Reports & Publications

Regional Resegregation: Building Power in Bay Area Suburbs

Principal Authors: Chris Schildt of Urban Habitat; Christopher Lepe of Mariposa Planning Solutions

Published by: Urban Habitat

The Bay Area continues to be haunted by the conditions under which urbanization evolved in the region after World War II. In the post-war years, private and public decision makers institutionalized racial inequality through massive investment in the highway system, segregationist housing and labor policy, and the concentration of political power among wealthy property owners and their elected officials. The result was the rough division of the emerging metro region into affluent white suburbs and working class communities of color concentrated in the urban core. Over the ensuing decades, deindustrialization, disinvestment, and the rise of the tech economy reinforced and deepened these regional inequalities. Existing Black and Brown communities, buttressed by waves of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, responded to these conditions by building some of the most important social movements of the Civil Rights era and beyond.

Five years ago, our report, Race, Inequality, and the Resegregation of the Bay Area, highlighted changes to these historical patterns and revealed a new geography of race and class driven by a real estate “gold rush.” In the report, we identified the ongoing, dramatic displacement of low-income communities of color to the outer regions of the Bay Area. In a follow-up report, Regional Resegregation: Reflections on Race, Class, and Power in Bay Area Suburbs, we demonstrated the need for more investment in organizing and advocacy capacity in the suburban places that low-income communities of color increasingly call home.1 This was not a call to disinvest in the urban core, but to understand increased suburban investment as an essential component of a more holistic regional strategy for confronting the new segregation.

This report builds upon our previous work. It offers insights into the ongoing resegregation of the region and the experiences of community groups organizing low-income suburban populations. Through interviews with nearly two dozen nonprofit community organizing staff and philanthropic partners, we found that organizing and advocacy have grown stronger in many places in recent years as organizing groups, advocacy organizations, and funders expanded their focus to include some of the outer regions of the Bay to address the “suburbanization of poverty.” The interviewees paint a picture of significant inequities experienced by low-income people of color, and the relentless efforts of organizers and residents to improve their communities in the face of longstanding structural barriers.

This expanded organizing capacity proved to be critical when COVID-19 hit, as organizations pivoted to mobilize and pass eviction moratoria and other emergency protections, win millions of dollars to fund emergency response efforts, and reach hundreds of thousands of residents with essential services and information. Had it not been for this tenant outreach and base building, the devastating social, economic, and public health crises of the last several years would have been even more severe. But years of nonstop emergency response have left many people and organizations depleted, threatening to undermine the strong foundation that has been built at a time when the meager protections and assistance programs are expiring, and leaving our communities more vulnerable than ever.