Opinion: An Urgent Call to Address the Housing Crisis in Black Communities

In Oakland, shown here, more than 60,000 Black residents left between 1990 and 2018. Photo by Diane Bentley Raymond/iStock.

With California’s $45.7 billion budget surplus, we have a historic and unprecedented opportunity to help right past wrongs and invest in Black communities and housing. We are calling on the region’s leaders and residents to support a historic $500 million Bay Area Regional Black Housing Fund. We also call on the legislature to include it in this year’s state budget.  

We envision a Bay Area with thriving, healthy and resilient Black communities, where all Black residents have a home. We want a region that rebuilds Black commercial districts destroyed by highway development, regains the Black homeownership losses from the racially targeted lending schemes that drove the Great Recession, and creates the affordable housing our region has failed to deliver over the last two decades. We envision neighborhoods that retain long-standing networks, with new homes and businesses that serve Black families of all ages, anchored by robust institutions. 

But Black communities face multiple systemic barriers that lead to massive displacement in the Bay Area. Black people have been disadvantaged in the state’s housing market for decades because of discrimination, including redlining, unequal access to wealth and good jobs, and other systemic problems. As a result, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley each lost between 40 and 50 percent of their Black residents between 1990 and 2018. In Oakland alone, more than 60,000 Black residents have left. East Palo Alto had a 66 percent decrease. This is a profound loss. 

This issue impacts Black communities throughout the state; no major California ethnic group is as over-represented in the state’s homeless count as Black people, and of the more than 150,000 Californians who experience homelessness on any given night, nearly 30 percent are Black.   

What is required — but lacking — is a coordinated response. A targeted solution is required for an issue rooted in racial injustice. The Bay Area Black Housing Advisory Task Force — a coalition of more than 40 groups with deep housing and community expertise — has a plan to make housing more accessible and affordable for Black families through the Bay Area Regional Black Housing Fund, championed by Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City). 

This investment will help repair the injustices that have shaped the housing experiences of Black people in the Bay Area and in California. It will also create new opportunities to expand housing for Black people in places where they have largely been — and are still — excluded. Increasing Black homeownership will benefit our entire region. The work we do to reduce the rent burden for Black people will provide a way forward for the Bay Area overall. 

We are urging policymakers in the Bay Area and Sacramento to get behind a real solution for addressing the housing crisis. A one-time state investment to launch the nine-county Bay Area Regional Black Housing Fund can provide the following: 

  • Financial support for initiatives such as down payment assistance for low- and moderate-income Black households, preserving Black housing and neighborhoods, pre-development resources for housing development by Black-led developers, and preserving cultural districts and anchor institutions. 
  • Community support for strengthening smaller, Black-led community groups so they can better serve the housing needs of Black residents and contribute to developing ideas and blueprints for future projects. 

The Bay Area is an important place for Black communities, who moved here to flee racial discrimination in the South. Black people have contributed greatly to the Bay Area’s culture, helping turn it into a place of acceptance and opportunity that has shaped the region’s experience for everyone.  

There is still a bright and affordable future here for the Bay Area’s remaining half a million-plus Black residents, and opportunities for those who have been forced out to return. We must rally to support the Bay Area Regional Black Housing Fund and get it included in the state budget this year. In doing so, we can show the path forward on this issue for the rest of the state. 

Fred Blackwell is CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, a community foundation committed to advancing racial equity and economic inclusion.

Melissa Jones is executive director of the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, and her work focuses on the intersection of social determinants of health, social inequity and well-being. 

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