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Unincorporated Communities

Achieving Policy Impact

Unincorporated Communities: The Community Equity Initiative

Throughout the United States, millions of people live outside of central cities on pockets of unincorporated land. Predominantly African-American and Latino, and frequently low-income, these communities range from remote but concentrated settlements of industrial or agricultural laborers, to neighborhoods at the fringes of cities and towns that have been excluded from city borders. Residents of these areas often live without the most basic features of a safe and healthy environment—services like clean water, sewage lines, storm drains, streetlights, and sidewalks. Dependent on rural county governance for urban needs, these communities are systematically underserved in the overall allocation of public resources. Neglect and deprivation prevent these neighborhoods from realizing their potential as livable and economically viable communities and threaten the health, safety, and economic security of residents.

California’s San Joaquin Valley, is one such place. Across the region there are more than 220 disadvantaged, unincorporated communities, with an estimated population of almost half a million. Despite being one of the most agriculturally rich regions in the nation, poverty in the San Joaquin Valley can be so extreme that it is often compared to that in the Appalachian region. The unincorporated settlements have a host of conditions that present threats to health and safety, maintain economic and educational inequity, and prevent the flourishing of more complete communities. There are deficiencies in all kinds of physical infrastructure, and these are joined by substantial deficits in decent affordable housing and human services, health care, and education.

Through the Community Equity Initiative (CEI), PolicyLink works in partnership with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation to address the infrastructure and community service deficits faced by the low-income unincorporated communities of the San Joaquin Valley. Guided by a dynamic advisory committee that includes academics, non-profit and community leaders and legal advocates, the Initiative seeks to catalyze equitable development, good governance, and democratic decision making through local and regional policy change, research and community capacity building.