Deepening Our Roots

Deepening Our Roots

The housing crisis in our communities is part of a deeper problem; we're working to address the systemic issues. 2008 to make recommendations.

The housing crisis in our communities is part of a deeper problem; we're working to address the systemic issues. From South Los Angeles to Oakland to Long Beach and beyond, California’s historically black neighborhoods are being hit hard by the housing crisis. In community organizations, churches, and family functions, we hear stories of how neighborhoods are being turned upside-down by displacement and gentrification. Unfortunately, the California dream is becoming a nightmare for a growing share of African Americans who are locked out of the abundant opportunities available in our state due to a lack of affordable housing options.At California YIMBY, we’ve been working hard to make sure that the people in Sacramento hear what we’ve been feeling in communities of color for decades: a disparity in housing opportunities for black and Latino families. We’re also working diligently to contribute to the solution with reforms at the local, regional, and state levels that could ensure housing equity isn’t just a catch-phrase for debate, but an actual principle and practice in how our communities grow. There’s no denying the depth of the crisis. In Los Angeles, we’ve learned that over 30% of people experiencing homelessness are African American - despite making up just 9% of the population. In Oakland, the black population has fallen from its high of 47% in 2000 to 31% today - a loss of 27,000 African Americans during that time. The reality hidden behind these numbers doesn’t just happen on its own. Inaction and, at times, intentional efforts to change the complexion of neighborhoods lead to these results. A history of racial redlining - the practice of legally prohibiting black families from living in certain neighborhoods - established long-standing patterns of neighborhood segregation that continue to this day. Indeed, Berkeley, California, home to a rich history of black activism, pioneered the practice of drawing lines around neighborhoods of single-family homes and saying “No Blacks Allowed.” From this historic and abhorrent practice, one can draw a straight line to the wealthy, exclusionary, single-family home neighborhoods scattered throughout California today. These neighborhoods have reaped the benefits of our state’s remarkably strong economy while shutting out people of color from access to those same opportunities. How have they done this? By banning apartment buildings, duplexes, fourplexes, and other types of “starter homes” that are affordable to the majority of middle and lower income Californians. It is literally illegal to build multi-family housing across large swaths of many California cities. In parts of Los Angeles, the small apartment building you live in today - built before the down-zoning trend of the 1970s - could not be rebuilt legally.California YIMBY (YIMBY stands for “yes in my back yard”) is engaged across our state in efforts to reform these outdated local rules that inhibit access to opportunity for all Californians. Our motto is “California is for Everyone,” because we believe there’s plenty of room in California for everyone to pursue their dreams - especially those of us who have been prevented from doing so by centuries of racist and exclusionary policies. Right now, our biggest push for reform is through Senate Bill 50, the More HOMES Act. The bill, which has the support of non-profit housing developers, unions, environmental groups, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (among many others), would essentially tear down the invisible walls built around many California cities and communities by creating more four-unit apartments affordable to workers like teachers and nurses across the state, while providing for larger apartments for families and lower-income workers next to our transit services and in areas with high concentrations of jobs. The More HOMES Act also has provisions that prohibit developers from evicting current tenants and demolishing buildings in order to build luxury developments, by creating the strongest renter protections ever offered by the state. It creates a mechanism for sensitive communities - neighborhoods at high risk of gentrification and displacement - to determine additional ways to increase affordable housing options, and gives them control over their futures through long-range planning. And it has the first-ever statewide requirements for below-market-rate affordable housing, set aside for those who earn low incomes. Last year, a group of prominent civil rights leaders and scholars praised similar legislation for its potential to reduce racial disparities in access to affordable housing in areas with the kinds of jobs, schools, services, and other amenities that we’re all worthy of enjoying. After all, we all paid for these amenities. We all deserve to enjoy them. That’s what we mean when we say California is for everyone - not just those with access privileges, but all of us who call the Golden State our home. Unfortunately, Senator Anthony Portantino, who represents a district known for being exclusionary, is trying to subvert the democratic process by denying a vote of the full State Senate on the legislation - a vote that is critical for the bill to continue through the process of being debated and improved by the legislature. Ironically, Senator Portantino’s solution for the housing crisis is to issue a vanity license plate that raises money -- not to create more housing, but to raise awareness about the housing crisis. No legislation is perfect. The legislative process, when it works well, is intended to lead to a result that can work for many. The More HOMES Act is the product of many organizations and community leaders across the state weighing in with their thoughts and ideas. It deserves a vote. Learn more about California YIMBY and the More HOMES Act at www.cayimby.org/generations and join us in this fight. We're working with entities to create jobs for people. We're not just working on the policy aspect of it, but [also] helping people where they are right now. Keep LA Fabulous.’ That’s been my theme...I want [2020] to be a call to action for LA to stay fabulous... I want us to build on the strengths of our city.” It was through her work at IBM that Willoughby first became involved with the business landscape of Southern California. And it was a desire to bring solutions to some of the problems within that landscape that led Willoughby to the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Today, as an eternal optimist, Willoughby feels good about the business and commerce indicators for Southern California. “The ports are busy. The economy is strong. Unemployment is low. The Olympic Games are coming in 2028. These are just some of the indicators that feed my optimism.” At the same time, she is not oblivious to the issues impacting the Chamber's members as well as Southern Californians at large. She has her finger on the pulse of matters like affordable housing, advocacy from a policy perspective, and homelessness. For over a decade that she has been with the Chamber, the Board has been tackling hard issues using several strategies, one of which is community collaborations, an essential pillar of the Chamber of Commerce. Partnering with organizations that have unique insight and specialized approaches has been instrumental in advancing many of the Chamber's objectives. As one who lives by the motto, “I can't solve a problem I don't know about,” and one who believes strongly in the power of outreach, Willoughby lit up like a Christmas tree when she spoke about why she loves her job at SoCalGas. “With the gas and energy sources our company supplies, we help people cook. We help people wash their clothes. Basic human needs are met as a result of what we do here. As an engineer, who knew I'd be in a position to make life better for millions of people in this way.” The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce is incredibly fortunate to have the strong and bold leadership of Denita Willoughby as our 2020 Board Chair. Throughout her career, she has shown immense leadership and a dedication for excellence that the Los Angeles region needs and deserves. This is truly an exciting time, and I'm looking forward to her partnership and support as we continue to chart the path to address some of our region's most complex problems and drive for a thriving region for all.” — Maria S. Salinas, President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce For as much as she loves her job and loves making a difference, Willoughby lets nothing stand in the way of making sure her family knows how important they are to her. Happily married for 25 years, she and her husband are the loving parents of two young adult sons. Having a balance that puts her family first is a practice she has never compromised on. When asked about being called a woman of influence and power, her response was, “I have a responsibility as a Black woman to live up to it and deliver.” Delivering for Denita Willoughby means staying true to the core values her parents instilled in her: education, hard work, and helping others. Delivering means remembering the examples of women throughout her journey who personified influence and power—starting with her own mom, whom she calls “A real dynamo.” In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, Willoughby acknowledges that she would not be where she is today without mentors who guided her, shared their resources, and believed in her. “Believing in someone else is so powerful,” she declares as she talks about why she enjoys supporting others in any way she can. “Ask for help” is something I tell people all the time. As for her vision and how she plans to help further shape California in 2020, she had this to say: “I love the diversity. I love the culture. I love the energy. I love the Hollywood Bowl. I love the beaches. I love the sun. It helps me be happy. California is where I met my husband. (And she smiles even harder.) So, I plan to 'Keep LA Fabulous.' That's been my theme: 'Keep LA Fabulous' by doing the things that move our city forward. I want [2020] to be a call to action for LA to stay fabulous. I want our kids educated. I want them to know the technology of artificial intelligence. I want us to include natural gas and not take away choice for energy customers. I want us to build on the strengths of our city.” Willoughby recently served as a guest lecturer at USC's Multi-Cultural Women Executive Leadership Program. On January 30, 2020, at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce 2020 Inaugural Dinner, under the banner of their theme, "Our Bold Vision: A Thriving Region For All," she will be installed as its new Board Chair. 

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