Housing is Social Justice with Dolores Tejada

Read the Transcript

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. [upbeat theme music]

DOLORES TEJADA: Social justice means people working towards creating the world that we want to see. It means building people power. It means disability justice. It means housing justice. It means racial justice. It means equity all across the board.

ISAAC: Today, we’re interviewing Dolores Tejada, the Lead Organizer at East Bay Housing Organizations. The topic today is focused on housing as justice. [music fades out]

So, it’s nice to meet you and nice enough for you to let me have a chance to interview you.

DOLORES: Yeah, it’s great to meet you as well! Thanks for asking me to do this.

ISAAC: Yeah. And then the first question is, what do you do?

DOLORES: So, I am the Lead Organizer for East Bay Housing Organizations, and we call it EBHO for short, E-B-H-O. And we’re a membership organization. And that means that people, organizations, groups who care about affordable housing invest in us by becoming members. And then we listen to our membership when we decide what work we wanna focus on. So, East Bay Housing Organizations specifically, our issue is affordable housing and also making sure that we— There’s three aspects of it. We promote affordable housing, we wanna see more production of affordable housing, and we wanna see protecting affordable housing. So, the affordable housing that exists now, we wanna make sure that it stays affordable.

So, I work with our members. I’m the Lead Organizer. And what I do as the Lead Organizer is I work with the people who are residents of affordable housing so that they can engage in our organization, and also in our communities to talk about why affordable housing is important and to advocate for more affordable housing, not only locally, but across the state.

ISAAC: So, how do you make sure that you’re listening to your members at the same time meeting the goals of the organization?

DOLORES: That’s a great question! So, our goals come from a couple different ways. It comes from issues that members bring up that they see happening in the community, and also us following what is happening as well. So, if there’s a City Council, maybe Oakland City Council is putting a proposal together to talk about affordable housing, then we will look at that and say, is this what we want it to look like? We get input from our members through the various meetings that we have. So, we have seven different committees, we also have a Board of Directors, and then we have staff. So, all of us get to give some input, and we decide what direction we wanna move in. A lot of the input comes from our meeting.

ISAAC: What is social justice? 

DOLORES: For me, social justice means people working towards creating the world that we want to see. It means building people power. It means disability justice. It means housing justice. It means racial justice. It means equity all across the board. So, social justice, for me, is about the social, right? It’s the social aspect: people working together for a just world.

ISAAC: What is intersectionality?

DOLORES: Yeah. So, intersectionality, I mean, I take it to mean exactly what Kimberlé Crenshaw means it. Which is when there’s layers or crossings of different types of identities that we hold as people, different lived experiences that we hold as complicated human beings, all being recognized and held together. So, intersectionality means honoring people as their whole human selves and honoring ourselves as our whole human selves, not leaving a part of ourselves at the door. Bringing our full selves to any table or to any space we’re in.

ISAAC: And who is Kimberlé Crenshaw?

DOLORES: Kimberlé Crenshaw is a woman who, in the ‘90s, came up with the term “intersectionality.” 

ISAAC: What is people power?

DOLORES: It means that we are building relationships with each other. It means that we find where our strengths are in, not just similarities, but in differences and in a shared perspective of what we wanna see the goal be, using our individual collective power in a shared way to achieve a common goal.

ISAAC: How can social justice impact housing?

DOLORES: I’m in affordable housing, right? So, it’s different than just any type of housing. We have a lot of different types of housing. So, affordable housing, one of the things that affordable housing means is subsidized housing, so providing housing for people in communities who are working-class families, who are people with disabilities, who are people from communities who normally, because of the way that society is right now, don’t have access to a lot of money to be able to pay for housing. It’s trying to get everybody housed. So, the affordable housing industry is about, right now, part of it looks like non-profits being able to build affordable housing, using money from the government, using loans, and then providing housing at a cheaper, like at a discount for families and for communities and individuals. So, there is a social justice aspect missing to that, because in my opinion, it’s very much the same thing as like, it’s a non-profit model, right? It’s the perception that people need help and that we have to save people. So, we see that in disability communities as well, right, instead of the self-advocacy model.

And so, the self-advocacy model would mean like, yeah, sure, these non-profits are providing housing, but how do we continue to empower people in our communities to be able to fight for what they want to have: full, complete lives. And to not see them as charity, but to see them as just another aspect of our community and that it is our duty to make sure that people are housed. So, social justice and that perspective can come in handy more in the affordable housing industry because we need to be empowering our people more. We have like a million people across the state of California who are in affordable housing, and a lot of those people have Resident Services Coordinators. And Resident Services Coordinators make sure that they, they’re kind of like case managers sometimes. They make sure that they have their basic needs met. They have what they need. They can, if they pay rent, then they’re paying the rent on time, like that type of stuff. And that’s great.

And so, what we need too is community organizers! [chuckles] We need people who are gonna mobilize those same folks, because those same folks have thoughts, have opinions, to be able to take action in their communities in the way that they want. And a lot of those folks are already engaged. They’re engaged in their communities and a lot of different ways. So, what would it look like if the affordable housing industry, said, “We have a million people across the state. What if we were able to build more leaders? What would leadership from the people who are impacted most by affordable housing, how would that change how we provide housing and what type of housing is built and where?” And so, that’s what social justice can do for the affordable housing industry. It can empower the people more. And it’ll ultimately lead to more people having homes.

ISAAC: What have you noticed in the shift in housing in the Bay Area?

DOLORES: So, I grew up in the Bay Area. I was born and raised here, and I’ve lived in various different parts of the Bay Area. It’s changed a lot. Like the Bay Area was one of the places where my parents could buy a home. But it also is a place that more recently, that’s becoming harder and harder for people. It’s not becoming real anymore for a working-class family to be able to afford a home. We’re getting pushed out more and more. My parents were able to buy a home in the Bay Area in Hayward when I was like maybe 10 or 11. And that, for 10 and 11-year-olds now who had one parent who was working as a housekeeper and one parent who was an electrician, that probably isn’t the case. They probably can’t buy a house somewhere in the Bay Area. They have to get— People are getting pushed out more into places like Antioch and maybe Modesto. And so, it’s getting harder to afford homes. It’s always been expensive here in the Bay Area, but there’s always been, at least in my opinion, there’s been some places where housing is more affordable. But that’s still becoming harder and harder. The gap is getting, the gap of what’s affordable and what’s not affordable, is getting bigger and bigger. 

I mean, to kind of take it back to affordable housing, I see that we wanna keep people who need affordable housing, we wanna keep them here because they add value to our communities. We wanna keep seniors and people with disabilities and people of color, we wanna keep them here. They are part of our culture, part of the importance of this community. So, affordable housing is one way we can do that. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to build affordable housing. There’s a lot of pushback to building affordable housing. People in suburbs don’t want affordable housing because of the perceptions and the racism and the biases that they hold. We have to keep pushing for affordable housing everywhere because we want to be able to have everyone have a home.

ISAAC: In the past, what are some of the ways racism has impacted housing?

DOLORES: Yeah. So, I’m still learning all the time about racism and housing history. I’ll give the very way back example of redlining: the way that banks loaned money to people depended on where they could buy houses. So, they would give a family who was white a loan for more money so they could buy a home in a more newer neighborhood or nicer neighborhood and stay segregated and stay around other white people. And then they said, like, this is where we’re not gonna give loans. If you’re from this area, you’re not gonna get a loan here. Or if you get a loan, it’s gonna be a small amount. So, you stick to this area that you’re in. And kind of segregating people that way. Usually when people who were people of color and specifically people who are Black, were told that they couldn’t receive loans, or if they received loans, it would be for housing in an area that didn’t have as much investment or didn’t have as much attention given to it as other communities. So, that’s like a classic example.

The most recent example that I wanna give, though, is just with this most recent election. Down in San Jose, there was a whole campaign about what affordable housing looks like and who it’s targeted for. And there’s this perception that affordable housing buildings are ugly and gray and that they house people that shouldn’t be in quote-unquote “safer communities,” and don’t bring people who live in affordable housing into our backyard. So, there was this campaign showing like a gray building that’s like, this is what affordable housing looks like. Do you want that in your community? And then the community was like single-family homes with trees. And so, people’s perception of what affordable housing looks like and who it’s for is absolutely racist. Because people perceive it as it’s for people who are poor and for people who are disabled, who are criminals, as if being poor, disabled, or someone who was previously incarcerated is a bad thing, right?

People who are poor are not bad automatically. People who are disabled are not bad automatically. People who have been in prison are not bad automatically. It’s another way to say, people who are racist are going to say that people in affordable housing are not good people, because the affordable housing is serving people who most need housing, which because of our society tends to be people who need resources the most, who are people of color, seniors, disabled folks.

ISAAC: Today, how does racism still impact housing?

DOLORES: Yeah, it’s still impacting housing. You know, there is an organization that wants to build housing in Castro Valley. Do you know a lot about Castro Valley?

ISAAC: Yes.

DOLORES: What do you know about Castro Valley?

ISAAC: I know that it’s right next to Hayward, is one thing I know about it.

DOLORES: Uh-huh.

ISAAC: And it’s the suburbs.

DOLORES: It’s the suburbs. Exactly. And when we hear “suburbs,” what does that usually mean, do you think?

ISAAC: I mean, there’s a lot more space for building affordable housing.

DOLORES: Yeah! There’s a lot more space. And what do the people there usually look like?

ISAAC: They look like the white, usually.

DOLORES: Yeah.

ISAAC: White, usually. Traditionally white.

DOLORES: Absolutely.

ISAAC: There may be some people of color there, but mostly it’s just white people.

DOLORES: Yes, exactly. So, that is very true for Castro Valley as well. So, you know a lot of things about Castro Valley just by knowing that it’s a suburb. And there’s an organization that wants to build housing there. And I grew up in Hayward, right next to Castro Valley. And there is not affordable housing in Castro Valley that I can think of. So, there’s a organization that says like, whoa, there’s this, like you said, there’s a lot of space there. They found space, and they said we can build affordable housing here. We can build 40 apartment buildings here. And the community was like, no. And I was on these calls where they were giving feedback when the local, I forgot what it’s called. There’s like a local committee that decides if it can get built there or not. So, people are calling in and saying, “I don’t want these people in my backyard. These people are loud. These people, they’re just gonna bring crime to the area. My kids aren’t gonna be able to play safely outside. They’re gonna, these people are gonna drive fast down the street.”

So, when people say, “these people,” they’re using coded words. They could mean a lot of things. They could. But basically, they were saying people in affordable housing act a certain way, and they were stereotyping who affordable housing was for. So, even though Castro Valley has the space, the people there don’t wanna share it. They feel entitled to keep Castro Valley looking a certain way. And so, that’s one way that racism has impacted housing really recently.

Luckily, that housing got approved, [chuckles] so affordable housing is coming to Castro Valley. And it’s gonna continue to happen in Castro Valley. And that’s good because we want our communities to be diverse. No one, none of us can say we own the land, right? None of us can say we have to take ownership of what the land looks like. We should be excited about diverse communities.

ISAAC: And also, the residents of the area should not say that ‘cause residents don’t actually own the land. So, they have no say over what gets built there.

DOLORES: Exactly, totally.

ISAAC: And also, these people need this, and there needs to be stop being generalizations, saying that everybody who lives in a form of housing is one way when that’s not the way it is.

DOLORES: Exactly.

ISAAC: And I’m glad this affordable housing building got approved.

DOLORES: Me too.

ISAAC: So, now these people who didn’t want it in their backyard get to see exactly what affordable housing looks like and— 

DOLORES: Yes! 

ISAAC: —and gets to see that the people are not the way they thought they were, and the building is not the way they imagined it would look like.

DOLORES: Exactly. Yeah. I totally agree with everything you just said. I hope that it’s better. I know that it’ll be better for the community, and I hope that those people’s minds will be changed once they see it happen.

ISAAC: And it also has to do with who they’re, where they’re exposed to. If these people were more likely not exposed to a diverse group of individuals.

DOLORES: Mmhmm.

ISAAC: They were most likely exposed to mainly just a white community, so that’s what they know. So, they assume these things because they weren’t exposed to these things to make them, to get them to think differently.

DOLORES: We all need exposure, exposure to different things so that we can have different perspectives and respect each other.

ISAAC: In the past, what are some of the ways that ableism impacted housing?

DOLORES: You know, in terms of affordable housing, there are some requirements for affordable housing to include people with disabilities. But ableism plays out in a lot of different ways. Ableism plays out in who can get jobs, who can access resources. And some affordable housing, it does require that you have an income of some sort and are able to pay a subsidized rent. And so, if people are experiencing ableism outside of their homes, it’s gonna impact where they can live. So, if people can’t get a job, if people don’t have a equal education, that’s gonna impact what resources they have access to, and ultimately, where they’re able to live. So, ableism kind of touches on what I was talking about earlier, too, which is that the charity model is ableist in a lot of ways. So, if we were to tackle ableism within affordable housing industry, I think it would mean that we value the banks who are investing in affordable housing as much as we value the people who are investing in affordable housing. It means that the money wouldn’t speak more than the people power. So, that’s a way that it plays out in affordable housing, I think. 

ISAAC: Today, how does ableism still impact housing?

DOLORES: Yeah, I think it’s still impacting housing, affordable housing, because affordable housing yet—some people might disagree with me—but affordable housing yet isn’t a movement. There isn’t an affordable housing movement. And that’s because right now, it’s an industry, an industry made up of people who study housing, people who study how financing works. And those are all skills and tools that are definitely needed. But if we wanted to tackle ableism in the affordable housing industry, we’d elevate all the voices that are missing. We would elevate the voices of the people who are most impacted from affordable housing, which is the people who live in affordable housing and the people who could benefit most from living in affordable housing if there was more. So, right now, we’re an industry. [chuckles] But if we want to tackle ableism, we can become a movement.

ISAAC: How can you get involved in social justice?

DOLORES: There’s a lot of different ways to get involved. It’s never too late to learn more and to want to participate and create the world that is better for everybody. I know that for EBHO, if people are interested in advocating for more affordable housing, people can join EBHO. Our website is EBHO.org. And people can join as a member as individuals, as a company, as an organization. As individuals, if you wanna join just as a individual person, we love that. And you can join for as little as $5.

ISAAC: Can one person make change, or does it have to take a collaboration of people to make change?

DOLORES: Oh, wow. That’s a good question too. I think it can happen both ways. I think we should try for all of it, right? [bright theme music slowly fades in] If one person feels like I can do this on my own, then sure. But I think it’s also important for us to know that even if you think you’re doing it alone, there’s someone there with you. Sometimes work happens collectively too. Work happens because a lot of different people are working together. I personally think that the more people that get involved, the better. But sometimes if we need to work on something alone, then that’s fine, too.

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.

Advocacy Behind the Scenes Partner Profiles