Last month we ran our first campaign, to encourage the City of Oakland to include $5m in its budget over the next two years to fund anti-displacement and homelessness prevention services. While we didn’t win a total victory, I’m thrilled to report that the City has included $2.2m, up from its original commitment of $0, in its budget over the next year to support these services — including housing counseling and legal assistance for tenants at risk of eviction, emergency rental assistance, and legal help for low-income homeowners. All of these measures will help stop the bleeding from unprecedented displacement of low-income communities in Oakland while we wait for much-needed new housing to come on the market, and curb the rise in homelessness which every Oaklander recognizes is an increasingly urgent problem.
We won this victory by working in collaboration with a set of faith-based and grassroots organizations serving East and West Oakland called the Our Beloved Community Coalition. We’re proud to have played a small part in helping to protect vulnerable residents of Oakland and we’re equally energized by the new partnerships we developed through this work. As I attended meetings with elected officials and other members of the community I heard time and again that this was the first time folks had seen Tech show up as an ally in the fight for low-income communities. Our presence — through attending meetings with stakeholders, speaking at special sessions of the Oakland City Council, and through our members calling and writing council members — not only made a difference in winning this campaign, it helped build trust with communities who (rightly or wrongly) tend to see Tech as the cause of the problem they’re trying to solve.
Now that this first campaign is over, and before we begin work on more efforts on housing (more on that later this summer), I wanted to share some reflections on our experience in hopes we can build on these lessons over time.
First, and most important, showing up matters. Though I think it’s an unfair characterization, the tech community makes it easy for others to paint them as the cause of the current crisis by (mostly) not engaging on important local policy issues like housing. And when they do they don’t do so in collaboration with the groups working on the ground with the most vulnerable residents. I was welcomed with excitement and open arms by policymakers and community members at every meeting I attended and our presence at the table both changed the tone about the role of tech in the housing crisis and added a different perspective that hadn’t be reflected before. Being in the room, showing up at late night council meetings, and standing in solidarity with our partners helped develop sorely needed trust between tech and the rest of the community.
The fact that we haven’t shown up in the past is such a tragic and missed opportunity because, as I also learned, there is so much common ground between the tech community and those working in good faith to help low-income communities thrive. Most people working in tech want to be contributing to an economy that lifts all boats. The current scarcity of housing in the Bay Area creates the conditions where growth in our sector crowds out the most vulnerable before they have a chance to access the opportunities that growth creates. And tech workers, many of whom are young and relatively new to the region, are not immune to the pressures of the housing crunch themselves.
Both groups recognize that achieving a pro-growth agenda, which also prioritizes protections for the most vulnerable communities and takes into account the racial aspects of the crisis, is in all of our best interests. Building a strong coalition between these groups has the potential to break the stranglehold that special interests have had on housing policy in the region and the state. We have the opportunity to start building this coalition now, and we plan to play a leading role in doing so.
Last, for those in the tech community, whether you’re already a TechEquity member who believes in our mission or a skeptic unsure that raising your voice can make any difference, I want you to know that our point of view is powerful and it has the potential to help change the conversation. When I speak with policymakers and let them know that I represent hundreds of tech workers who want the region’s economy to work for everyone, their ears perk up. Our community has unrealized civic power, and unique leverage and perspective, that can contribute to progress. The more people the TechEquity Collaborative represents, the more influence we can have. So we encourage you to join now. If you’re already a member, consider getting more involved by joining our housing committee (email info at techequitycollaborative dot org to express your interest).
As I said, this is just the beginning for us. We’re working on creating a policy framework that will guide our work on housing over the next year+ and plan to have more to say about the campaigns we’ll be running — always in collaboration with and as allies to the groups on the ground closest to the pain — later in the summer.