This article is a section of a report produced by the Right to the City Alliance entitled "Communities over Commodities: People-Driven Alternatives to an Unjust Housing System”. It has been reprinted with permission. To access the complete report, please visit: https://righttothecityalliance.salsalabs.org/communitiesovercommoditiesreportdownload/index.html
We see the movement for housing justice as deeply connected to other movements for justice. The model of market-based housing has failed for the majority. Profit for some has relied upon the devaluing of certain people and places. This has had distinctively negative consequences for specific marginalized communities. A growing number of people across race and class face difficulties with housing under the current model, but housing insecurity disproportionately affects low-income, people of color, indigenous peoples, women, LGBTQ people and immigrant communities.
In the fight for just housing, we see the importance of alignment and connection between all these communities and struggles.
[Here], we share the perspectives and insights of the following movement leaders: Cynthia Mellon, Climate Justice Alliance, Chinyere Tutashinda, BlackOUT Collective and Black Land and Liberation Initiative, Ana Orozco, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network.
“Alternative land and housing models are essential to achieving climate justice and a just transition”
• Cynthia Mellon
, Climate Justice Alliance
Cynthia Mellon is Climate Justice Policy Coordinator for Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), an alliance of over 50 community organizations, movement networks and support organizations on the frontlines of the climate crisis. For more information, see “Just Transition Principles.” Climate Justice Alliance, www.ourpowercampaign.org.
“Throughout the U.S., in low-income communities, which are often home to people of color, we find housing located near fossil fuel refineries, chemical plants, garbage incinerators, and railyards. These communities are overburdened with pollution from multiple sources that contaminate the air, soil, and water, through a legacy of unchecked and under-regulated industrial practices dating back more than a century.
“The disasters last year in Houston and Florida are examples of what happens when a lack of housing justice, coupled with deregulation and disregard for environmental law and public safety, multiplies the dangers already inherent in superstorms and other severe weather events brought on by climate change. In Houston, communities already leveled by the storm now have to contend with chemical pollution emanating from flood- and wind-damaged facilities.
“Lack of access to affordable housing causes people to live in places that are neither safe nor sustainable. In both cities and rural areas, racial discrimination has historically forced communities of color to settle in low-lying or other undesirable areas because they were the only places open to them to rent, build, or purchase homes. Many of these communities abut dangerously polluting industries, which produce great wealth for their owners and shareholders while leaving local residents sick, unemployed, and endangered.
“Organizing for and advancing alternative housing and land models can be a strong pathway to a Just Transition, providing a framework for shifting to an economy that is ecologically sustainable and equitable for all its members. The goal of just transition is to move us away from the extractive economy to one that is regenerative and cooperative, with a focus on ecological and social well-being, deep democracy, and a worldview of caring and sacredness. The just transition protects communities and workers that are most vulnerable to pollution, climate disasters, and economic disruptions, while creating meaningful, good-paying work.
“Pushing for alternative housing encourages planning for sustainability that encompasses all aspects of people’s lives — where they live, work, study, play, and pray. Alternative housing should be energy efficient, drawing on and developing new initiatives for solar and other renewable energy sources, managed and led by communities. Housing should be near public transit and integrated with ready access to good, affordable, culturally appropriate food provided through urban farms and sustainable, nearby distribution centers and cooperatively run businesses. Alternative housing should be secure and permanent, drawing on the concept of land trusts and other non-speculative models of community-owned land that provide for long-term security and encourage real stewardship of land and home. In this way, housing becomes an important building block for a just transition to the type of regenerative, sustainable, resilient societies we need for the future.”
“Alternative land and housing models are essential to gender justice”
• Ana Orozco,
Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
Ana Orozco is the National Organizer for Feminism and Gender Justice programs at the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. Grassroots Global Justice is a national alliance of U.S.-based grassroots organizing groups organizing to build an agenda for power for working and poor people and communities of color.
“We must look at the impact and detrimental effects of gentrification and the current economic system on women specifically. All too often, in low-income communities of color, women are the sole financial providers for their families. Having to work, support the family, and be the primary provider and caretaker is a lot for one person to take on. Added to that is the constant stress and fear of being displaced, harassment from landlords, the threat of a rent increase, or other forms of harassment that landlords are coming up with now as a means of deliberately displacing communities and forcing room for higher income people who can pay a much higher rent, which add to the cumulative burdens that are on low-income people of color. This has a particularly harmful effect on women because of our role in our communities, as caretakers and financial providers. We have an understanding that it is the current economy, the current economic system that creates this dynamic. It is not working for us. It is, in fact, extremely detrimental to all aspects of our lives. Its creating climate crisis, it forces an extreme amount of time given to work without receiving adequate pay, because of a hierarchical system around background, educational background, access — access to things that are deliberately kept out of our reach. We are stuck in a catch-22. We don’t have access to the tools that we need to get into higher paying jobs. So it’s important to think about our role as women in developing an alternative vision, an alternative economy for our communities. Our health, well-being, and survival depend on it.
“We understand what’s not working, but it’s also crucial that we spend time on building the vision for a future as well. What are we moving towards? What are we transitioning to?
“Something in particular that is talked about a lot when discussing an alternative economic system, or a feminist way of structuring community living, is cooperative-style living. This can mean cooperative land use and growing our own food and having access to clean healthy food that we ourselves produce and share. And also include cooperative family care and supporting one another versus this individualistic approach to raising a family. The idea of individualism is forced on us, in the U.S. in particular, is detrimental to the family dynamic and to child-rearing. Anybody who’s been a provider for one or more children knows that it’s not a one-person job. That’s not to say that people don’t make this work all the time, but people should not be forced into this style of family rearing on their own. People rely on the extended family, and on community — community trust. The idea that you’re on your own without a community to support you is something that works against single parents who are providing for children. Creating community that supports each other, looks out for one another is a key component of developing an alternative economy, an alternative community living that would have a particular benefit on women and anybody who is the primary provider and caretaker of children. Feminist economy envisions an economic system that values care-taking (for all members of family and community), home management, and family rearing as a key component of the society. As grassroots feminists we lift up the fundamental universal right to safe, quality, sustainable housing for all families across all of our communities. Land and housing struggles of families, tenants, and displaced peoples are core elements of grassroots feminist social movements globally who are challenging the interconnected systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism. Together we are building a vision of a new feminist economy that serves the needs and interests of the people and the planet.
“Land is critical to winning both housing as a human right and Black Liberation”
• Chinyere Tutashinda
, BlackOUT Collective and Black Land and Liberation Initiative
Chinyere Tutashinda is Co-Director at the BlackOUT Collective and one of the lead organizers of the Black Land and Liberation Initiative. The Black Land and Liberation Initiative is anchored by BlackOut Collective, Movement Generation and a diverse cohort of Black organizers from across the country working to launch a trans-local, Black-led land reclamation and reparations initiative.
“Land is critical: Being able to know where you’re going to be, and being able to have and be rooted in land, has always been a part of that fight [for liberation]. Land has always been the number-one commodity that people have fought after.
“Our oppression over the last 400 years has been about the labor of our bodies and our ability to work the land we had no rights to.
“What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to be in spaces, build communities? And truly be rooted on land. Land and the ability to own our own labor have been critical for Black people. When we think about when slavery was abolished, one of the first things that came out of that was land — being able to take land, to use land, and through that ability to have autonomy again over our own labor and movement, having land was central. Understanding that the importance of land is very central to what brings people together, what creates community, what creates freedom. We have cities where across the country in every major metropolitan city, Black people and poor people are being pushed out of land that they were originally and initially put into. By the time they were able to take space and make groups, they are being pushing out. So you have all these people again who don’t have land, don’t have housing.
“The reason that we are here and in this situation now, in the last 40 to 50 years, is not because we as Black people don’t want land or we don’t understand how important it is for liberation and freedom and autonomy. It is because we have been the victims of systematic laws that have pushed us out of our spaces. Some of it is gentrification, but even pre-gentrification, there was red-lining. There are lots of laws created in the cities that dictate how we live in now and tell the story of how we got here, and it’s all very capitalist. It’s all, ‘Who has the money can rule,’ and about white supremacist laws and policy.
“Land as reparations is critical, because historically we as Black people have been taken off of land, we have been denied access to the spaces of our labor and the communities we have created. If we’re going to look at various reparations models, one of those has to be being able to give land, being able to give people the ability to control their own spaces. Land is very powerful, and reparations is not just about money, it’s about how we return to that [land]. And as people who were brought here to work on the land, being able to give land back is central.
“We need to transition to different models; some of them look like community land trusts, some of them look like shared, community spaces. It’s not about ownership, it’s really about stewardship and taking care of the space.”
“We cannot win housing as a human right without winning Indigenous sovereignty”
• Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network
Kandi Mossett is the Lead Organizer on the Extreme Energy & Just Transition Campaign at the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). IEN is an alliance of Indigenous peoples whose shared mission is to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth from contamination & exploitation by respecting and adhering to Indigenous knowledge and natural law.
“As an organization, the Indigenous Environmental Network is made of up hundreds of grassroots communities across Turtle Island. Because we’re working with so many different Tribal Nations People, it’s important for us to be able to not only work towards stopping extractive industries but to have a Just Transition to the healthy communities we want, and in a way that works for our unique communities. This transition includes pushing back against the industry in creative ways with grassroots efforts. For example, members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in Canada decided to build housing to reclaim sovereignty by constructing log homes on their unceded Indigenous territory, which was in the path of liquified fracked gas pipelines. They refused to allowed construction without free prior and informed consent of their hereditary clans.
“This similar type of organizing and reclaiming land has been happening at different levels in the U.S. as well. For example, in Nebraska the Cowboy Indian Alliance formed to fight against the KXL pipeline and worked together to plant sacred Ponca corn ‘seeds of resistance’ in the path of the pipeline, to make the point that we want to protect land and want healthy food, not poisonous pipelines; the effort was a huge success. That idea has now led to taking things one step further, and work has been underway to set up solar panels in the path of the KXL pipeline project, which has been revived under #45 and the current administration. Landowners are showing how to stop the industry from building on their lands while simultaneously building their own renewable energy infrastructure. It’s a beautiful common-sense model to taking back sovereignty and reclaiming land to protect it for generations to come.
“A large part of our housing problem in Indian Country is we have a lot of HUD housing and homes that are often really cheaply and quickly built using cheaper materials that fall apart rather quickly, and they are often totally energy inefficient. This is currently how they’re meeting our housing needs, and there is still a housing crisis and a shortage, especially as a result of the oil boom in our area. Because of that shortage, these houses are acceptable and even considered ‘nice’ homes to many people who don’t even realize we could and should have much more efficient, long-lasting homes.
“What we’re currently working towards is to take back the housing model; to go back to a more traditional housing system, in which the housing itself is much more energy efficient. It’s not cheap windows, and it’s not square buildings that require more heating with tall ceilings; it’s going back to a more traditional model of living, where we would have a round model house, and that house would be heated and cooled in a much more efficient manner due to its design. In addition, we’re looking at models that include sustainability around sovereignty, which includes food sovereignty as well. So instead of looking at a building in and of itself, it’s an entire system. It incorporates not only the housing but the lifestyle of the individuals who would be living in that area.
“Right now, what we’re doing in our communities is building earth lodges. Earth lodges are traditional homes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nations and are traditionally made with cottonwood trees and willows, as well as river clay and packed dirt, etc. Today they’re being modernized to include things like modern doors and plumbing for bathrooms and cement floors, etc. They’re already genius when built the traditional way, when it comes to heating and cooling. When you walk into one of them in the winter, they’re warm as long as the fire is going, and in the summer you don’t need air-conditioning at all because it’s naturally air-conditioned. It’s thrilling that we can modernize traditional housing to make it work for our current needs, and in a way that can be replicated and modified throughout Indian Country, that helps us move away from the fossil fuel industry as well.
“Ultimately, it’s all a part of the same project: food, housing, and land liberation, because we want to protect the land from those that seek to destroy it when it can and should be used for things we actually need instead. We have to keep in mind we’re also struggling with the fact that land is disappearing. There is permafrost melting in Alaska, we have sea levels rising, so land for housing is disappearing in areas like the Pacific islands. Much of this can be attributed to a broken system based on colonization and capitalism without much thought for livelihoods and practicality. We have to work to fix the broken system from the grassroots up, because no one else is going to do it for us. It doesn’t just make sense in Indian Country, it makes sense everywhere. We can collectively change the current system of the way we live on the land, and that could change the world for the better....... And that is huge!”
For more information about the Right to the City Alliance, visit:
Home For All Website: https://homesforall.org/
Right To The City Website: https://righttothecity.org/
Twitter: @ourcity; Instagram: @ourcityrtc; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RTCalliance/