update on housing at lwvc convention!

Two standout Workshops at the LWVC Convention Wednesday, June 9, were “Using the New Homelessness Action Policy and Toolkit” led by Teri Neustaedter of the Beach Cities League and the “LWVC Housing Position and How to Use It” led by Natalya Zernitskaya, president of the Santa Monica League. Anne Omsted of the North Coast San Diego League moderated and William Smith, VP of Programs of the Alameda League and LWVC legislative expert on Housing Issues, did tech duty at both workshops. Although videos of the events won’t be available on the LWVC website after June 30, the toolkit treasure troves of history, explainers and action examples assembled by the LWVC Taskforce on Homelessness will remain on the LWVC website under Issues.

Having managed a Breakfast Ministry for the Unhoused (new, unbiased terminology!) for 5 years, Teri Neustaedter spoke from first hand understanding of their plight involving racism (i.e. the average African American possessing 1/10 the wealth of the average white American), domestic violence, release of poorly prepared incarcerated from prison, exploitatively low wages, as well as the better publicized problems of drug addiction, mental illness and severe shortage of affordable housing. To respectfully work to help people, widely believed myths must be discarded – i.e. that unhoused like being homeless, are dangerous, lazy (many work but at very low paying jobs), are suffering the consequences of having made bad choices and can’t be poor because they own cell phones. Even counting the numbers of unhoused accurately has presented difficulties!

First hand understanding of the plight of renters also drove renter Natalya Zernitskaya to join efforts to empower the hitherto ignored 1969 statewide legislative mandate to provide affordable housing. This system, requiring meeting Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA) to keep up with population growth, was being ignored until 2000 by her hometown of Santa Monica, like many others, which continued to cater predominantly to single families able to buy homes unaffordable for Millennials. In addition to a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) lens on Housing, the situation called for devising ways by which Millennials and Boomers could have profitable dialogues for agreement on otherwise contentious topics. Some of the steps Millennials (Renters) took to promote their view of housing issues included 1) listen, don’t talk, 2) look for an “organic” opening or wedge through which conversation was likely to begin, 3) invite participation in a shared vision of the future, 4) use anecdotes, not data, to personalize the conversation, 5) don’t expect victory in every discussion, 6) ask open-ended questions. If negotiation for more affordable housing failed, some cities have fought back with penalties in the form of fines and fees, mandated compliance, suspension of local land use and court approval of housing developments.

Types of educational opportunities found successful by Natalya and others in furthering the acceptance of inclusionary or fair housing include panels, forums and webinars; film screenings (“The Advocate”, “A Tale of 2 Americans”); publications, “Yes in My LA”; action alerts and petitions at tablings and demonstrations and partnership building. The workshop ended with answers to questions reflecting various concerns: Multiplex housing will be sited everywhere – not just at certain types of transportation or opportunity hubs – if SB9 passes; RHNA is much higher today because so little housing has been built since 1969; land values will continue to increase, regardless of an increase in multi-family dwellings (Harvard Joint Center of Housing study); LWVC does NOT have a separate Legislative Committee on Housing; all bills are considered by a single Committee.

A final tip: Read a recent paper from researchers at UCLA called “Housing Localism”…a bonus for the richly rewarded 60 to 90 attendees of the Homelessness/Housing Workshops!

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