Northern News

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A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

Making great communities happen

California communities including Oakland use State grant to combat climate change and rising rents

From HUD USER, PD&R Edge, July 25, 2022

Established in 2016, California’s Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) Program helps communities most impacted by pollution to choose strategies and projects that reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The program supports community driven, collaborative projects aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change while also supporting broader community benefits. Grantees can use TCC funds for various economic, environmental, and health initiatives such as urban greening, clean transit, and employment centers. TCC fund recipients, which can be consortiums of public agencies, local nonprofit entities, and residents, must also implement a plan to ensure that existing residents and stakeholders benefit from TCC-related investments. These anti-displacement measures typically include providing housing that is both sustainable and affordable as well as supporting grassroots efforts to enact policy changes to protect tenants facing eviction.

The American Planning Association’s 2022 National Planning Conference featured a session focused on the anti-displacement plans and projects undertaken by some of these recipients. The session, “Planning for Community Development Without Displacement,” opened with an overview of the program from Gerard Rivero and Sophie Young of the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC), the state cabinet agency that awards TCC grants. Practitioners representing grant recipients in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Oakland discussed the anti-displacement element of their grants.

Supporting grassroots efforts to avoid displacement

Watts

Watts is a low-income neighborhood in southern Los Angeles with a population that is primarily Latino and African American. The neighborhood’s proximity to major highways and freight train lines, combined with its location directly under the flight path to Los Angeles International Airport, the world’s fifth-busiest airport, has led to high levels of air pollution. Industrial activity in the area has also polluted its air, soil, and water. In 2019, the SGC awarded a $33.25 million TCC grant to the Watts Rising Collaborative, a group of residents, local organizations, and public officials, to address the health and environmental issues in Watts.

One member of the collaborative, Ivory Chambeshi, director of neighborhood initiatives for the Watts Rising Collaborative, explained that the award was designed to combine the strengths of grassroots advocacy with government power. In this case, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity collaborated with an established community-based nonprofit to create plans to mitigate displacement. The Mayor’s Office explored how the city could limit displacement by updating the housing element of its comprehensive plan to promote multiplex developments. Meanwhile, residents advocated for initiatives such as a “local preference policy” that would prioritize existing Watts residents for select units in a proposed mixed-income housing project in the neighborhood.

To illustrate the extent of collaboration, Chambeshi discussed the vital role of students in a local university’s Master of Public Health program in research and other support. She concluded by emphasizing the importance of anti-displacement planning accompanying all large infrastructure projects.

Fresno

Fresno has also long struggled with health and environmental disparities. Since the mid-20th century, suburban sprawl and the displacement of agricultural land have led to an economically distressed downtown. Some neighborhoods, such as Chinatown and Southwest Fresno, have among the highest concentrations of poverty in the nation, and the air in the city’s urban core is highly polluted. Neighborhood residents have limited access to green space and healthy food.

In 2019, the SGC awarded $66.5 million to the Fresno Transformative Climate Communities Collaborative [Transform Fresno], which consists of residents and stakeholders in the downtown, Chinatown, and Southeast Fresno neighborhoods, to address environmental, economic, and public health issues in the city’s urban core. Amber Crowell, a member of the city’s anti-displacement task force, is working with grassroots organizations supporting the anti-displacement work that the TCC program mandates.

Crowell explained that Fresno is experiencing a housing crisis, with rents rising at one of the fastest rates in the country. Although housing prices in the Central Valley are not as high as those in many other parts of the state, Fresno’s rising costs combined with its relatively high poverty rate have left approximately 56 percent of the city’s renters cost-burdened. After more than a year of public meetings, lectures, and surveys led by a consulting group, residents produced a report containing policy recommendations, 10 of which the task force formally proposed to the city council. These policies include a right to counsel provision for tenants facing eviction, a community land trust, homeowner and renter assistance, and rent stabilization policies. The city is expected to consider some of these recommendations.

Oakland

Investments in green infrastructure can provide environmental, health, and economic benefits to communities. California’s Transformative Climate Communities Program helps ensure that green infrastructure does not lead to displacement of low-income residents. Photo: Diane Bentley Raymond

Residents of Oakland’s East Oakland neighborhood, who are predominantly people of color, face disproportionately high health risks, limited opportunities for outdoor recreation, and climate vulnerabilities such as inland flooding. To address these and other inequities in the area, the state awarded Oakland a $28.2 million TCC grant in 2020 to fund its Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors initiative. In accordance with the program’s goal of bringing resources to underserved communities without displacing residents, the initiative includes plans for bringing more affordable housing, green space, and other community amenities to East Oakland. The grant directly funds multiple community organizations, including the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative.

B. Vanessa Coleman, the project manager of Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors, explained how this “black-led and BIPOC-centered” cooperative addresses climate gentrification and preserves affordable housing. The entity acquires residential properties by selling $1,000 “shares” to investors. The shares, which can be purchased upfront or in installments, earn a 1.5 percent dividend and can be redeemed after a period lasting at least five years. The investors, along with residents, become co-owners of the property. All major decisions regarding the properties, including those related to funding, are made democratically, although staff help to educate tenants about their rights and resources.

Coleman explained that the goal is for this model to “ultimately go from ownership to stewardship.” The cooperative has proven quite popular; the organization has already sold approximately 2,300 shares to 458 investors. Coleman believes, however, that more ambitious policies such as a tenant “right to purchase” act are needed to make housing affordable for vulnerable residents.

Simultaneously addressing climate change and gentrification

Research shows that, although investments in green infrastructure provide social benefits to communities, they often can lead to gentrification and displacement of low-income residents. In supporting projects that bring environmental, health, and economic benefits to California’s communities, the TCC Program recognizes the need to ensure that residents of these underserved communities are not priced out of the market. TCC recipients understand this need and, as Coleman said, seek to “bring better resources” to communities “while keeping the same neighbors.” Constructing and preserving affordable housing and supporting legislation granting greater rights to tenants are just some of the ways recipients can fight displacement.

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