Urban Habitat’s roots are in environmental justice. Our founder, Carl Anthony, challenged the mainstream environmental movement to recognize the environmental racism that impacted low-income communities of color.
This year, the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute incorporated a more explicit environmental justice lens into the program. As we worked on the curriculum, it was clear that in order to talk about present-day challenges, we needed to address our country’s history of slavery, genocide, and colonialist views on land ownership. We were fortunate to be able to get help from two of our alumni, Tracy Zhu and Keri Akemi-Hernandez.
As part of the curriculum, we discussed how private property is a colonial construct upheld by capitalism. In contrast, Indigenous communities believe that the land belongs to all of us just as we belong to the land, and it is our responsibility to care for it. A component of our present responsibility is ensuring safe, accessible, healthy, and affordable housing for low-income BIPOC communities. We have witnessed the economic segregation and racial displacement of countless Bay Area low-income Black and Brown communities due to our for-profit housing system that favors corporate landlords.
Environmental justice principles are the foundation of our housing rights policy agenda which embraces alternative housing models. We support policies that offer tenants first right of refusal and community land trusts, which create permanently affordable housing for future generations. We recently shared about the exciting work in Vallejo where we helped to establish a community land trust. We are working with allies in San Jose, East Palo Alto, and Berkeley to pass policies that would offer community groups and/or tenants an opportunity to purchase their homes, and resources to help them to do so.
Today we live in a country where private property is sacred and defended at the cost of human dignity – the opposite of what Indigenous communities teach us. Safe and stable housing changes lives, and should be accessible to everyone. On Earth Day, I invite you to think about ways to support housing policies that keep people in their homes and move people from the streets into houses. Caring responsibly for the land means fighting for everyone’s right to have a home.