practice. After all, if inequality was written into law, can’t it be written out?

Last week, Baltimore’s Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh signaled that she would sign two bills that would incorporate racial equity practices into city government. One bill requires agencies to assess the equity of proposed and current policies and address disparities, while the other allows voters to decide in November whether an equity fund will be established in the city charter. Such a fund would provide money to projects fighting racism. The legislation received unanimous support from the city council, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Read the rest of the article in The American Prospect>>>

Guiding Principles for Opportunity Zones

As the U.S. Treasury Department begins the process of implementing Opportunity Zones under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, it is essential that Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds benefit low-income residents and small businesses within the Zones — protecting the interests of those most susceptible to displacement that too often result from private investment.
Investments in Opportunity Zones should improve the lives of people living in or near poverty within the Zones, and allow all residents to fully participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Using the following recommendations, city and state officials, equity advocates, philanthropic leaders, investors, and developers can ensure that investments are equitable and help prevent displacement.

We also encourage you to send your governor and/or the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury a letter to urging them to adopt these recommendations to ensure that investments in Opportunity Zones benefit low-income community residents.

Counting a Diverse Nation — Disaggregating Racial/Ethnic Data to Advance Health Equity

How we measure America's rapidly expanding diversity has critical implications for the health of the nation. Too often, the data used to drive policymaking, allocate resources, and combat health disparities is based on broad racial and ethnic categories that can render the unique needs, strengths, and life experiences of many communities invisible.

That is why PolicyLink is excited to release Counting a Diverse Nation: Disaggregating Data on Race and Ethnicity to Advance a Culture of Health, a multifaceted investigation that explores the leading issues and opportunities of racial/ethnic data disaggregation, and its implications for advancing health equity. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of racial and ethnic data disaggregation practices today, and concrete recommendations for improving research methods and promoting government policies that enhance and enable data disaggregation in the future.


Findings and recommendations in the report encompass two areas:

  • Best practices for collecting and analyzing data about race and ethnicity at more detailed levels, including research innovations and special considerations for studying marginalized populations;
  • Government policies and practices that can enhance and enable data disaggregation, including recent campaigns and policy wins across the nation that are supporting increased representation across racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.

Developed as part of a multiphase project commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report reflects two years of collaborative research and input among a diverse set of experts, demographers, practitioners, decision makers, and advocates. Reviews by these researchers of the state of data disaggregation for each major U.S. population group, along with a comparative study of seven other countries, accompany the new report

To learn more about the critical importance of disaggregating racial/ethnic data from researchers, advocates, and other experts who contributed to this report, listen to the archived webinar.

    Take Action: Oppose the Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census

    The question about citizenship proposed for the 2020 Census by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would create enormous problems and result in a systematic undercount in lower income communities of color that would significantly undercut fair political representation, allocation of federal funds, and our basic understanding of who lives in the United States.

    Electoral districts for all Congressional, state, and local offices would be biased for a decade, and the needs and eligibility of key population groups for federal resources would be underestimated, at a point when major demographic changes are underway across the country. Recent evidence has shown that the plan for the citizenship question was not an earnest effort to help enforce the voting rights but just the opposite: a deliberate strategy to politicize and undermine the accuracy of the Census. The lawsuits brought by human rights and civil right advocates and state governments are an important defense against the citizenship question, but the government also needs to hear from all of us!

    The Commerce Department is taking public comments through August 7, and the Census Counts campaign has created an online portal through which everyone can easily submit their views. Please take a moment today to join PolicyLink and hundreds of other organizations in defense of a fair Census that counts everyone. For further information, see PolicyLink Vice President Victor Rubin’s blog post, which includes many useful resources.

    PolicyLink Leadership Transition

    Dear Friends:
    While many of you have heard about the impending leadership transition at PolicyLink, I am delighted to announce to all that effective September 1, 2018, Michael McAfee will become the organization's president and CEO. An eight-year veteran of PolicyLink with a strong track record for improving the lives of vulnerable people, Michael has demonstrated radical imagination and passion for equity as well as unwavering dedication to achieve results commensurate with the nation's challenges. His leadership will help guide the equity movement to claim its power and further accelerate the implementation of a transformative solidarity agenda to establish a nation where all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
    Also, effective September 1, I will become PolicyLink founder in residence, working between the Oakland and New York offices. This opportunity allows me to focus on three things that I see as essential to extend the reach and power of equity. I will amplify issues of race and equity through writing, public speaking, and multimedia; consult and collaborate on strategy with partners old and new; and help nurture the next generation of leadership. While my role is changing, my life's mission continues: working with those who are trying to build a fully inclusive society.
    Bold, stable, effective organizations are crucial for the equity movement. I humbly believe that over the years, PolicyLink has proven to be one of those institutions. When a founder leaves, partners, supporters, and friends often wonder whether the organization will survive and thrive. Emerging wisdom posits that, when carefully planned and structured, founders can remain active and present and contribute to the organization's impact. Michael and I are committed to ensuring that PolicyLink will continue to flourish and push the edge of the equity movement.
    Twenty years ago this summer, I sat at a table with a few trusted colleagues and the first PolicyLink hires to shape an organization that would drive policy change grounded in community wisdom. We determined at the outset that PolicyLink would not shy away from long-taboo issues of race but instead confront them head-on. We would advance an exhilarating vision of an America that taps the talents of all its people instead of leaving millions behind. We would bring new frames to policy debates by articulating principles and practices based on a nuanced understanding of racial dynamics and the interconnectedness of issues affecting low-income communities and communities of color. I truly value what I have learned from the struggles, encouragement, critiques, pushbacks, and partnerships that have sharpened and honed those early ambitions. I am grateful to the thousands of partners — from local communities to philanthropy to government — who inspire and support PolicyLink and allow us to contribute.
    Growing an organization and being a part of the equity movement has been a wild, exciting, fulfilling journey, one that I will continue to travel with you. There is so much more to accomplish.
    ONWARD in friendship and solidarity,


    PolicyLink Leadership Transition

    (Announcement made on July 20, 2018)

    While many of you have heard about the impending leadership transition at PolicyLink, I am delighted to announce to all that effective September 1, 2018, Michael McAfee will become the organization's president and CEO. An eight-year veteran of PolicyLink with a strong track record for improving the lives of vulnerable people, Michael has demonstrated radical imagination and passion for equity as well as unwavering dedication to achieve results commensurate with the nation's challenges. His leadership will help guide the equity movement to claim its power and further accelerate the implementation of a transformative solidarity agenda to establish a nation where all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
    Also, effective September 1, I will become PolicyLink founder in residence, working between the Oakland and New York offices. This opportunity allows me to focus on three things that I see as essential to extend the reach and power of equity. I will amplify issues of race and equity through writing, public speaking, and multimedia; consult and collaborate on strategy with partners old and new; and help nurture the next generation of leadership. While my role is changing, my life's mission continues: working with those who are trying to build a fully inclusive society.
    Bold, stable, effective organizations are crucial for the equity movement. I humbly believe that over the years, PolicyLink has proven to be one of those institutions. When a founder leaves, partners, supporters, and friends often wonder whether the organization will survive and thrive. Emerging wisdom posits that, when carefully planned and structured, founders can remain active and present and contribute to the organization's impact. Michael and I are committed to ensuring that PolicyLink will continue to flourish and push the edge of the equity movement.
    Twenty years ago this summer, I sat at a table with a few trusted colleagues and the first PolicyLink hires to shape an organization that would drive policy change grounded in community wisdom. We determined at the outset that PolicyLink would not shy away from long-taboo issues of race but instead confront them head-on. We would advance an exhilarating vision of an America that taps the talents of all its people instead of leaving millions behind. We would bring new frames to policy debates by articulating principles and practices based on a nuanced understanding of racial dynamics and the interconnectedness of issues affecting low-income communities and communities of color. I truly value what I have learned from the struggles, encouragement, critiques, pushbacks, and partnerships that have sharpened and honed those early ambitions. I am grateful to the thousands of partners — from local communities to philanthropy to government — who inspire and support PolicyLink and allow us to contribute.
    Growing an organization and being a part of the equity movement has been a wild, exciting, fulfilling journey, one that I will continue to travel with you. There is so much more to accomplish.
    ONWARD in friendship and solidarity,

    -- Angela

    Voices and Choices for Children Share Their Equity Summit Experience

    Cross-posted from Think Small Blog and written by May Esperanza Losloso, Senior Organizer, Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota

    From April 11-13, 2018, eight members of the Voices and Choices for Children Steering Committee attended the PolicyLink 2018 Equity Summit in Chicago, IL. The theme of the Summit was “Our Power, Our Future, Our Nation”.

    The Equity Summit was an opportunity for members to experience the seven elements of racial equity in action, which we discussed in our first blog post. Although the Equity Summit did not focus specifically on early childhood education, all seven policy components were present throughout the summit. These 7 elements of racially equitable public policy are to:

    1.   Prioritize the needs of low-income children, children of color and American Indian children
    2.   Ensure services and programs are provided in a holistic and high quality manner
    3.   Address the full needs of a family
    4.   Invest in families and communities over time
    5.   Allow for flexibility, portability
    6.   Build on family and community assets
    7.   Hold cultural relevance and specificity as central to how services are provided

    Read the full blog post>>>

    Take Action to End the Incarceration of Families

    We share your rage and devastation over the inhumane separation of children from their families at the nation’s borders and the proposed indefinite incarceration of immigrant families. We see your courageous resistance. We are grateful to those of you fighting to abolish oppressive immigration policies and to serve those victimized by them. And we share your burning desire to show up in solidarity with and for our immigrant families.

    If you are not already engaged in advancing justice at the border, will you and your organizations join us to end these atrocities? Together we can end the incarceration of our families once and for all.

    Here are some things you can do:

    • Contact Your Elected Officials: The American Immigration Lawyers Association has an online action center that directs calls, tweets, Facebook posts, and emails to members of Congress.
    • Volunteer: Many organizations in border states are actively looking for volunteers, especially if those volunteers are Spanish-speaking and have legal experience. If you’re an immigration lawyer, the Dilley Pro Bono Project (a partner in the CARA Family Detention Project) is searching for volunteers who can help represent people with their asylum screenings, bond hearings, ongoing asylum representation, and other needs. Nonlegal volunteers are needed too. Email caya@caraprobono.org to volunteer.
    • Sign These Petitions: The ACLUMoveOnCREDO, and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) have petitions to Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has a petition to President Trump.
    • Speak Up: Submit a letter to the editor or an editorial to your local newspaper about why you care about justice for immigrants and refugees.
    • Use Social Media: We Belong Together's demands for the Administration can be retweeted here. Sample tweets can be found here. For additional information and updates, follow the conversation at #FamiliesBelongTogether and #KeepFamiliesTogether.
    • Vote: Your 2018 primary election may be coming up soon. Ultimately, we need decision makers who will advance equity for all. Vote if you have the privilege to and mobilize others to join you.

    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.


    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.


    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.


    • 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.

    There’s No Need for A Citizenship Question in the Next Census

    The announcement by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that the 2020 Census will agree to the Justice Department’s request and add a question about citizenship is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to track them all.  The Constitutionally-mandated responsibility of the decennial census is to count all residents, regardless of citizenship, and actions that would interfere with doing that as thoroughly as possible undercut that grave responsibility. 

    A question about citizenship would discourage participation in the Census and lead to systematic undercounting of residents and an incomplete, biased picture of who lives in the United States. The consequences of such an undercount would be dire, skewing political representation and the allocation of federal funds. The undercount would affect immigrant communities of color in particular. For example, as the First Focus Campaign for Children put it, “For Hispanic children, the problem of being undercounted is exacerbated by a recent decision from the Department of Commerce to add a question on citizenship in the 2020 census. Coupling this announcement with aggressive and cruel immigration enforcement tactics currently being undertaken by the Trump administration, the expectation becomes a dramatically reduced participation rate from immigrant and mixed status families who fear the negative repercussions of revealing their immigration status.”

    Advocates for an accurate, complete, and fair Census are used to raising their voices to push for more resources to be devoted to outreach, not to warding off bad, inflammatory proposals. But in reacting swiftly to this misguided and cynical step, they have the facts, the Constitution, and the nonpartisan importance of unbiased data on their side. There is no need for a citizenship question in the decadal Census to enforce the Voting Rights Act, as the Justice Department has claimed. There is great risk in adding an untested question at this late stage, jeopardizing years of preparation. We support the lawsuits being filed by several states and other parties and the movement to push Congress to reverse this plan. 

    For further information about these efforts, see the following sources: