Housing is Advocacy with Graeme Joeck

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ISAAC HANEY-OWENS: Hello. This is Isaac Haney-Owens, and you’re listening to the Leaders for Inclusive Community podcast hosted by The Kelsey, covering topics related to housing and disability. Welcome. Thanks for listening. Each episode, I’ll meet with different community leaders to learn about what they do and ask them questions about how their work can make housing and communities more inclusive for people with disabilities. [bright theme music plays]

GRAEME JOECK: When we think about the need to advocate, we need to run through our advocacy programs or advocacy strategies to create more housing opportunities, more fair housing, more just housing, more housing, period. We definitely are thinking about people. We need people-centered strategies, solutions, processes, if we’re gonna do housing better in California.

ISAAC: Today, interviewing Graeme Joeck, the advocacy strategist at the Chan Zuckerberg initiative. The topic today is housing is advocacy. [theme music fades out]

So, it’s my pleasure to interview you, and I’m glad to get to know what the work you do.

GRAEME: It’s my pleasure to be here, Isaac. Thanks for having me.

ISAAC: Yeah. What do you do?

GRAEME: Well, currently, I work as an advocacy strategist on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Housing Affordability Team. But I think of myself as a practitioner within the broad sector of politics, social movements, and social change.

ISAAC: What is the Chan Zuckerberg initiative?

GRAEME: The Chan Zuckerberg initiative, or CZI, is relatively a new—we’re about to turn five years old, actually—philanthropic entity. We are primarily a grant-making institution that works really at the intersection of technology, philanthropy, and advocacy to deliver change across a set of issues. We work really in three primary areas, Science, Education, and what we call Justice & Opportunity, to do a combination of sort of problem solving and bringing solutions together to try to help crack open the potential for new approaches to hard problems that manifests across our society.

ISAAC: What does advocacy mean to you?

GRAEME: Well, advocacy means a lot of things. It’s one of those things that I think can be both art and science. To me, advocacy is about centering individuals and communities in a process by which you ask for change. Sometimes you ask for change; sometimes you demand change. But advocacy means organized people, organized resources. It means building power in individuals and across individuals to make big changes—shift systems, elect people, pass new policies, enforce existing ones—to try to create the type of society that we wanna live in, that treats people well and creates fairness.

ISAAC: It also means building people power.

GRAEME: Absolutely.

ISAAC: Because without the people, change is not made.

GRAEME: I couldn’t agree with you more. Yeah, I think that people power is really a central ingredient to the way that we define advocacy on CZI’s Housing Team, where I work. We see that housing is oftentimes seen as a complex public policy issue that sits at the intersection of a lot of different disciplines. But at the end of the day, housing is an issue that is about where humans, where people, get to call home. It’s more than just shelter. It’s family, it’s friends, it’s community, it’s safety. And so, when we think about the need to advocate, we need to run through our advocacy programs or advocacy strategies to create more housing opportunities, more fair housing, more just housing, more housing, period, we definitely are thinking about people. We need people-centered strategies, solutions, processes if we’re gonna do housing better in California.

ISAAC: How does the Chan Zuckerberg initiative do housing advocacy?

GRAEME: Ooh, a few different ways. CZI’s Housing Affordability Team believes deeply in advocacy as a method by which we want to help address the housing crisis in California. When we think about housing advocacy, we think about policy changes. We know that a lot of housing is affected directly by the policies that are on the books, enforced or yet to be passed, by both cities, counties, regions, and the state of California. So, we use our resources to support organizations who call for policy changes, policy reforms. So, we definitely seek policy reform as a component of our advocacy. We also believe that advocacy looks like narratives, communications, and the types of stories that we learn about, we hear, we use ourselves. So, when we think about narrative as a tool for advocacy, we think about how research helps uplift different truths, different stories around housing. And we seek to support new narratives and narrative strategies to help sort of document and push out to voters, to community members stories about housing.

And we also think about community organizing, grassroots organizing, as a central strategy for advocacy. We think that individuals network together who can take action together, whether that’s in narrative change, in policy change, that’s a method by which we center our advocacy strategies. So, we look towards a lot of community organizing approaches and methods as one of our primary ways in which we support housing advocacy.

ISAAC: How does the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative navigate the state housing laws and the local housing laws?

GRAEME: Oh, well, along with lots of other housing advocates in the state of California, we do that with a lotta complexity. There are a lot of housing laws that connect cities and counties and the state. So, we look to organizations much like The Kelsey to help inform us about which laws are helpful, which ones are hurtful to populations in California. We look to organizations like universities and research organizations to help inform us about the impact and effects of housing laws so that we can be as aware as possible about how current housing policies are having an impact on everyone who’s in our communities and in our state.

There’s a few things that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Housing Team believes to be true about housing and housing policy and the history of housing. One is that we have historically segregated, marginalized, and restricted a lot of individuals and communities from having an equitable housing experience. So, we see the current state of housing in California and in the country as inequitable. The process of redlining in our country is a history of institutionalized racism. There are many other mechanisms by which we have removed non-white communities, the disabled community, the LGBT community from having agency and authority to make their own decision about where they live and the conditions under which they live. So, the CZI Housing Team looks at equity as a critical component for how we evaluate what to advocate for.

We believe that housing should be a solution that brings everybody into healthy, stable, fair housing. So, we use our resources to unequally invest in the communities that have been historically marginalized in housing. We also believe that housing needs to be produced in California across all income levels, but with a specific eye towards an increase of affordable housing. We have a lack of housing, particularly for low-income and the middle class in the Bay Area and across the state of California. So, we look towards housing policies that can help increase the amount of funding for affordable housing and help us produce more housing across the state.

And third, we believe strongly that it’s time to innovate in housing and housing policy and in the way in which housing is produced. We’ve built a lotta housing the same way for a long time, and we’re looking for more solutions that center innovation in where housing is built and how it’s built and who’s involved in the decision making around where that housing is and how it’s produced. So, we’re looking at innovative models such as community land trusts, accessory dwelling units to increase the density of housing, but to do so with an eye towards equity and community-based advocacy approaches to that housing.

ISAAC: And also there needs to be a change in the mindset of the way people view affordable housing and think of it is, so that people will be more accepting of it in their communities so more people can have a place to live who are low income.

GRAEME: I completely agree. I really like the neighborhood that I live in right now in San Francisco. When I walk through my neighborhood, I see housing that the city makes available to people from different backgrounds. It increases the amount of different types of people I see on my street corner. I see people of different ages. I see people of different races and ethnicities. I have conversations with people who use wheelchairs and people who are running down the street after yoga class. And I really value the diversity of my neighborhood. I think it’s one of the primary reasons I live where I live. And I think you’re completely right, Isaac, that the way that the narratives that people have, the mindsets that they have around what affordable housing is or what type of inclusive housing is available in their neighborhood might need to shift for people to be a little bit more welcoming to all of our neighbors in California.

ISAAC: What is the best way to advocate for affordable housing?

GRAEME: I think one of the best ways to advocate for housing in general and affordable housing is for residents of affordable housing, community members to use their voices and take action themselves. Those individuals who are passionate about or relying upon affordable housing to go speak to members of their local and state government, to share stories, tell their own personal stories about why housing matters to them, why inclusive, diverse, and affordable housing is a benefit to their community. The more individuals who take collective action directed towards both elected officials as well as the media and people who help share and establish narratives around housing, the better. So, we’ve all gotta take action, which I don’t think most Californians are shy of doing. And the way that we’ve seen our country the last few years, I think more and more Americans know exactly what it looks like when we take action as individuals, when we band together. So, it’s time to keep our protest shoes on and near the door ‘cause we gotta take action as Californians in favor of affordable housing.

ISAAC: And we also gotta make change in that area and change the way it’s been done, way that affordable housing has done for many years. We need to change the system that’s broken and that’s not helping the affordable housing and helping California reach its goal of a certain amount of affordable housing each year.

GRAEME: Absolutely. I agree. I think that accountability is a mechanism that we need to get even more comfortable with when it comes to housing and homelessness. I think we have more and more agreement as Californians, if you look at polling, that indicates we all think that addressing housing and homelessness is a top issue. But what we don’t see is a lot of people asking for accountability to that value of our local and statewide representatives. It’s not OK for our City Councils, our regional Boards of Supervisors, our state legislature in Sacramento to not act, not act decisively on housing and homelessness. We no longer can sort of voice our opinions that we believe everyone deserves a safe, healthy place to live, that we need to produce more housing, we’re gonna make housing more equitable, and watch our local governments and our state government not take action on it every time they come together.

Just right now, in the early winter of 2020, we see more vulnerable populations, given the COVID-19 pandemic, face unstable housing or evictions based on some inaction by both our federal government and our state government this year. We’re on another precipice where people may not have shelter. And thanks to programs that’ve allowed for temporary shelters in hotels across our state, we have seen an increase in some individuals being housed. But we’ve seen a number of local smaller cities begin to say, I’m not a fan of using hotels or motels for longer-term housing solutions. We as individuals who care about housing, who care about equity, we need to use our voices to hold local and state elected officials accountable and say, “We must keep people housed. We must prevent evictions. We must say yes to new types of housing in every single neighborhood in our areas. And if you’re an elected official who’s not bringing solutions and committing to solutions that keep people housed and produce more housing, then now is not your time to be in government. We need somebody else who’s gonna step in and deliver solutions.”

ISAAC: And also, we need to hold our elected officials accountable at the state level and at the local level and make sure what they say about, when they speak about housing, make sure that they keep to their word and not just say what we as their constituents wanna hear. They need to do, they need to put action. ‘Cause it’s just not all about talking. It’s about action too.

GRAEME: Here, here.

ISAAC: It’s easy to talk about it, but it’s harder to, it’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s much harder to actually put work into solving the situation.

GRAEME: I agree. And I think that we’re ready for hard work. And I hope our leaders are ready for hard work, too.

ISAAC: And it’s long overdue for this change that needs to happen now and not just be put off till later on. Because if it’s put off till later on, the problem’s just gonna get worse to the point where it’s gonna take a lot longer to fix it.

GRAEME: I think that’s a good point, Isaac. I think that in 2020, we’ve seen a lotta scary things happen. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic fallout from it, has really given a lotta people reason to be nervous and anxious. But we’ve also seen our elected officials, we’ve seen our government, rush to take action and reprioritize certain policies, programs, and funding to meet the needs of its citizens. We can always do more, but I’d like to think that these scary times have helped clarify some priorities. And I think it has shown some of us that when we must act, we can, and there’s more that’s possible than we think is possible at times. So, let’s get in the, let’s stay in the solutions business. Let’s keep working and keep asking more of our elected officials to deliver for people when it comes to housing.

ISAAC: And elected officials should feel that they should act this way all the time, not just during the scary situations. That shouldn’t be a reason for them to step up and represent. They should be doing that all the time.

GRAEME: Absolutely.

ISAAC: Because they’re representing us, and we need them to think about us and not just think about what’s in their best interests.

GRAEME: Absolutely. And while the pandemic may have forced some focus by our elected officials, we’ve also seen in California and in the Bay Area, both of our shared hometowns of Alameda County, you and me, Isaac, we’ve seen people take action and pressure and ask for change from elected officials, and we’ve seen people act. We’ve seen the impact that collective action can have on politicians’ appetite for action. Even before COVID-19, up in Sacramento, we saw thousands of Californians take action to say that renters must be protected, that we must see new actions by Governor Newsom to embrace tenant protections. [coughs] Excuse me. And thousands and thousands of people used their voices in 2019, and we wound up with new renter protections passed in the state legislature that benefits millions of Californians.

ISAAC: What is the difference between legislative and regulatory advocacy?

GRAEME: On CZI’s Housing Team, we use a lot of different types of levers of advocacy, if you will. We think that when you call for housing reform, we can enact that in a few different ways, one of which is legislative advocacy. It’s asking for policies to be written, heard, and passed by legislative bodies. So, that’s definitely the legislature in Sacramento, the state Assembly, and the state Senate. We think that the most good at the largest scale for our state can be done in Sacramento. So, we look to legislative advocacy up there at the state Capitol as a mechanism by which we think we should see more policies passed and then enacted. Of course, policies can be considered and enacted at the local level, too. So, we support advocacy that takes place in Northern California, in the Central Valley, in Southern California, legislative actions by City Councils and county governments.

Regulatory advocacy: we believe that some action can really be taken directly by leaders—mayors, the governor—who can actually use rulemaking to advance policies that will help make it easier to build more inclusive housing, to dedicate more finances directly towards affordable housing and housing production. So, we can use, we believe that we can use our voices and that organizations who advocate for housing can use their voices to call directly on leaders such as the governor, such as mayors, to take direct action, administrative action, regulatory actions without having to wait for a legislative process.

ISAAC: Because it can’t just be the governor saying what he thinks should take place, and then the local leaders not doing their job to make sure that the actions be taken on a local level.

GRAEME: Right. One of the things that makes housing policy challenging is how connected it needs to be across cities in a region that rely on each other for services, across the state. And certainly a state as big as California, that gets hard quickly. So, when we look towards regulatory and administrative actions to improve housing, we know that that’s hard work. But that’s why we support networks, bodies that really center collaboration dialogue across jurisdictions. One example of that is the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, an organization in the Bay Area that connects cities and various housing stakeholders and advocates. There’s other processes in place in Southern California that help connect elected officials to advocates, to industry actors to make sure that we’re actually coordinating, collaborating across jurisdictions.

ISAAC: What are the elements of effective storytelling when you advocate?

GRAEME: I think that personal storytelling is one of, if not the most, effective tool of advocacy. I’ve learned about personal storytelling from some really, really powerful people in my career as an organizer and as an advocate. When I was lucky enough to work at Planned Parenthood, we learned about personal storytelling from a really, really powerful social movement leader named Marshall Ganz, who taught everybody to reflect on their story of personal narrative, that your own story, your own journey, your story of self, what brings you into the moment that you share with the others who are hearing your story is an incredibly, incredibly powerful way to center others in your story, into the present moment of the fight that you find yourself in, and then call others to action. So, making sure to share what’s personal to you, what’s happened in your lifetime that has called you to action, what’s currently true in present day that binds us all together in a current story of us, and where do we go from here collectively? What are the actions? What is the call to action that you have for the people that hear your story? I think those are the compelling components that help drive a personal narrative in a powerful way that can create meaningful action.

ISAAC: What are the venues and platforms where it is important to share housing advocacy stories?

GRAEME: Sharing your story is such a powerful tool for advocacy in all venues. I think not only having a powerful story of self—your own identity, what brought you into the fight—as well as a grounding story of us—why other people should care—as well as a call to action is the essential ingredients of a strong personal narrative. But really, any venue that you can find. These days, authenticity, being yourself, being the best Isaac, the best Graeme that you can be telling a story about who you are, why you’re fired up, that story can be on social media. If you are really good at tweeting, put it up there. If you are an aspiring or already an established public speaker, go to a City Council meeting and hey, in 2020, a lot of us were stuck at home ‘cause this pandemic. So, we can get on Zoom and offer testimony at City Council meetings, in front of the state legislature all from our living room via the Internet. So, there is lots of venues to share your story from. I don’t think that there’s a wrong one. I think the best way is to get active. Take action with organizations like The Kelsey, with other housing advocacy organizations in your local area, and they’ll help guide you, find a venue where your story is gonna matter.

ISAAC: How can someone get involved in housing advocacy?

GRAEME: Oh, there is so much room to get involved in housing advocacy in California! There are a lot of great community-based organizations who are all taking action to uplift voices of community members, of impacted people, residents of affordable housing in meaningful ways. So, there are terrific networks to join. If you’re currently a resident of affordable housing in California, get involved in any type of resident network. There are great networks that are coordinated by advocacy organizations. Housing California is a terrific statewide network that organizes the Residents United Network, RUN, and helps bring people online or in person to take action. Of course, The Kelsey is a great organization that’s helping to mobilize and advocate for housing reform. But just get online and search for organizations that center housing as one of their calls to action. Intersectional organizations that work across issues, advocates for affordable housing development in Southern California and Northern California, they’re all getting people plugged in to take action.

ISAAC: And also go to your local City Council meetings so that you can get information about what’s going on in your community when it comes to housing and voice your opinion during the public comments section.

GRAEME: Absolutely.

ISAAC: So, that way, you can give your, that way, they’ll know what’s affecting the community.

GRAEME: Yeah! Get comfortable making trouble, right? John Lewis said there is good trouble [chuckles] out there. So, whoever your activist role model is, from Cecile Richards to John Lewis to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris—

ISAAC: To Martin Luther King too.

GRAEME: To Martin Luther King.

ISAAC: Yeah.

GRAEME: Get comfortable taking action. And it looks like a lot of different ways. But get to know the organizations that organize people. Bring a friend, bring a family member. Again that could be online or hopefully in person again sometime soon. But get out there. Get our protest shoes on, go to those City Council meetings, share your story in all the venues and all of the ways that the organizations you believe in ask you to do.

ISAAC: And the first step is to figure out what you wanna advocate for and then figure out where you can go to get the help and support.

GRAEME: Mmhmm.

ISAAC: And then find other people that care about the same issue as you, so you can form a group and then go advocate where it’s best to advocate so you can get your point across to the people that can make the change that you wanna see in your community.

GRAEME: Absolutely, and there’s no time like the present. California is working on housing now at every level, that’s for sure. So, we are organized as a sector, and it’s time to get in formation. Let’s get out there. We got—

ISAAC: And it’s time to keep on going and never give up the fight ‘cause housing is always gonna be something that’s always gonna be an issue with California. [theme music very slowly fades back in] So, we need to continue advocating and continue advocating for the type of housing you wanna see. Because if you don’t continue advocating, then you’re just losing, you’re gonna end up losing the fight. And you don’t wanna give up on something that you’re really passionate about. Just like John Lewis didn’t give up on the fight for equality in America.

GRAEME: That’s right.

ISAAC: People should do the same too: not give up. Just like what our parents told us: never give up.

GRAEME: We got momentum. The time is now.

ISAAC: Thanks for listening. For more information on The Kelsey or to check out more of my podcast episodes, visit TheKelsey.org. If you have a topic you’d like me to explore or a person to interview, email me at Isaac@TheKelsey.org. Goodbye.