Bills addressing affordability are likely to benefit developers more than families.
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By Madalyn Barber, Special to CalMatters
Madalyn Barber is the operations specialist at Housing Is A Human Right, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a Black grandparent, homeowner and member of the Altadena Town Council. I grew up in a single-family home, and my husband and I have lived in our house in Altadena for more than two decades. Homeownership helped my family build wealth and provide stable, quality housing, and gave us our piece of the American Dream. But state and local politicians are threatening homeownership among the Black community by damaging single-family zoning laws.
During the Great Migration, Black Americans moved from the South to California for better jobs and a better life. From the start, we understood that homeownership was essential for our economic well-being and independence. Members of my extended family bought homes in Altadena, a few miles north of Pasadena. We have prospered ever since, and it’s why we can still live in California — we are not renters who must hand over 40% of our paychecks to landlords.
Our homes have been sanctuaries that people know they can always return to, and we plan to pass our homes to our children so they can build wealth. We also are very engaged in our community because we have a vested interest as homeowners. Our homes, in a real way, give us political power and a voice at the table.
But state and local elected officials in California–and across the United States– now seek to alter single-family zoning so that big developers can rush into middle- and working-class communities of color, demolish single-family homes and build pricey, market-rate apartments in their place. That dangerous agenda is playing out in California through Senate bills 9 and 10, which would gut single-family zoning and open the door for predatory developers — many of whom are regular campaign contributors to state and local politicians.
Elected officials say that more housing needs to be built to address the housing affordability crisis, but their harmful agenda is based on failed trickle-down policy. They want to build expensive, market-rate apartments, contending that rent prices will eventually drop. It’s ludicrous.
First, middle- and working-class residents, especially people of color, are getting hit the hardest by the housing crisis. They need more quality, affordable housing, not luxury apartments they can’t afford. Second, there’s no guarantee that rents will decrease over time. Third, developers build where land is cheapest — which usually is in working-class communities. When they construct market-rate apartments, rents rise in the entire neighborhood, triggering gentrification and the displacement of longtime, lower-income residents.
Perhaps worst of all, the effect of politicians’ trickle-down housing agenda could turn people of color into permanent renters. That would strip us of our ability to build wealth through homeownership, and create a massive transfer of wealth that benefits the corporate landlords and real estate companies who will own the new apartments — and likely charge sky-high rents.
Harvard University researchers found that homeownership is crucial for building wealth and financial security for low-income residents and communities of color. Politicians must always consider the economic, cultural and political effects of land-use policy on these communities, and they should help more people of color enter into homeownership — not take it away. If not, they will be actively helping to worsen already troubling economic disparities, and they will rob our families of the ability to build intergenerational wealth.
SB 9 and SB 10 must be defeated. Politicians must stop pushing trickle-down policy and work to increase the production of affordable housing first and foremost, pass stronger tenant protections, and help more people of color enter into homeownership.