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>>>

Renters’ Rights Gains Momentum in Boston

José Velasquez has lived in Boston for the past 28 years. In April 2006, he and his family moved into a 14-unit apartment building on Meridian Street in East Boston. The landlord didn't maintain the place very well, but Velasquez was able to take care of some of the repairs and upkeep himself, and the rent increases were manageable. Then new owners took over the building this summer, and Velasquez and all of his neighbors were given 30-day eviction notices — as with many such mass evictions — so their building could be renovated and rented out at a higher market rate.

Most of the building's residents moved out. But Velasquez and his wife, who live with their adult daughter and niece, both of whom require special care, decided to stay and fight. "I've always paid rent on time. I've never failed them. So I feel I have rights," he explained in his native Spanish. A few days after he received the eviction notice, Velasquez connected with other tenants and organizers through City Life/Vida Urbana, a local housing justice organization that helps people facing eviction or rent hikes stay in their homes. So when the #RenterWeekofAction kicked off its nationwide campaign of coordinated direct actions and renter assemblies with a citywide march in Boston on September 16, Velasquez was there.

Resisting gentrification and building renter power

"[At the march] I spoke with the community about the help we need and the role of Vida Urbana. The event was really beautiful," Velasquez recalled. "We need to defend our rights because, if we don't, the rich come to step over us. We need to fight for the well-being of our families." He continued, "The rich are coming to Boston to buy properties, turning them into condominiums and making buildings expensive. But the poor also want to live well and care for our families."

His story is all too common: throughout the United States, as rents rise and wages remain stagnant, a growing number of renters are unable to afford the cost of housing. Boston is no exception.

Renters across the country are being squeezed and displaced," said Darnell Johnson of Right to the City Boston. "While the crisis is worsening, we also believe that renters are beginning to wake up to enormous power we have when organized. At Homes For All, we're supporting communities in organizing tenants unions and neighborhood groups to defend our housing, reclaim our communities, and win community control of land, housing, and development that impacts working-class people."

To address these challenges, Right to the City and its partner organizations are focused on building power among renters — and in Boston, where more than 390,000 people live in renter households, there is plenty to build on. Sixty-five percent of Boston's residents are renters, and after paying their rent and utilities they contribute nearly $7.5 billion to the Boston economy each year.

But in this city, where the economy and the population are both growing, many long-term residents are at risk of displacement. According to a recent National Equity Atlas analysis of housing affordability and the economic impact of burdensome rents in Boston, from 2000 to 2015 median rents in the city increased by 18 percent, while median renter-household incomes actually declined by 11 percent. So it's not surprising that during the same period, the share of renter households who are rent-burdened (spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs) jumped from 42 percent to 51 percent.

The financial burden of high rents isn't only a challenge for families who can barely make ends meet; it's also a strain on the local economy. If no Boston renters were housing burdened — if they spent only what they could afford on rent — they would have an extra $764 million to spend in the community each year, with people of color enjoying the largest percentage gains. Latino renters like the Velasquez family would see a 16 percent increase in their annual disposable income (income after paying for rent and utilities), and their Asian or Pacific Islander counterparts would see a 19 percent gain. On average, each rent-burdened household in the city would have an additional $9,300 each year to help cover the costs of necessities like food, transportation, health care, and childcare.

Renter protections can reduce the high costs of displacement

In the context of accelerating gentrification and skyrocketing rents, the City of Boston has taken a two-pronged approach to address housing affordability: One set of strategies focuses on increasing the supply of affordable housing, setting aside millions of dollars to help affordable housing developers compete in the city's fast-moving real estate market for both existing buildings and new development space. Another group of policies aims to help existing tenants stay in their homes.

Yesterday, the city council passed the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act, a just cause eviction ordinance that will "help protect residential tenants and former homeowners living in their homes post-foreclosure against arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, or retaliatory evictions" and give the city greater ability to track evictions in real time. Another legislative proposal would give tenants the right of first refusal on foreclosed properties. And city officials are also working to provide incentives to property owners to keep tenants — and rents — stable.

Last year, Mayor Marty Walsh launched the city's Office of Housing Stability (OHS) with an explicit anti-displacement mission to help residents find and maintain affordable housing. As part of its broad anti-displacement agenda, OHS regularly tracks building sales to identify residents who may be at risk for mass eviction, and reaches out to tenants to inform them of their rights. So when OHS staff heard about the clearing out of the building where the Velasquez family lives, they immediately reached out to City Life/Vida Urbana.

"In the case of a no-fault eviction, tenants can get an additional six months — up to a year for elderly or disabled tenants — but we are finding residents agreeing to leave after just six weeks," said Kate Brady, senior program manager at OHS. "Massachusetts has a lot of tenant-friendly protections, but they only work if people know when and how to assert them." That's why OHS is pushing for state-level legislation that would guarantee a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction. "With a right to counsel, tenants can rebalance a power imbalance in which the vast majority of landlords have an attorney, but only 6 percent of tenants do," Brady explained.

For many low-income residents, that imbalance is exacerbated by a mix of market forces that drive up property values while driving down workers' economic power. In May of this year, one month before he received his eviction notice, Velasquez, who works in maintenance, asked his employer for a raise after he heard that several of his co-workers had received pay increases. Instead, his hours were cut. "They took one day off my schedule and reduced my pay," he explained. "They said they didn't have money for me but they were hiring other people."

Not long after, to entice Velasquez to give up his apartment, the building's new owners offered to pay him $400 per month for a period of a year — but he knew it wouldn't be enough. "I said no, because if I leave, the other apartments [out there] are too expensive." According to data from, the median market-rate rent for a two-bedroom unit in Boston was $2,400 a month as of July 2017, and Velasquez estimated that even the cheapest places where he could move with his family cost around $1,800. "Right now, I pay $950," he said. "We break even with the current rent, so I couldn't pay double. I just couldn't afford it."

Beyond the family budget, OHS points to the potential public savings in shelter and health-care costs as another incentive to help renters stay in place. "Preventing displacement not only keeps families stable in terms of their work, schools, and communities," explained Lisa Pollack, director of communications for the Department of Neighborhood Development, "the costs savings can be astronomical." Pollack added, "We really need to get farther upstream" to prevent crises rather than just responding to them.

For the tens of thousands of families in Boston struggling to get by, the difference could be life-changing. "Before I learned about Vida Urbana I would just think and cry inside," Velasquez said. "But now I have learned that everyone must defend their rights. Even if you don't speak English and are an immigrant, even the undocumented — we all have rights."

Accelerating Housing Recovery & Building Community Wealth in Chicago

As the 10-year anniversary of the subprime mortgage crisis nears, recovery continues to be uneven, with low-income communities and communities of color facing the steepest climb toward economic stability. In Chicago, foreclosures devastated many Black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, leaving behind blighted, vacant houses that could remain trapped in the court system for years.

Facing a struggling housing market and communities in crisis, local officials and grassroots organizers in Chicago have rallied to rebuild, forging new policies, organizations, and partnerships that not only reinvest in struggling communities of color, but reenvision community ownership and power.

"The foreclosure crisis may have ended, but there's still a vacant housing crisis, there's still an assessment bias for homes in communities of color — a lot of the things that exacerbated the housing crisis are still in play, and it will take collaborative efforts with the community to address them," said Bridget Gainer, commissioner for the Cook County 10th district and chairwoman of the Cook County Land Bank.

The ongoing recovery in Chicago's housing market has been shaped by a patchwork of city and community efforts. Here we highlight three aspects of these efforts: the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a movement that gained notoriety when members took over vacant homes for use by homeless families; the Cook County Land Bank, which acquires vacant properties caught in the foreclosure process and makes them eligible for rehab and resale; and a burgeoning land trust run by the Chicago Community Loan Fund that aims to increase available affordable housing.

Homeownership loss exacerbates wealth inequalities

Owning a home can be one of the strongest wealth-building opportunities for American families, allowing them to secure equity that often appreciates over time and can be passed on to future generations. At the same time, this lever for economic stability has historically been denied to communities of color through racist policies like redlining, and the legacy of this prejudice persists today through discriminatory practices in real estate and lending.

Though homeownership among people of color in the U.S. had been on the rise by the turn of the 21st century, the subprime lending crisis (which targeted people of color and their neighborhoods) undid decades of progress: During the Great Recession, Hispanics lost 66 percent of household wealth through foreclosure and African Americans lost 53 percent, while Whites lost only 16 percent. In Chicago, nearly half of African American families owned homes before the recession; by 2016, only 39 percent did.

This drop in homeownership didn't just affect the people who were evicted. It also crippled the housing market in their communities as properties became tied up in an overwhelmed court system, and long-vacant homes attracted crime and drove down neighborhood property values.

"The recession flooded the court system with foreclosures in Cook County," said Gainer. "You had a system that was used to processing 15,000 foreclosures a year now processing 50,000, and there simply weren't the resources to deal with it."

By 2013, Chicago had 33,902 vacant homes, with vacancy rates of up to one in six properties in some census tracts in low-income South Side neighborhoods. Though banks are legally required to maintain foreclosed properties, this seldom happened in communities of color. A 2014 study found that foreclosed properties in communities of color in Chicago were nearly four times as likely to have unsecured, broken, or boarded doors compared to those in White communities. The injustice of lenders evicting families from their homes only to leave those homes unused for months or years drove William "J.R." Fleming to found the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign in 2009.

"It was disgusting how the banks were getting away with so much — evicting families, not taking care of the properties, letting them amass fines for years," Fleming said.

At first, members of the Campaign focused only on preventing evictions — standing in front of houses to physically prevent the eviction process and providing legal aid to families fighting in court. They later garnered national attention, however, when they began a new tactic: occupying and repairing blighted properties for use by local homeless families. In every case, they received permission from neighbors, though they did not have legal rights to the homes.

These bold actions made it impossible for other local leaders to avoid addressing the broken and bloated foreclosure process. According to Gainer, "Their methods were controversial, but they played a crucial role in hitting the pause button."

Helping the housing market rebound in South and West Chicago

When it became clear that the court system was the bottleneck keeping so many houses vacant, the Cook County Commissioner's Office began strategizing ways to expedite the process of getting vacant houses back on the market.

"You'd think it would be easy to get access to a house that's in foreclosure if you want to rehab and resell it, but the reality is that it's very difficult and time-consuming and many small developers simply didn't have the legal resources or the capital to do it," Gainer said. "We had community members complaining that we had too many vacant homes and too many unemployed people in the same neighborhoods, so we thought, why not create local jobs and rehab the houses at the same time?"

Leveraging $4.5 million in settlement money from a federal case against subprime lenders, Gainer worked with Fleming and other community organizers to adapt a land bank model from Flint, Michigan. In 2013, the Cook County Land Bank Authority was created to acquire properties caught up in the court system, clear them of back taxes and other fines, and make them more accessible to local developers of color. Gainer noted that while the Land Bank has no official quotas regarding the affordability of the properties or the diversity of its developers, it does the majority of its work with Latino and African American entrepreneurs working in communities of color on the South and West Sides. It also prioritizes projects that result in owner-occupied (not rental) properties and those that expand developer businesses, thus creating jobs. This month, the Land Bank hopes to finish the rehab of its 200th home. It has 186 more currently under construction and 300 in the court system pipeline.

Jason Williams, co-owner of Ultimate Real Estate Group, has rehabbed several Land Bank properties in South Side and Washington Heights, and credited the land bank as a "big reason" that many of these neighborhoods are turning around after the crisis.

"When you do a home or two, it changes the whole block," said Williams, who noted that most of the properties are being purchased by young professionals. 

Though Chicago represents the largest land bank by geography, Gainer pointed out that the land bank model could be useful to cities and counties anywhere. "This isn't a magical thing that happened in Chicago, anyone can do this," she said. "It's a way to put the power of property back in the hands of the community, not the courts."

Pursuing community ownership with a land trust model

By helping to stem the backlog of foreclosed houses in Chicago's low-income communities and communities of color, the Land Bank put the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign in the interesting position of having less to protest. But the Land Bank's efforts to combat blight, while critical, only address part of the problem, Fleming noted, leaving the underlying issues of housing affordability, gentrification, and housing insecurity untouched. This is why the Campaign is exploring other models for intervention that have an explicit focus on community ownership and affordability.

"We want to have a strong emphasis on community-controlled development," Fleming said.

Over the past couple of years, Fleming and other local housing advocates have been working with several nonprofit and private partners to pilot a land trust that will acquire, rehab, and sell foreclosed or blighted homes in high-opportunity neighborhoods as affordable housing stock. In 2015, Bank of America granted $1 million to a local community development financial institution, Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), to support the creation of land trusts in Cook County. 

Since then, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Action Now Institute, and Greater Southwest Development Corporation have partnered with CCLF to explore models for this project and identify properties and community residents who might inhabit them. This partnership hopes to eventually acquire 50 foreclosed and/or blighted homes, beginning this fall.

"Housing is one part of economic development, but it impacts so many other things," said Ghian Foreman, executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation. "It's like an ecosystem, and it's going to take public and private investment working together to bring back underserved communities."

Here’s What U.S. Cities Gain If Housing Is Affordable

Cross-posted from Next City

This week, as part of the #RenterWeekofAction, September 18 to 23, renters in over 45 cities will take to the streets to demand better protections from displacement and more community control over land and housing.

Recognizing the severity of the housing affordability crisis facing renters from Oakland to Miami and the need for policy solutions, the National Equity Atlas, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, analyzed the growth of renters in the nation and in 37 cities, their contributions to the economy, and what renters and the United States stand to gain if housing were affordable.


When Renters Rise, Cities Thrive

PolicyLink is proud to support the #RenterWeekofAction happening this week—and invite you to join in calling for policy solutions to ensure renters—and cities—can thrive. See National and City Fact Sheets below.

Renters now represent the majority in the nation’s 100 largest cities and contribute billions to local economies from Oakland to Miami. Yet they increasingly face a toxic mix of rising rents and stagnant wages—adding up to an unprecedented housing affordability crisis that stymies their ability to contribute and thrive.
This week, renters in more than 45 cities across the country are rising up to demand that policymakers, landlords, lenders, and developers take action to ensure all people can live in dignified and affordable homes. They are calling for an end to evictions and unfair rent increases, full funding for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and long-term community control of land and housing. The Renter Week of Action and Assemblies is being organized by our partners at Homes for All, a program of Right to the City, with the support of CarsonWatch.
In support of the #RenterWeekofAction, our National Equity Atlas and All-In Cities teams analyzed the impact of the growing affordability crisis in the U.S. and in 37 cities (*see list below). They found that nationally, if renters paid only what was affordable for housing, they would have $124 billion extra to spend in the community every year, or $6,200 per rent-burdened household. 

Join us. Participate in the Renter Week of Action. 

  • Join an action happening in your city. Check out this map of actions to find out what is happening locally and get in touch with the organizers.
  • Learn more. See the Homes for All website and download the #RenterPower Action Toolkit. Text RENTERPOWER to 831-218-8484 for text alerts about the actions.
  • Use our fact sheets (download National; see below City Fact Sheets) to discuss the renter crisis and solutions with your colleagues, employers, the media, and policymakers. An article in today's LA Weekly uses the Los Angeles fact sheet to support a package of affordable housing bills on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.
  • Amplify the mobilization through social media.  Use #RenterWeekofAction, #RenterNation. This week and beyond, follow @Carson_Watch, @HFA_RenterPower, @PolicyLink, #equitydata.


Alameda, Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Bowling Green, KY, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Durham, El Paso, Jackson, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Lynn, MA, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Newark, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Providence, Reno, Rochester, San Diego, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Seattle, Spokane, Springfield, St. Paul, Washington, DC.

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."

We Are All Dreamers

Turning our backs on young Americans who arrived in this country with family or other adults seeking a better life is morally reprehensible. The Trump Administration’s decision to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program places over 800,000 young people at risk of deportation and separation from their loved ones and reneges on a promise made to those young people by our government.

Yesterday’s action underscores the Administration's pursuit of normalizing racist and xenophobic beliefs through an agenda rooted in the criminalization of people of color. Igniting polarization by race and ethnicity and scapegoating our immigrant brothers and sisters threatens the culture, economy, and security of our nation. Again, we must stand up for the latest target of this hate-filled Administration whose efforts to splinter the nation for the benefit of a cruel minority have no end. We are all DACA children.  

Ending DACA is morally wrong and economically foolish.  For years, PolicyLink has argued that Equity is a moral imperative and the Superior Growth Model.  The diversity of this country is critical to its economic growth and prosperity.  The actions against DACA will negatively impact the economy in ways underscored by recent studies revealing a loss of billions from the national GDP over the next decade and the loss of contributions from thousands of valuable workers and entrepreneurs.   

Young people covered by the DACA program must be protected and the nation’s promise honored.  Now more than ever, we need Congress to act quickly and confirm that Americans of every race and creed are valued, that our government keeps its promises and rejects hate and xenophobia, and that the U.S. is a place that welcomes all who come sharing a democratic vision and valuing freedom, justice, and equity for all.   

Here are a few things you can do to demonstrate your support:  

  1. Call your members of Congress and demand their support for the Dream Act. And, with DACA ending, it's time for Congress to pass a clean version of the bipartisan Dream Act. Use to call and urge your member of Congress to stand up for Dreamers.  
  2. Attend a rally: You can locate rallies in your area using Resistance Near Me.   
  3. Show your support online: Raise your voice to support the #DreamAct by tweeting and posting your support for young immigrants. Make it clear that they are #HereToStay. Find sample tweets & hashtags below.

Sample Tweets:

  • Trump decision on #DACA is morally wrong & economically unwise. Congress must stand up 4 young immigrants & America. Protect immigrants now!
  • Will Congress pass the Dream Act, which creates a path to citizenship for Dreamers, without using their loved ones as bargaining chips? 1/2
  • Or will they stand idly by and let the president destroy the lives and livelihoods of immigrants? #HeretoStay 2/2
  • 800,000+ dreamers are in our workforce. Ending DACA not only disrupts their lives but also their employers, coworkers, patients & more.
  • Trump's decision against Dreamers is not the end for immigrants. Congress must do right by them: pass the Dream Act. #HeretoStay
  • @HouseGOP @SenateGOP have a choice: side w/ 800,000+ young immigrants and protect them... or uphold Trump's hate agenda? #HeretoStay
  • @realDonaldTrump has stripped legal status of young immigrants who make America strong. Congress must right this wrong: pass #DreamAct!

Trump Administration Eliminates Local Hire Pilot before It Can Demonstrate Results

The Trump Administration recently stripped communities of a crucial tool for job creation – hiring local workers. In August, the US Department of Transportation announced it would discontinue a pilot program allowing for geographic-based hiring preferences in administering federal awards, also known as local hiring. This represents a premature halting of a program that was being utilized on 14 projects in more than 10 states. The pilot program has not been in existence and functioning long enough to collect and analyze data and information to determine its impact. 

By repealing the program at US DOT, the Administration is breaking its promise to increase employment, especially for disproportionately under and unemployed communities that stood to gain from the program. For example, one of the projects in located in Wise County, VA: a region which could be called “Trump country”. The population is 92 percent White, and Trump won nearly 4 out of 5 votes in the county in the 2016 election. Wise County is also struggling economically; as of June 2017, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent – nearly double the statewide rate of 3.7 percent. The poverty rate is 22.7 percent more than twice the statewide rate of 11.2 percent.  Across the entire state there are 16,000 unemployed veterans. The state was working to leverage a $6.4 million dollar road expansion project (which included bicycle paths and sidewalks) to address unemployment and poverty. The county’s approved project they required that 75 percent of new hires should be either local residents or veterans living anywhere in the state of Virginia. 

Local hire policies bring good jobs to economically disadvantaged communities and ensure equitable development. Local hire programs also yield shared benefits.  Businesses receive financial incentives when they hire veterans or workers from the local community and they also find a steady supply of reliable workers. Job seekers can more easily travel to job sites located within their community.

Civic leaders and advocates across the country that are trying to move a jobs agenda for infrastructure have voiced major opposition for this recent move. Members of the federal Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity (ACTE) sent a letter to Secretary Chao urging her to re-instate the local hiring program. ACTE was established by the US DOT in 2016 to provide the Secretary with “independent advice and recommendations about comprehensive, interdisciplinary issues related to transportation equity.” PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell sits on this committee,  serving a two-year term of service alongside 11 individuals involved in transportation planning, design, research, policy, and advocacy, including Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, DreamCorps CEO Van Jones and Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, Jacqueline Pata.

If you would more information about how to join with others to voice your opposition to this move by the administration, please CONTACT US at Transportation Equity Caucus website.

JOIN US in Chicago April 11 – 13, for EquitySummit 2018, as we explore the complexity and urgency of building a multiracial coalition at this pivotal moment for our nation.


Crafting an Economic Agenda for Black Lives

Today, racial inequities are once again at the center of the national political conversation — along with bold, visionary proposals for policies to resolve them. Grassroots responses to police violence have given rise to a movement of leaders, coalitions, and organizations seeking not only social justice for Black communities, but economic justice as well.

The Movement for Black Lives, a collective of 50 organizations around the country, is creating a common vision and agenda for Black communities. Last August, the group released a nine-point economic policy platform that calls for progressive restructuring of the tax code to ensure an equitable and sustainable redistribution of wealth, federal and state job programs targeting the most economically marginalized Black people, protection for workers’ rights to organize, tax incentives for cooperative economy networks, and more (read the full platform here). By centering economic equity for Black people and creating and amplifying a shared agenda, the Movement for Black Lives hopes to “move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.”

So far, the collective has been most visible in its event-based organizing. For the past two years, Reclaim MLK Day has been connecting the national holiday to the radical actions of contemporary movements. Launched to coincide with Mother’s Day 2017, “Mama’s Bail Out Day” kicked off a summer of bailing out more than 200 incarcerated people as a step toward ending pre-trial incarceration for those who cannot afford bail. On June 19 (Juneteenth), the collective held a day of action in 40 cities to reclaim abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and other local spaces.

America’s Tomorrow spoke with DeAngelo Bester, contributor to the Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform and co-executive director and senior strategist at the Workers Center for Racial Justice, to discuss the platform’s labor organizing recommendations and talk about what it will take to move the agenda’s policy points forward.

Organizing workers outside of traditional employment models is a priority for the Workers Center for Racial Justice. What are some of the strategies Black workers have begun using to organize in response to the growth of the “on demand” economy?

The Workers Center for Racial Justice and some more progressive unions and worker centers have been trying to organize workers in industries where they are either considered contract or temporary workers. The idea is to organize them as we would in a union, and to change the laws and policies in their localities to give them collective bargaining rights. The National Labor Relations Board ruled last year that you can organize temp workers and people working in temp agencies into collective bargaining units.

Short of guaranteeing collective bargaining agreements, we won’t be able to get on-demand workers the same type of rights as far as fair wages. But there have been some victories in Chicago and other places around increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and getting domestic workers paid sick leave and fair scheduling.

With the politics being the way they are in DC, a national right-to-work policy could be coming down at the federal level. The Supreme Court will also probably be ruling in favor of getting rid of public sector unions. Therefore, we are trying to do our work at the local level in terms of making policy changes to ensure worker protections.

In your local level efforts, where have you seen fair development work in action, in the sense of people creating affordable housing, fighting displacement, and creating good jobs in a single effort?

There hasn’t been a ton of what you are calling fair development. When I did housing work a few years ago, getting the right number of affordable housing units included in development projects was a big issue. As far as jobs going to workers from marginalized communities in community benefits agreements or private labor agreements, it has been really hit-or-miss. It hasn’t been what it needs to be to get Black workers real jobs.

In the construction industry, a lot of cities have minority set-asides. The way it usually works is that two rules are in place: employers have to use union labor, and a certain percentage of the jobs are supposed to go to people from local communities. But there are always ways for folks to get around the stipulation to provide jobs. Sometimes developers only have to pay a $25,000 fine, so they might still choose not to hire people from the community. Or they could say that no new jobs are being created. In the construction industry, a lot of contractors have their own staff in place already and so developers say that they didn’t hire any new people because they just used existing employees. In private labor agreements, that’s been a drawback — and there hasn’t been real enforcement. What we [at the Workers Center for Racial Justice] have been trying to do when we work on private agreements is to say that a certain percentage of jobs and hours worked must go to people from the community; that way we can get around the language of “new jobs created.”

The Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform — like the rest of its policy agenda —  has brought together a diverse range of voices and organizations in a bold and ambitious vision for racial economic justice. What has your experience been working with this group?

The process has been great. The executive team did a great job of bringing people together, keeping people engaged, and answering phones and questions. It’s been as good of an experience as I’ve had as far as getting together and meeting with people and continuing to build relationships.

The only drawback or critique that I have is that there hasn’t been a discussion of building the power needed to get some of the platform implemented. With politics being the way they are in DC right now, none of us really have the power to do that right now. We need to have a discussion about what it would take to build that power, and after we have that power, what we would do to get some of these things implemented.

Speaking of the changing political climate, as the current presidential administration has evolved, which of the Movement for Black Lives platform points do you see as having the most promise in getting implemented?

There could be some potential around tax reform. There was language in the platform around tax breaks for marginalized workers, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Republicans have been talking about tax reform, too – cutting taxes for the rich. There could be a chance, if we build up enough support, to move some of the tax reform ideas forward. Other than that, the platform’s points around justice reform and police reform – I don’t think we have a real chance of getting that stuff moving with the person we have in the White House and the person we have heading up the Department of Justice. Even the points around housing and environmental justice and land rights are going to be tough in the current political environment. That’s why it is necessary to build enough power to implement the platform.

Mayors Must Create a Bold Vision for Equity

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the U.S. Conference of Mayors summer meeting in New Orleans to discuss the importance of equity — just and fair inclusion — to their cities’ future. This was also the first meeting of the conference since their president, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, ordered the city’s Confederate statues removed. In an earlier speech about this decision, Mayor Landrieu explained, “Centuries old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.” The conference took a moment to applaud his bold actions, which are all the more courageous given the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounding that city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Given today’s political climate, cities — with their economic power, diversity, and innovation — must continue to take bold actions, address old wounds, and lead our nation toward inclusive prosperity. This requires transforming policies and systems that have long perpetuated racial inequities.

While millennials, as well as companies and investment capital, are flocking to cities, many vulnerable communities who stuck with cities through their long decline are disconnected from these emerging opportunities and are at risk of being further left behind or displaced altogether. As I explained at the conference, local leaders must think intentionally about racial equity and ensure that low-income people and people of color are able to participate in, and benefit from, decisions that impact their communities.

We call this pathway for achieving healthy, vibrant, prosperous communities “equitable development.” Specifically, I shared four principles to guide equitable development:

  1. Integrate strategies that focus on the needs of people and on the places where they live and work.
  2. Reduce economic and social disparities throughout the region.
  3. Promote triple-bottom-line investments (financial returns, community benefits, and environmental sustainability) that are equitable, catalytic, and coordinated.
  4. Include meaningful community participation and leadership in change efforts. 

For example, the City and County of San Francisco entered into a historic community benefits agreement with Lennar (the second-largest national housing developer) around a major development in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. As a result, Lennar will ensure that 32 percent of housing units are affordable; provide housing preference to existing residents; and provide over $8.5 million in job training funds. Such commitments would not be possible without thinking about enduring inequalities and putting people at the center of development plans.

Reducing inequality and creating opportunities for all to participate in building a stronger economy is not just the right thing to do — it is urgent and fundamental to the economic future of cities, regions, and the nation. Already, more than half of new births in the U.S. are children of color. By the end of this decade, the majority of children under 18 will be of color. By 2030, the majority of young workers under 25 will be of color. It is evident that what happens to people of color will determine the fate of the nation.

As I shared this message with the mayors present, I also understood that they have a responsibility to all their residents. But equity is not a zero-sum game. Intentional investments in the most vulnerable communities have benefits that cascade out, improving the lives of all struggling people as well as regional economies and the nation as a whole. I call this the “curb-cut effect”, after the ramp-like dips on sidewalk corners. Championed by disability rights activists in the 1970s, these investments not only enabled people in wheelchairs to cross the street, but have helped everyone from parents wheeling strollers to workers pushing carts to travelers rolling suitcases. In fact, studies show that curb cuts have improved public safety as they have encouraged pedestrians to cross safely at intersections. 

The strategies may be unique in each city, but the struggle for equity is the same across the United States. Fortunately, mayors understand that the work they do is more important than ever, particularly when it comes to addressing racial inequality. Reflecting on the meeting, I am reminded of another quote from Mayor Landrieu’s speech: “If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.” Mayors must grapple with inequities in their communities, embrace the changing faces of their cities and towns, and maximize equitable development to foster communities of opportunity for all.

Together, we can build a nation in which no one, no group, and no geographic region is left behind.