How to Head Off a Coronavirus Housing Crisis

Debates about the U.S. housing crisis feel like they happened years ago; the housing plans of the Democratic presidential candidates are now artifacts from another era. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically upended the status of millions of Americans, who may not have a plan for paying the rent in April or going forward. But those campaign schemes, full of what were once thought experiments about boosting aid for struggling households, could be roadmaps that help current leaders find the way out of this new catastrophe.

Some of those campaign ideas came from Julián Castro, whose safety net–focused presidential bid ended in January. Castro, the ex-secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama and former mayor of San Antonio, proposed a number of ideas to improve the security for America’s most vulnerable households. Most notably, he suggested expanding the Housing Choice Voucher program, which provides rental aid to low-income households, as a fully funded federal entitlement for every eligible adult in America.

The vouchers program (better known as Section 8) is now under tremendous strain, even as the pandemic compounds the housing crunch for low-income renters. HUD and other federal agencies are taking steps to provide relief to renters and homeowners, but other tools at the federal government’s disposal, including the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, are still pending a major disaster declaration from the White House and coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

CityLab spoke with Castro about what to do to make sure that the most vulnerable families are able to keep their homes as the U.S. tries to weather the pandemic by sheltering in place.

As you’ve seen in Texas and around the country, the pandemic has had an incredible, devastating impact on the service industry and other sectors. This is making people very fearful about how they’re going to survive, and how they’re going to pay the rent. How do you see this pandemic response shaping a housing dynamic that was already an affordability crisis?

What’s been revealed here in a very poignant and powerful way are the gaps that exist for so many Americans out there. How close so many people are to falling into poverty, and for those who are in poverty, how vulnerable they are to a shift in their circumstances like this. One of the things we proposed was to make the Housing Choice Voucher program an entitlement program. We also called for, and I know [New Jersey Senator Cory Booker] and [California Senator Kamala Harris] called for, a refundable renters’ tax credit as well. That could be distributed on a monthly basis for renters, so that it could help them as the rents go up in communities across the country — or in situations like this, where you have unforeseen circumstances that are stressful for the tenant and the landlord.

I was pleased to see what HUD did the other day in terms of its announcement on evictions and so forth, but they’re going to end up having to go further than that. In the long term, we’re going to need to invest in a Housing Choice Voucher system that is much more robust. We need to invest in more public housing. We scaled back our commitment from public housing many years ago. I thought before this, and I said this when I was HUD secretary, that we need to be moving in the opposite direction. Having a strong, widespread supply of well-placed public housing not only allows for more stability every day in American communities, but also better response in moments like this.

What are some of the ways HUD could go further to meet this crisis?

It’s going to need to go further in terms of the timeline. It’s clear that the time horizon we’re looking at will be longer than [through the end of April]. Schools are looking at being closed longer than that. We’re seeing unemployment claims skyrocket. I don’t think this challenge is going to be done by the end of April. I also think they need to do everything they can to provide more direct relief to renters. And also to landlords participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Frankly, there are advantages, but there are weaknesses to relying on the private sector to provide what is essentially subsidized housing. You’re going to get a lot of these landlords who, when that tenant may not be able to produce the other part of the rent, they’re going to look at evicting them. Now, when HUD comes down on them, you can’t evict them, you’re going to see a lot of people saying, “Well then, you know what, I’m out of the program.” That’s a weakness of the program. They’re going to need to figure out a way both to support those renters and also keep the number of landlords participating in the program as high as they possibly can. There’s going to be stress on both parts.

I also believe that HUD needs to work to make sure that residents, particularly in Section 202 and Section 811 housing, are as safe as possible. [Section 202 provides supportive low-income housing for the elderly; Section 811 serves people with disabilities.] You have a tremendous number of vulnerable communities out there — residents who are older, residents who are disabled — in public housing complexes. I haven’t seen a comprehensive plan on how they’re dealing with that. We have something like 3,300 housing authorities across the United States. I don’t believe that we can leave it up to 3,300 housing authorities to make sure these residents are as safe as possible. We need a strong federal government response directing that.

Could you briefly describe the dynamic with Housing Choice Vouchers? What happens to voucher holders when their income falls?

The Housing Choice Voucher program includes a requirement that the voucher holder pay a certain amount of their income in rent. They’re a participant in paying the rent. The question is, what will happen when they don’t have that income to pay along with their voucher? [HUD] can restrict evictions, whether in public housing or in Housing Choice Voucher housing, but you’re going to get a lot of landlords eventually resisting that and seeking to evict tenants who don’t have the full amount of rent. That’s a problem.

So what the federal government is going to need to do is robustly address and help everyday Americans who are tenants — but also find a way to buck up the landlords, so they don’t flee the program, either immediately or on June 1 or on July 15. Let’s say that we get past this crisis. What you may have are a lot of landlords who say, “You know what, I’m not going to go through that again. I’m out of the program.” There’s a danger there, not only during this crisis, but over the next year or so, of landlords leaving the program.

Somebody might argue that for landlords, it actually is better because the federal government right now, in what could become a shaky housing market, is actually the most reliable renter, so to speak. Part of that is true. But that’s not the entire story.

So in order to just maintain the status quo for current voucher holders, to say nothing of the millions of people who are eligible for vouchers but don’t receive them, the federal government is going to have to boost the value of vouchers?

They’re going to have to ensure that renters are taken care of in terms of being able to fully pay the rent. Of course that voucher amount that is already paid to landlords is an important component of that. The ability of those renters to pay their portion is also an important part. You could control that with a rule on no evictions, for a while. But what happens when a landlord says, “Well, then I don’t want to participate in the program?” What HUD needs to do is address the short-term and the long-term consequences of this tremendous uncertainty.

In order to make landlords whole, to make renters able to pay their rent — what’s the best way for the federal government to do this? Is it sending checks? Could the vouchers themselves be expanded to help struggling renters?

They have it within their power [at HUD] to address these issues. What it takes is the resources and a strong coordinated administrative effort. In some ways, the Housing Choice Voucher program is a very easy program to address this kind of emergency situation. You already have the administrative relationship with those landlords. You already have the administrative relationship with those tenants. What the system is going to require is more investment during this crisis, and then also a management of those relationships between landlords and tenants after the crisis, so you don’t have a bunch of landlords exiting the program. I absolutely believe that, in terms of managing the status quo, it’s utilizing the existing administrative relationships and putting more resources into them.

And then, for the future, as soon as the federal government can, they should do something like an entitlement program based off the Housing Choice Voucher program as well as use our tax code for a refundable renters’ tax credit. That would help people who are not in the system, everyday renters, who have a hard time as rents skyrocket across the country.

Do you think those approaches — expanding housing vouchers and launching a monthly renters tax credit — could be easier or more effective than introducing a basic income? The proposal for direct cash payments might miss households who are extremely low income and don’t file federal income taxes, for example.

It’s going to take a combination of those things. They’re not mutually exclusive. This is absolutely unprecedented in America’s history. We’ve certainly had times of crisis. And sacrifice. World War II comes to mind. We’ve had natural disasters and other types of emergencies. But I don’t believe we’ve seen something this widespread that’s going to have potentially the health impact and certainly the economic impact that coronavirus is going to have. It requires creativity. It requires going beyond the bounds of what we normally do.

This idea goes beyond the bounds of what we normally do: A lot of people ask, why can’t we just suspend rent? And suspend mortgage payments, too? A rent jubilee or holiday, when those payments aren’t due — is that a good idea?

Of course it may become necessary during an absolute crisis as this thing develops. We’re in uncharted waters right now. Would I keep that on the table? Yeah. We have to address that just as we make sure that everyone has a safe decent place to live. The government has to step in and make sure that’s possible. Is it possible to halt all mortgages, all evictions? I believe that’s possible, but it would require a tremendous amount of backing and investment by the federal government, too.

What concerns me is that for the last 40 years, more or less, this notion that smaller government is better has progressed in our society. We’re seeing some real concrete downsides of that during this crisis.

What next steps do you hope to see from government at the local, state, and federal level?

Locally, it’s about making sure that the basic needs of people are being met. For instance, for public utilities, putting a moratorium on disconnections. Making sure the housing authority at the local level is doing its part to stop eviction. It’s all about the basic needs. They are the frontline providers for so many basic needs. I told the mayor in San Antonio the other day, I think you should get together the public utilities and have a press conference and address what each is doing to take care of people at this time.

As you go up to the state level, then you get to a more global response. I think a lot of things they’re doing in California will work for other states. States have a greater role on issues like affordable housing, paid sick leave, and small business grants.

On the federal level, I completely disagree with Trump and this statement he made, that the federal government is “not a shipping clerk.” The federal government has the greatest resources and the ability to marshal expertise from around the world and deploy those ideas to generate economic stimulus and deliver health resources. We need a sober and methodical approach that’s lacking.

Powered by WPeMatico

COVID-19 is Creating the Largest Ever Telecommunity, But Not for Everyone

Social distancing is becoming the new normal, at least for those of us who are heeding the Center for Disease Control’s warnings and guidelines. But if you don’t have reliable, high-speed broadband, it is impossible to engage in what is now the world’s largest telecommunity. As many schools and universities around the world (including those of my kids) are shut down, these institutions are optimistically converting to online and digital learning. However, with our current broadband layout, this movement will certainly leave many Americans behind.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Last Daycares Standing

Less than a week after New York shuttered the largest school district in the nation, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all non-essential businesses must close, too. Among the exceptions to his edict were child-care programs, which he dubbed essential, along with grocers and doctor’s offices.  

That doesn’t mean most child-care programs are open now. Even before Cuomo’s order went into effect, many child-care centers had already shut down. But among those that made the difficult decision to remain open were many of the smallest in-home care programs, often called family daycares. “We look around and everyone else is closing. We’re the last people standing,” says Gladys Jones, owner of Ga Ga Group Family Daycare in Staten Island and founder of Early Childhood Educators (ECE) On the Move, a loose network of about 500 New York City home-based providers.                               

Jones and other child-care providers expected that with schools and so many other centers closed, the demand for their services would be higher than ever. Instead, their programs have been eerily empty — a phenomenon happening across the U.S.

Despite a swelling share of parents who must continue working but suddenly have no support, many child-care programs have found themselves severely under-enrolled and some have begun closing as a result. Data from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Early Care & Education Consortium suggests that programs around the country lost nearly 70% of their daily attendance in one week during the pandemic, with many saying they could not last a week without getting paid. Providers are reporting on social media that families are keeping their kids home  because parents are losing jobs, working from home, or simply out of fear.

“I thought my phone would be ringing off the hook, and it’s super quiet,” said Milagros Carbajal who runs M&M 24 Hour Daycare in the Bronx.

This low enrollment is leaving daycares in a precarious position: Should they continue operating during the pandemic as many governments have encouraged them to do, with very little safety guidance and at a risk to themselves and their employees? And will they survive the other end of this crisis at all?

“I closed my daycare because the families are all self isolating,” tweeted Helen Marvelene Fagg, who runs a small family daycare for seven children in Athens, Tennessee. “Some families quit due to the coronavirus. I’m trying to suspend my accounts for a few months. This is crazy!”

The circumstance is particularly precarious for family daycares, many of them staples in poor and working-class neighborhoods where home-based child care is sometimes the only form of licensed care around. Their small size and flexibility about hours makes these programs particularly well-positioned to help with this crisis, says Jones. Many already care for the children of first responders and essential service workers such as hospital staff, janitors, and grocers. Several offer night care.

But they are also particularly vulnerable to permanent closure, with many operating on shoestring budgets, paying themselves and their teachers near-poverty level wages, and staying open as much out of financial necessity as out of a desire to help. “If we don’t offer our services, we don’t get paid,” says Bernadette Lombay of B-Happy Daycare in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx. (Other child care centers, meanwhile, have continued to charge families even during the period they are closed.)

Privately, providers vent about operating under crisis circumstances with little clarity or direction. The ECE On the Move listserv has been bursting with questions: Will the state pay them for enrolled children receiving subsidized care who stay home? Normally they are paid only for days that children attend their programs. With local stores ransacked, how will programs stay stocked with essentials like milk, bleach, and baby wipes? How do you get toddlers to stop putting things in their mouth and babies to stop sneezing on you? If you don’t have health insurance or sick leave — as many child-care workers do not — who will be there for you and your families if you fall ill?

“These women are scared,” says Jones. “I know of a provider in Far Rockaway who is 83. We can’t just use these people and throw them away.”

Advocates and leaders in the child-care industry are calling on the federal government to provide emergency assistance to child-care programs, warning that without that boost, much of the sector may be permanently shuttered. One recent proposal called for infusing the sector with $50 billion in emergency stimulus funding. The federal economic stimulus bill passed this week did provide some financial relief for the child-care industry, including $3.5 billion in grant funding for emergency workers’ care, but advocacy groups say far more is needed in the next stimulus just to serve current emergency needs, let alone prevent permanent closures.

For now, most decisions about how best to help these programs and the families who need them are left to state and local leaders — and providers themselves.

Several states and institutions are experimenting with how to narrow the enrollment gap by connecting child-care centers with workers who need them most. In Washington, D.C., Children’s National Hospital is creating its own database for connecting its workers to available in-home child care centers. In New York, in an effort to bump their enrollment, over 100 members of Jones’s group, ECE on the Move, have responded to requests from the city and a union serving health-care works to let them know they have plenty of room to take in the children of first responders.  

In drawing up guidelines for these still-running businesses, state and city government officials grapple to balance the urgent needs of first responders needing child care with efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Local responses have been as varied as the states themselves, ranging from a handful of states demanding that all child-care programs close, to an Oklahoma official telling providers “it is critical that you do all you can to remain open.”

Most states fall somewhere in between, says Dan Wuori, director of early learning at the The Hunt Institute in North Carolina, which on Tuesday launched a website tracking state directives and policies regarding early education and the pandemic in the hopes that government officials and policymakers can learn from each other and identify best practices.   

Ohio and Illinois, for example, are requiring that child-care programs remaining open during the pandemic apply for a special license.

Like New York, many other states have identified child-care programs as “essential” businesses that may keep running even as other businesses are ordered to close, and some urge prioritizing the families of first responders. So far only one state — Virginia — has suggested in a letter to the provider community that child-care providers themselves are first responders. Others are aiming to soften the financial blow by providing benefits that many child-care workers don’t typically have, such as paid sick leave, free treatment for uninsured workers who test positive for the coronavirus, or by paying subsidies. Vermont said it will cover lost tuition that child-care centers would have received if they hadn’t closed.

Wuori says it’s become a common practice for states to ease requirements for child-care programs still operating, allowing families receiving subsidy who are enrolled part-day to switch to full-day, or loosening licensing regulations.

One question up for vigorous debate is how many children a program can safely take in during the pandemic. In New York, child-care programs may apply for waivers allowing them to serve more children than their licenses specify. Meanwhile, several other states are looking to curb — not expand — group sizes in child care in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

While there is not data available regarding characteristics of child-care programs that have chosen to remain open these past few weeks, early education experts say that because of their small size and flexibility, family child-care programs are particularly well suited for this moment of social distancing. But their size is also one of a number of factors that has made family centers so vulnerable to closure even before the pandemic.

A toxic combination of increased housing costs, increased minimum wage, competition from new, free preschool programs in schools and centers, and stagnant reimbursement rates have caused many of these programs that are staples in poor and working-class neighborhoods to shutter. Nationwide, nearly half of small home-based child care businesses have closed since 2005 with few government attempts at course correction.

If nothing else, this pandemic is putting front and center the needs of this often-overlooked workforce. Some family child-care providers see in the crisis an opportunity to show officials and policymakers how this sector is the backbone of many communities; how women who open their homes to neighborhood children for poverty-level wages are there for families when it matters most; that cities simply cannot afford to lose them.

“This crisis is a prime example of why we’re still needed,” says Carbajal who runs the 24-hour-daycare in the Bronx.   

Jones of ECE On the Move is encouraged that over the past two weeks she and her peers have huddled on conference calls with top city and state officials. Last week, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer asked ECE on the Move to provide a list for what New York family child care will need to operate effectively during the pandemic. What the group created — a collection of many provisions that states have passed individually, but not as a comprehensive package — could be the blueprint cities need. Among ECE on the Move’s asks: that providers be recognized as emergency responders; that those remaining open receive incentive pay and emergency supplies such as food, cleaning supplies and protective gear; that those who close have access to paid sick leave; that providers and their families who fall sick be guaranteed medical care; and that all family child care be paid for children receiving subsidized child-care, even when parents have since decided to keep them home.

“If we’re going to be the only people out there able to help people go to work, we need support,” says Jones.

Powered by WPeMatico

N.K. Jemisin Confronts the City We’re Becoming

“New York City itself has a phantom presence in the lives of every citizen and visitor,” N.K. Jemisin writes in her new novel, “The City We Became.” As she describes the transformation of a city into its own living being, she says, “Enough human beings occupy one space, tell enough stories about it, develop a unique enough culture, and all these layers of reality start to compact and metamorphose.”

“The City We Became” is weighty, vibrant reading, as Jemisin, the first-ever person to win three consecutive Hugo Awards for her best-selling “Broken Earth” trilogy, turns her attention to a city she’s called home throughout her life (though, as she describes it herself, she’s an “on-again, off-again New Yorker”). It’s a city under siege from an alien force, defending itself as it attempts to give birth to a human avatar capable of resisting the invasion.

Recognizing the need for greater support and solidarity, each borough creates its own human avatar, reflecting the diversity of the city itself. Still, tensions run high between the avatars, as the boroughs are tasked not only with confronting personalities molded in the image of their distinct enclaves, but learning to put aside old inter-borough grudges long enough to save the city they call home.

It’s a story resonant with the political climate of the day: The potential destruction of New York as a body of mythical beings is abetted by the twin forces of gentrification and white supremacy, each conspiring to make the city less like itself for those tasked with its preservation. In a moment in which real-life New York’s everyday movement has ground to a halt as infection spreads, it’s a painful irony that the story’s alien force, the Woman in White, spreads her power through the city virus-like, touching passersby who don’t realize they’ve been infected, gradually using more of the population already prone to these violent beliefs. Still, New Yorkers are a stubborn bunch: “Too many New Yorkers are New York,” the Woman in White laments. “Its acculturation quotient is dangerously high.”

CityLab talked to Jemisin about the complexities of mapping each borough onto individual characters’ personalities, what her childhood years in New York were like, and the ways in which New York is under attack by forces already coursing through the city. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in New York over the course of your lifetime?

I’ve engaged with different parts of New York in my life. I’ve lived in Williamsburg, Crown Heights and most recently Bed-Stuy. As a child, it was mostly Williamsburg, which was not what it’s like now. These days, it’s gentrification central, hipster central. There’s even been problems within the last few years of bars hosting white supremacist bands, that kind of thing, which was not the Williamsburg I grew up with. As a kid, it was mostly poor Latinos, artists, and Hasidic Jewish people. You got to understand the rhythms of all of those groups, and while not everyone was part of every group, they cohabitated and were able to interrelate. They had problems, they had stress with each other, but on the other hand, they also mostly got along.

And now, that kind of tripartite complexity to that neighborhood is kind of being swept away by people who hate all of us. Williamsburg would not be Williamsburg without a Hasidic and Puerto Rican and artistic presence. But the new folks coming in not only are effectively making it impossible for those groups to still live there, but they’re also like, “Get out and stay out, we don’t like you.” Cities and neighborhoods have always changed; that is a normal part of city life. But the extra measure of, “We’re going to make it impossible for pretty much anybody except for who looks like us to be here and still we hate you, and we’re going to show contempt for what made this city what it is,” that part is new. And that’s the part that I guess I’m engaging with or wrestling against.

In the book, as the embodiment of New York City struggles to come to life and needs the other boroughs to help sustain it, you write, “New York is too much for one person to embody.” What was it like to give definition to each of the individual boroughs, and shape their personalities as representations of millions of people?

What I wanted to do was deliberately engage with some of the stereotypes of the boroughs, that I, as an on-again off-again New Yorker, had seen and also seen defied over the course of my life, things we also see in the media and so forth. I deliberately created stereotypical representations of each borough, and then I tried to sort of complicate those. I know that I succeeded to varying degrees. I was not able to devote enough time, without making the book unnecessarily longer, to a couple of the avatars that I really wanted to.

Queens, for example, we didn’t get to see enough complication with her, in my opinion. But I wanted to start with a stereotype: Queens is the neighborhood of immigrants, it’s the neighborhood of the middle class in New York these days. We have always been the city that is in many ways the gateway of immigration in the United States, so there had to be at least one there. And I wanted to try and kind of engage with that. But she’s also a person, she’s got an attitude. She’s adapted to New York enough that her first reflex in moments of stress is to try to hit somebody.

This is what I wanted to do: Let’s start with the stereotype and then mess with it. Take Brooklyn, for example. I have lived all my life among women like Brooklyn, because that is what I see walking down the street in Bed-Stuy: working-class women who either made good because their families were able to get a foothold here, or who were struggling because that foothold is being pulled out from under them. Her character is someone who can speak to both — who can speak to middle-class life and to struggle life, you know? This is what I’m trying to encapsulate.

You lived briefly in New York as a child, then visited in the summer thereafter, before moving here again as an adult. What kinds of things did you come to realize about the city as you grew older and returned to living here?

I was five years old when I left New York. My understanding of New York at that point was just: It’s a great place to go. I didn’t have a more complex understanding that an adult is going to have of any place. I knew that I liked New York. I did not like Mobile, Alabama, where we moved. There really wasn’t a lot to compare there; children don’t understand the systems of the environments that they’re dealing with.

But later on, I understood some of what I had seen. I understood, for example, that New York had been nearly bankrupt for a good chunk of my childhood. I knew as a child that the crack epidemic was going on, because we’d go up on the rooftop in my dad’s building and there would be little vials everywhere. But even then, it was just kind of normal for me. I was a typical Gen X kid growing up amid the constant detritus of economic collapse, just being an ‘80s kid. Later on, I understood exactly what those dynamics meant with those things I’d seen, what they meant in a greater context. But growing up, it was just a part of life.

You engage with the violence of white supremacy threatening the city’s future, both in the form of neo-Nazi artists being used by the Woman in White to attack the Bronx Art Museum, as well as Staten Island’s refusal to examine its own complicity in harming the rest of the city. Why are these forces so threatening to a city like New York?

That’s always been the nature of white supremacist violence in the United States. There’s always been those who were happily willing to exploit and target the foot soldiers of the movement, who tend to be young, disaffected men who are angry and don’t know why. They don’t know who to blame until somebody tells them it’s those people over there.

These dynamics have always existed in our society, but these forces were allowed to run rampant on the black community and other poor communities. There have always been checks enough to keep the destructive systems of society from basically cannibalizing the country, and that’s what’s changed: It’s affecting everyone now. There were chunks of the country that were always like, “We were perfectly fine with it as long as it’s only hurting those people there.” But now it’s everybody. It’s the latest way in which our society is trying to kind of self-destruct, and I don’t know if we’re gonna get through this. I hope that people will recognize what’s happening and, you know, find ways to push back against it. But I don’t know. We’ll see.

Your book is a unique model for a kind of collective problem-solving in urban space to confront issues that no individual could handle on their own. Given the moment we’re in, do you have any particular thoughts on what’s needed to make sure real-life New York makes it through what it’s facing?

I have no particular vision for how social cooperation would look in real life; I’m a fiction writer, not a community organizer or a philosopher. But I think we can safely look to history regarding large cities navigating major disasters. Generally, people who live in those cities do what’s necessary to help each other and help society on a larger scale. I think living in a city inherently makes citizens a little more community-minded than those who live in more suburban or rural places, in my opinion — and I say this as someone who grew up in a mid-size Alabama town as well as New York. Or maybe it’s just a different kind of community. But I see strangers jumping in to help more often, up here, than I did down there. I see people getting organized here and in other big cities, sewing masks for doctors and offering to fetch groceries for community elders, not because they like or even know those people, but just because it needs to be done, and somebody’s gotta.

We know that what’s spreading corona[virus] isn’t population density but poor public health policy; dense areas can control this with aggressive testing and lockdown policies. So politicians and folks who don’t live here are welcome to point fingers all they want. Maybe it makes them feel better, to blame a scapegoat rather than fix their own house. Regardless, the big cities of America will do what needs to be done to make us and them safer. Somebody’s gotta.

Powered by WPeMatico

The NIMBYs of the Coronavirus Crisis

Last week, residents in Darien, Connecticut, a tony exurb of New York City, successfully lobbied to shut down plans for a coronavirus testing site, despite surging demand. The reason? Complaints from neighbors. As it turns out, the “Not In My Backyard” impulse to block new development — which has been implicated in the severe affordability crisis affecting cities from coast to coast — translates far too neatly into blocking certain measures needed to stop the spread of the virus.

In a similar case in Ewing, New Jersey, a local landlord issued a cease-and-desist letter to the operator of a coronavirus testing center amid complaints about congestion in the parking lot. As The Trentonian reported, one resident who wanted to be tested in order to protect his three-year-old child wasn’t subtle about how he felt about the decision: “It blows my f**king mind.”

Community resistance from neighbors of testing sites is a rerun of the fierce NIMBY reaction to potential coronavirus quarantine sites. Back in February, California began looking for a place to shelter Americans returning from abroad with the virus and settled on an isolated medical campus in Costa Mesa. But after local residents complained, city officials sought and received a court injunction to stop the project.

As the need for quarantine sites expanded, so did the NIMBY backlash. Finding sites that won’t suffer the same fate has proven to be a major hurdle as the federal government attempts to manage the crisis. Back when the focus was still on returning cruise ship passengers, officials in Alabama went to the mat to keep passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship out of a local FEMA facility, eventually forcing the federal government to scrap the plan altogether. Similar fights have played out from Seattle to San Antonio, potentially undercutting the response to the coronavirus at key early stages. As a result, the federal government largely shifted quarantining efforts to military bases, where complaining neighbors hold less sway.

Some NIMBYs have even seized on Covid-19 as a new rationale for blocking needed housing. Despite the substantial health risks of a large homeless population amid the pandemic, Queens, N.Y. council member Robert Holden renewed his push to shut down a local homeless shelter, this time citing coronavirus fears.

This peculiar alliance between the coronavirus and NIMBYism rekindles questions about who should have a say in policymaking. The people who show up to speak at public meetings are older, whiter, and more likely to own a home than the community population as a whole, as a recent study by Boston University political science professors Katherine Einstein, Maxwell Palmer and David Glick showed. This influential minority are also far more likely than most to oppose whatever is being proposed. That’s presented a major problem for building new housing, especially lower-priced rental units. But as the current crisis reveals, a system that empowers NIMBYs might also imperil our ability to respond to emergencies in a timely manner.

At first glance, it might seem like efforts to block potentially life-saving public health screenings and complaints about community character have little in common. But in both cases, the formula is the same: Whether out of an understandable fear of the unknown or a selfish desire to shift the burden elsewhere, local impulses are given veto power over broader social needs. Under normal conditions, the inability to constructively manage this means higher rents. In a public health emergency, it could be lethal.

Not every city is sitting on its hands. In February, Raleigh, North Carolina, scrapped its neighborhood councils, which had become a hotbed for housing NIMBYism, in favor of a more systematic approach to public outreach. And in Seattle, policymakers are working to transform similar local councils from angry choke points into productive forums. More cities should consider this approach, specifically as they respond to the outbreak.

There will undoubtedly be many lessons to learn from America’s botched response to the coronavirus. From the politicization of public health to the way we regulate testing kits, there will be no shortage of debate over how policy must change. But if we are going to put our cities on a firmer footing for this and the next crisis, we can’t let NIMBYs — and the institutions that empower them — off the hook.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Path to Reopening Our Cities

As the dreaded coronavirus bolts across the globe, city after city has locked down, transforming urban business centers and suburban malls alike into veritable ghost towns. Our cities can’t stay in lockdown indefinitely. The economic costs — never mind the toll on our society and our mental health — is just too devastating. But the reality is we can’t just hit a reset button and revert to how things were before. This pandemic, like all great pandemics, threatens to reappear in subsequent waves over the next year to eighteen months, until we find a vaccine or develop herd immunity. Even as cities focus on a full-out mobilization of required health and medical resources to cope with the first phase of this pandemic, it is important they get prepared safely and securely for the future, too.

There are several key changes states and cities, mayors, governors and community leaders must focus on, based on research I conducted with my colleague Steven Pedigo of the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, to get back up and running.

First, a number of transportation adaptations will be crucial. Transportation infrastructure is the circulatory system and lifeblood of the economy. Airports not only connect cities and enable the flow of people and goods across the world; they are key drivers of urban economies. They cannot be idled indefinitely. We will need to get them up-and-running again. That means mobilizing like we did in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, adding temperature checks and necessary health screenings to the security measures that are already in place. It also means taking steps to reduce crowding and delays: Painted lines on floors and stanchions can promote adequate social distancing in waiting areas, as well as making masks and hand sanitizer available. Airlines will need to reduce their passenger counts and keep middle seats open.

Buses, subways, and trains get people to work. Beyond emergency infusions of cash to keep the systems solvent during this first wave of the pandemic when ridership is low or nonexistent, design changes in stations and seating will be needed when they are back in service.

Streets may need some retrofits, too. In the midst of the crisis, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for pedestrianizing New York City streets to promote social distancing. Some changes like this should become permanent. Bike lanes will have to be expanded and better protected, and bike and scooter-sharing programs refined and expanded for when public transit is compromised. Sidewalks, especially those in crowded business and commercial districts, may also need to be widened to promote needed social distancing.

Second, we need strategies for altering how we use other forms of large-scale infrastructure – stadiums, arenas, convention centers, performing arts centers, universities, and schools. Because they bring together large groups of people, all of them will pose risks until the virus is stamped out. City leaders must act to pandemic-proof these assets as much as possible. Class sizes may need to be reduced in schools and audience sizes reduced in theaters, with many seats left open. Masks may need to be required and made available to patrons as needed, and temperature checks carried out. The sooner such large-scale civic infrastructure can be safely reopened, the faster our urban economies will rebound.

Third, we need strong and proactive steps to protect the core of our local economies. Main Street is taking a devastating hit from forced closures. Some projections suggest that as many as three-quarters of barbershops, restaurants, mom-and-pop stores, and the like will be bankrupted before the first wave of the pandemic is over. In the short run, it is imperative that our small businesses, which generate so many jobs and lend our communities so much of their character, survive. They need whatever support they can get, in the form of mortgage, rent, and tax relief; zero-interest loans; and more. In the interim, cities need to provide assistance and advice to help prepare these vital small businesses to reopen safely.

The creative economy of art galleries, museums, theaters, and music venues, along with the artists, musicians, and actors who fuel them, is also at dire risk. Cities must partner with other levels of government, the private sector and philanthropies to marshal the funding and expertise that is needed to keep their cultural scenes alive. Once they are allowed to reopen, they will also need to make interim and long-term changes in the way that they operate. Cities should mobilize to provide advice and assistance on the necessary procedures — from temperature screenings, better spacing for social distancing and the like — for these venues to reopen safely.

Fourth, we must take proactive measures to protect the people that animate these economies and spaces. Now is the time to upgrade how we value front-line service workers with better protection, higher pay, and more benefits. Nearly half of Americans work in low-wage service jobs, and a considerable percentage of those are on the front lines of this pandemic. Supporting them in their work will help protect us in future crises.

For others, we should make remote work more available and accessible. We are in the midst of a massive experiment in telework, and learning from the experience can help cities understand how to better support this workforce — and perhaps even offer an opportunity for some cities to lure new residents who move further away from their offices.

We should not forget one takeaway from this crisis, which we already know from history: Concentrated poverty, economic inequality, and racial and economic segregation are not only morally unjust — they also provide fertile ground for pandemics to take root and spread.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. In a matter of months, our cities will begin to come back to life; in a year or two, we will see a return to a new normal. Eventually, we will go back to work and school and send our kids on play dates again; we will gather in restaurants and theaters and sports stadiums. In time, our great cities will rise again, as they always have after great health crises and pandemics.

But they just won’t pop back to normal. We need a readiness and preparedness plan for getting our cities and communities back up and running, and the time to start is now. What we do over the course of the next 12 to 18 months will matter greatly to the safety of our cities, the public health of our workers, and to our economic rebound.

Powered by WPeMatico

‘East Lake Meadows’ Isn’t Just a Public Housing Tragedy

Beverly Parks grew up in a house in Atlanta in the 1960s, where she and her siblings took turns sleeping in one bed. Huddling in the living room during the winter, she’d take a breath and see the frost hang in the air. But in 1970, her family moved into the East Lake Meadows public housing development, and things changed. For $45 a month, her mother could afford a three-bedroom apartment.

“When you come from an environment of no food, no heat, cold, to a housing project, that was just like heaven to us,” she said.

The images of East Lake Meadows that linger in history books don’t look like heaven: Nicknamed “Little Vietnam” within a year of its opening in 1970, it was one of the many American public housing projects cast as dysfunctional when crime, drugs, and government disinvestment — both intentional and negligent — tore through the property in the 1970s and ‘80s. Today, the neighborhood is unrecognizable: In 2000, the development was demolished and rebuilt as a mixed-income project. The original residents were promised they could return, but most were displaced.

In the new PBS documentary East Lake Meadows, directed by Sarah Burns and David McMahon and produced by famed documentarian Ken Burns, those former residents help trace the trajectory of East Lake Meadows with candor, revealing what made it such a special, and eventually, after years of negligence, such a horrible place to live.

Like the 2011 documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which centered on a St. Louis public housing project made famous in videos of its decline and subsequent implosion, East Lake Meadows uses the history of one development to explain the calcification of segregation in America and the damage that’s done when divisions are drawn between a “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. Along with former residents, the film features a who’s who of contemporary voices on American inequality, such as New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah Jones and historian/New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb. The feature film, which premiered on PBS this week and is available to stream online, also serves as a powerful call to action: The reason some public housing failed was not because it has to fail, but because there was a lack of will to make it succeed.

“We could do this better. We could provide decent housing to the people who need it most,” said Burns, who also co-directed the 2012 documentary The Central Park 5. “Ultimately that’s the message of the film: We could be doing this, we just have to decide we want to.”

CityLab spoke to Burns and McMahon by phone — their tour to promote the film was cancelled because of Covid-19 concerns, so the couple and their son were staying in with family in South Carolina.

The documentary used one distinct public housing development to tell such a sweeping story. Why did you choose to highlight East Lake Meadows?

Sarah Burns: We originally learned about East Lake because we’d been told about the new community there — the narrative that is out there about all the successes of the new community, and how much things have changed. But we immediately recognized that that was a really incomplete version of the story, and that in order to think about this place that’s there now, it was much more important to consider the place that was there before.

David McMahon: It felt like in this case that people who had a vested interest in the success of the place had been the ones who put the story out there. And it is an extraordinary success story in certain ways; as Ed Goetz says in the film, you could hardly believe you could remake a community to the extent that they did. But it was just a little digging and we discovered that it wasn’t [a success story] for the people who had been living there when it was East Lake Meadows.

Why Atlanta?

Burns: While Chicago has been the focus of much of the academic research and writing about public housing — certainly a theme is places like Cabrini Green — because of Atlanta’s history of being the first city that started building these federally funded housing projects in the ‘30s, and then being so aggressive beginning in the ‘90s with tearing it all down, it was actually a great place for telling these stories.

We felt like in some ways we could have chosen any housing project and that we would have had stories from residents that we would have been able to explore many of these same issues. When we were sharing the film with public housing residents in other cities, people have found that they recognize something in these stories — that they can relate to those experiences and feel in some way that it’s their story too.

How did you find so many former residents of East Lake Meadows?

McMahon: The tricky thing was that a lot of people did not come back: It was 20 years since the original housing had been bulldozed.

When they were in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade, in the late ’90s, they’d begun doing video diaries of the experience of watching their housing come down around them — their teacher had given them cameras and told them how to use them. The teacher eventually made the video diaries into a feature-length documentary which premiered at a local library.

We tracked the students down using a private investigator. It took months. Some of them gave us on-camera interviews, but they were there at the very end — they had 9- or 10-year-old’s perspectives. They weren’t going to be enough.

So we started, at the suggestion of our colleagues, a Facebook page. After a couple of days, something like 1,500 people had come to the page, all eager to share their memories: Many of them remained connected. In some cases [they left] in the late ’70s — after saving enough to buy a house; in other cases it was under, eviction or leaving with the sense that the housing was coming down and there was nothing left for them, in other cases it was a Section 8 voucher. We were trying to show there were a lot of outcomes over the years.

Burns: So many of the people we talked to said, “Are you going to talk about the good stuff, too?” Even the idea of that was really important to people. They recognized that the way their community had been portrayed, to the extent that it had been, was always with this focus on the “Little Vietnam” aspect of it — the crime, violence, the drugs, the problems. It was really important to so many of the people we talked to that that not be the only thing that was covered, because that had been very much their experience so far.

And people were not shy about telling us about that stuff too: They weren’t saying that that wasn’t the case. That there was crime and violence and it could be scary, especially for people who were parents there, the ways you try to protect your children. But that also there were also happy memories, and ways that people came together.

McMahon: Everyone talked in one form or another about how they were able to keep life moving there in the absence of services that other communities are provided or the businesses that we take for granted that grow around all of the communities that are not abandoned.

One of the most compelling figures was Eva Davis, a resident of East Lake Meadows and a fearless tenant leader who’s described by her granddaughter, Evette El-Amin, as a “fiesty young old lady.” She’s the one who, by the end, convinces many tenants that demolishing and rebuilding East Lake Meadows is the only realistic way forward. How did you find her story? Were there other examples across the country of these strong matriarchs who led movements in public housing?

McMahon: Eva Davis had died a year or two before we began production, and we found her family and her passing was very raw for everybody. It was not only the family. Everyone had something to say about Ms. Davis. She had impacted everybody’s life there. And certainly across Atlanta and I think well beyond, projects have tenants’ association leaders, they’re often women and they often have political clout. They often are dealing with problems as diverse as how do we get people to stop buying drugs on our corner to how do we get a toilet fixed in the third building in 3C. All day long she was advocating for these people.

Eva Davis at East Lake Meadows in September 1986. (Louie Favorite/ Atlanta Journal-Constitution/PBS)

[Before moving to East Lake Meadows, Davis] comes up from a rural area south of Atlanta and gets engaged in civil rights actions there and really cuts her teeth marching with the ministers in Atlanta at the height of the civil rights movement. She’s a perfect person to begin organizing the tenants; she could get 400 people out to vote if the city councilman who represented the district was there to support them. She was a bulldog, as one of her daughters says. Ms. Davis is totally unique. Yet a lot of these spaces have a “Ms. Davis,” and often it’s “Ms.”

The film outlines a forgotten origin story of public housing, which was first marketed and intended as a home for “respectable,” middle-class-presenting, low-income white people. In the 1930s, for example, Atlanta bulldozed an integrated neighborhood to build Techwood Homes, a public housing development that was made for white families only. Why is that history important, and what does it say about public housing?

McMahon: There’s an evolution across the years of who we think deserves public housing. When [the U.S.] began public housing, we had identified a class of people, white people largely, who had fallen from the middle class in the Great Depression and perhaps lost their housing. It was thought we could give them a step back to the middle class. In designing it, they had to do it in segregated terms. With the societal trends of white flight and white people leaving the city [in the 1950s and ‘60s], there was a loss of a tax base, a divestment, a lack of commitment to [public housing]. That really happened when it was exclusively black and brown people.

Burns: The reason why we need to cover that history was both to know how different it was in the beginning, and that different intent, but also to understand that we can do this well. The image you get of public housing in the media over the last decades is the one of the Cabrini Greens, the East Lake Meadows, the Pruitt-Igoes — these large public housing projects serving an extremely poor community, frequently one that is majority African American in population and that is challenged in many ways with crime and drugs. That’s what we see on the news and that’s the sense we walk away from of what public housing is. It comes to define the whole of public housing.

Over the years it’s been done in different ways. There have been times when we have funded it and taken care of it and provided solid buildings that actually provide decent housing. There was a time when this served a different purpose — that it served fairly well the people who lived in it, that it was safe and decent housing, and that it did help people as a sort of stepping stone. It was a different demographic that it was serving in that way.

To [New York Times Magazine reporter] Nikole Hannah Jones’ point: We could do this well. We have done this well. We’ve just never done it well for the most vulnerable, for the people who need it the most.

McMahon: I also don’t think we want to touch the entirety of public housing with this brush exclusively. There are 3,000 housing authorities across the country and some of them succeed beautifully. I think that that gets to how do we do this well going forward: that perhaps there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

But it does seem to be a universal thing that if you decide to start tearing down the public housing, we know now to put the people who were living there at that time in the foreground, and make sure they’re engaged in the solution in a neighborhood that’s not serving its residents very well.

Atlanta was doing something radical in the mid-’90s: They had a dramatic plan to tear down all of this housing. I think it’s a cautionary tale.

Powered by WPeMatico

The Empty Baseball Stadiums of Opening Day

The melancholy spectacle of public spaces minus the public has become — along with the bare supermarket shelf and the mask-wearing pedestrian — one of the defining visual calling cards of the coronavirus crisis. To this gallery of empty plazas and lonely streets and deserted landmarks, we can now add photos of the 15 empty Major League Baseball ballparks that would have hosted games on March 26, Opening Day in North America.

In Queens, New York, not far from a public hospital overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients, the scene outside the Mets’ Citi Field looked like this on Thursday.

Citi Field in Queens, New York. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Here’s Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field, where the White Sox were scheduled to play the Kansas City Royals.

Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Baltimore, where I live, had some crisp but glorious Opening Day weather for Opening Day; the Eutaw Street concourse at Camden Yards would have been hazy with barbecue smoke and thronged with O’s fans lining up for pit beef sandwiches.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Baseball fans put a brave face on this stark absence, and the hashtag #OpeningDayAtHome was trending all day. But there’s no getting around the end-times vibe that accompanies the extinguishing of yet another totem of American normalcy, especially on a day in which the United States officially passed China to become the global epicenter of Covid-19.

Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

For many U.S. cities, amenity-packed new baseball stadiums are showpieces of local economic vigor and symbols of downtown resurgence. Emptying these civic stages offers a vivid illustration of the pandemic’s ability to disrupt the workings of urban life, and drain the pleasures from it.

Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. (Harry How/Getty Images)

But there is another, more hopeful way of seeing sights such as Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium (above), sitting serenely unpeopled beneath a strangely smogless Southern California sky. As the New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman recently noted, the people that aren’t in these photos are doing the right thing: “Their present emptiness, a public health necessity, can conjure up dystopia, not progress, but, promisingly, it also suggests that, by heeding the experts and staying apart, we have not yet lost the capacity to come together for the common good.”

“Going to the World Series,” a sculpture by Harry Weber, stands in front of Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers will delay the March 31, 2020 debut opening of Globe Life Field, the club’s new park. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

On March 12, MLB announced that the 2020 season will be delayed at least two weeks. Like some other deadlines that have been floated recently, that is looking improbably optimistic. No further dates have been announced.

Powered by WPeMatico

Practicing Trust and Vulnerability in Partnership: What We’ve Learned from Race Forward

Living Cities is laying the foundations for a new network, Closing the Gaps Network, which will engage city governments in the long-term work of closing racial income and wealth gaps. As we co-design the network with our partners and stakeholders, we will be uplifting stories of how our values and approach to partnership, program design, and racial equity work have evolved. Through these stories, we hope our readers will get a peek into what the Network will look and feel like when we launch in 2021, and gain insights into what we’ve learned in our racial equity work to help inform your own work. Please find more context and information about how you can engage in our co-design process in this blog post.

As Living Cities deepened its internal racial equity work in recent years, we set out to intentionally build partnerships with philanthropic and public sector support organizations that were also working towards racial equity. Within these partnerships, we have focused on creating a different way to engage with each other, where we can practice trust, vulnerability, and our racial equity values, but we have had missteps. This post, which includes an interview with one of our partners who has been impacted by our missteps, is an attempt to get honest about what we could have done differently and share our lessons in the hopes that they can help others engage in more intentional partnerships for racial equity.

The Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE), a joint project of Race Forward and the Othering and Belonging Institute, has been a long-time partner of Living Cities, and we have seen our partnership grow as we embarked on our racial equity journey. In 2015, we worked closely with GARE to support five cities through Racial Equity Here.

A few years later, as the Racial Equity Here program was winding down, our partnership with GARE was approaching a transition point. During this time Living Cities did not communicate the evolution of our thinking about what should come after Racial Equity Here, leaving our partners feeling blindsided.

Once Living Cities recognized its missteps, thanks to GARE leaders’ willingness to be honest with us, we knew we had to rebuild trust and repair our relationship. We redirected the focus of our conversations to set values and operating principles for our partnership. We agreed that our shared values are: honesty and candor, engage early and often, drive towards co-design, value of the highest impact, leverage our different positions with intentionality, going for depth, and value mutuality. The operating principles that we agreed upon are:

  • Establish clarity on what we each bring to the relationship and what we would like to get out of it.
  • Develop shared goals, work plans and roles.
  • Determine clear decision-making processes and accountability structures.
  • Express appreciation of each other’s expertise and attribute work appropriately.
  • Recognize it takes time to build a solid partnership – at the pace of trust. Building a healthy synergistic relationship will require time, even while the urgency of our work causes us to feel pressed for time.

To check in on how this accountability process has been playing out for both organizations, we recently interviewed Julie Nelson, Founding Director of GARE and Senior Vice President of Programs at Race Forward, who was part of the Racial Equity Here work and is currently contributing to the co-design process for Living Cities’ new Closing the Gaps Network.

Can you talk about the journey of being in partnership with Living Cities?
The use of the word partnership – a lot of people use it without putting a lot of thought into it. The thing that’s tricky around partnership is when you have differential power, as is the case with our relationship with Living Cities. In 2016 when Living Cities was thinking about Racial Equity Here, you were thinking about it and working with funders. After I left the City of Seattle, and was going around to meet with organizations who might be interested in housing something like GARE, we actually went to speak with Ben [Living Cities’ CEO], and at the time it was clear Living Cities was not prioritizing racial equity. When Living Cities decided to create Racial Equity Here, and were talking to funders, GARE got calls from funders even before getting a call from Living Cities. To me, that was a challenging way to initiate a partnership.

What makes a partnership, a partnership? How have you seen this shift?
What makes a good partnership is having a shared vision, clear roles, and understanding power differentials. When thinking about co-design, it is hard to do when you have multiple organizations at the table and we’re working on an idea that came from a single organization. I have seen relational culture has shifted a bit at Living Cities, where the spirit of partnership is more embedded in how we work together. Some questions that remain: how do you actually co-design when organizations have different power and you’re trying to do it in a true partnership? With the commitment to learning and growing together, I have been struck by some of the things Living Cities has been doing and experimenting with (like engaging others in design and using poetry to frame conversations in meetings). I have appreciated your willingness to try new things and push yourselves, and in doing that you’ve had an impact on other organizations, including GARE.

What does it actually feel like to move to relational culture and transformative relationships? How are they different from transactional relationships?
Thinking about organizational culture shift, sometimes where we fail is that it can be seductive to talk about how bad things are. It is easy to be a critic; we have to push ourselves to embody the changes we envision. It is really hard to find stories of organizations that are actually creating transformative relationships and moving towards relational culture – we need to be specific on what that means. Organizations will think about it from a values perspective that most of the time just become words on paper – we have to be able to operationalize those values in really clear behavioral terms and build in mechanisms for accountability.

How do you see your work with governments shifting?
Within GARE, we often talk about breadth and depth, both as a membership network and within jurisdictions; we need more jurisdictions working on racial equity and we need jurisdictions that are going deeper. GARE membership has been doubling in size just about every year. As we grow in numbers, there is increased pressure for those at the forefront to dig deeper, to go further, to shift power, to have real impacts. I am struck by the number of jurisdictions with whom GARE has been doing deep dives. They are able to do what it took Seattle a decade to do in a quarter of the time. That is about building a field of shared practice and growing a movement for racial equity. This, however, puts pressure on the Seattles of the world. We need those at the forefront to keep making progress. When you look for an actual power shift, institutions can sometimes come out to maintain power. It’s so important that we figure out how to support those jurisdictions that are at the forefront so they can keep making progress. I also worry a bit about how racial equity can become a buzzword. The good news is that when jurisdictions use racial equity commitments, it provides a mechanism for community to hold them accountable.

How do you practice radical reimagination in your work and in partnership?
In order to have radical reimagination, it’s essential that we move beyond scarcity. But scarcity is such a dominant frame. The other thing that’s critical is finding common ground – because of scarcity, a lot of people tend to think that the conversations are polarizing. For us to actually get to the world we’re radically imagining, we have to be able to find common ground, and approach our work from a base-building perspective with expansive organizing as our focus. How can you engage people who are beyond the typical circles of influence so you’re finding common ground with more people to actually create change?

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Powered by WPeMatico