Expert panel explores how housing policies could be more fair to Sonoma County’s Black community
Historical and modern-day policies that have made it harder for Black residents to own homes in Sonoma County, their impact and the efforts to repair the harm done by those practices were at the center of a discussion by a Bay Area panel of experts convened earlier this week.
The virtual event, “The State of Black Housing in Sonoma County,” was hosted Monday evening by the Sonoma County chapter of the NAACP in partnership with the Sonoma County Black Forum.
It was held nearly two months after the release of the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County, a data-driven community well-being report that contained alarming findings about the quality of life of the region’s Black community.
According to the report, more than two-thirds of Black renters pay 30% or more of their income for housing, as compared to only about half of their white counterparts.
Also, the report found that the median value of a home owned by a Black person is roughly $498,000, about $100,000 less than a home owned by a white or Asian person.
Panel moderator Kirstyne Lange, an equity consultant and the first vice president of the local NAACP chapter, said she and other organizers convened Monday night’s panel to better understand the context behind the figures contained in the 2021 Portrait of Sonoma County report.
D’mitra Smith, another moderator and a former chairperson for the Commission on Human Rights, said the goal was to “establish a baseline” for understanding the historical and current housing conditions that exist for Black residents in Sonoma County.
“Tonight’s conversation is long overdue and builds on the work of those who have lived and struggled in Sonoma County before us,” Smith said.
Panelists included Nicole Montojo, a housing research analyst at the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
Her comments focused on a 2019 “Roots, Race & Place” report she helped write.
It examined the tactics used by homeowners associations and neighborhood groups; real estate agents and developers; as well as public agencies, governments and politicians to exclude Black people from certain communities in the Bay Area spanning from the 1800s to today.
“For us, in terms of how we get to housing justice, it has everything to do with history,” Montojo said.
Examples of those tactics included explicit acts of violence, such as the burning of a Sonoma County home owned by a Black family in the 1950s, Montojo said. Neighbors all agreed it was a deliberate act, she added.
There were also racial covenants, or restrictions in housing deeds that prevented homes from being sold to people of color beginning in the 1880s, and the practice by real estate agents who steered prospective homebuyers away from predominantly white neighborhoods, Montojo said.
“For people of color, their options were extremely limited,” she added.
Researchers found that more recent examples of such exclusionary practices included opposition to affordable housing developments that rely on discriminatory narratives about who may live in those homes, and the approval of zoning codes that only allow for the construction of single-family homes, Montojo said.
That type of zoning often makes way for the construction of expensive residences that — because of racial disparities in wealth — may be outside the financial reach of many Black families, the report found.
“It’s about hoarding wealth to the detriment of other communities,” Montojo said.
Evan White, the executive director of the California Policy Lab, a nonpartisan research institute that uses data to inform public policy, was also on the panel.
He spoke about a July 2020 report he helped write that analyzed data for the 425,000 individuals who used Sonoma County’s health, mental health, substance abuse, housing, criminal justice, and human services systems between the 2014 and 2018 fiscal years.
The report identified 6,600 people as being the highest users of services provided by Sonoma County.
Referred to as “high utilizers” in the report, the group made up only 1% of the population, but accounted for an average of 28% of behavioral health costs and used at least $27,000 in state and county government services each year, White said.
Members of this group, he said, were also three times more likely to identify as Black.
Black high utilizers had 20% more jail bookings, spent 12 more days in jail and were on probation for an additional two weeks each year as compared to the average for all high utilizers, the report found.
Overall, the report highlighted that there’s “a tremendous amount of exclusion” and disparity in Sonoma County, White said.
He credited Barbie Robinson, Sonoma County’s former health services director and one of two high-ranking Black officials to depart the county in the past year, as being an instrumental player in the creation of the report.
Monet Boyd, a staff planner for the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, was the third panelist.
She spoke about the initiative’s Black Housing Advisory Task Force, a group that is currently seeking support for a $500 million regional Black housing fund.
The fund would include contributions from the state and individual counties in the Bay Area and would invest in Black-led housing developments to increase housing availability for Black families, Boyd said.
It would also infuse money into Black-led organizations that deliver projects and services to the community and community planning efforts that help shape future projects in the Bay Area, she said.
The need for the fund comes as cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are seeing a mass exodus of Black residents in search of more affordable housing prices, opportunities for home ownership and better living conditions, Boyd said.
“This fund will change the material conditions for Black people in the Bay Area,” Boyd said.
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @nashellytweets.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat
Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.