The following are transcripts of two talks that were given on June 21st, 2019 as part of a plenary panel at Planners Network's conference Resisting Displacement and Dispossession. It featured speakers from Kanehsatà:ke, New York City, Jackson, and Tacoma and was streamed live to conference attendees simultaneously in multiple cities. These two talks are from presenters in Tacoma, Miriam McBride and Adriane Wilson, two community organizers and activists fighting for housing and food justice, among other pursuits. The plenary can be viewed in full here.
So what I would like to talk about—Adriane [Wilson, co-presenter] and I—we think it’s really important that when we’re talking about housing displacement and resisting it that folks who are most impacted need to be part of the conversations for change and that’s where the solutions are going to come from. So I just want to start by talking about black land loss because black folks, indigenous folks, immigrants, refugees—we’re always the ones that are most impacted by displacement and dispossession. Black folks continue, especially here in Tacoma, to be at the tail end of housing justice and so I would like to talk about how black folks, throughout the history of the United States, have forever been in struggle.
Starting at the turn of the 20th century, we were at the height of having black land ownership, mostly due to farmers in the south. About 15 million acres of land belonged to black farmers and from there the numbers continued to dwindle down. In 1920, 925,000 African American farmers represented 14% of the farmers in America and by the time 1975 came by, the number was down to 600,000. Now to this day, of the one billion acres of arable land in America, black people own little [more] than one million acres and we make up less than 1% of farmers in general. The way that came to be was through a lot of terror. It wasn’t that black folks just stopped wanting to be farmers. People were terrorized when we were free—when we became free. A lot of white domestic terror drove people up to the North, to the Midwest, to the West. Folks who were trying to keep their land were being denied farm loans. Their harassment and discrimination complaints were being ignored because two years [after] the complaint went in and was unresponded to, it got thrown out. That’s where a lot of our cooperations and collectives came from—because we had to band together to protect our land and protect one another.
Through all the terror and economic exploitation, over 6 million black people relocated from the South to the North, Midwest, and West between 1916 and 1970. Even to this day, those who remained in the south still fight to retain ownership over their farmlands. The result of black folks not having access to land—having access to safe land—continues to be a struggle today. That continued to be a systemic struggle through redlining. Redlining was a practice [that] determined which neighborhoods were deemed safe or extremely dangerous depending on the number of black folks living in that neighborhood. Redlining impacted folks’ ability to access home loans, the quality and safety of schools, access to resources, access to healthy and affordable food, and access to quality living environments in regard to environmental justice.
It’s really important that we talk about this very real history that black folks have endured in relation to land and ownership and being displaced. Because as we talk about Tacoma now, it adds more context and it adds the importance of why black folks and folks that have historically been impacted by this should be at the table when we talk about solutions.
So first I would like to acknowledge the land that we’re on right now—whose land this really is—and so this is for the Native Americans. I just wanted to acknowledge that. I’m here to talk about what I know about the state of black housing in Tacoma, particularly in Hilltop [a neighbourhood in Central Tacoma]. I do want to say that engaging in this kind of work for black liberation is hard, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. I also want to say that we face a lot of harsh realities out here, such as not having access to land or having a legacy of black landowners in our family. According to a recent report, black people are more likely to become to be homeless than people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds in Pierce County. From the loss and sacrifices endured by the indigenous community to the black and brown bodies whose blood still runs through these streets, the history of this community is something we’d like all of our guests to acknowledge and to be aware of who truly benefits from development such as the light rail and who actually suffers the consequences because of it.
The cost of living for a family of four in Tacoma—two adults, two children—in the metro area is over $83,000 annually. A white family of four, their median income is around $72,000, while black families [earn] around $51,000 a year. So I’m trying to show you the disparities that black folks in Tacoma face. 47.5% of black families of four qualify for some degree of public assistance. 33% of black single people qualify. Home ownership for whites is at 57% while home ownership for blacks is at 32%. [In] Tacoma as a whole however, and especially in Hilltop, there’s a higher rate of rented housing rather than owner-occupied and the median rental price for a one-bedroom has increased by 74%. To afford a two-bedroom in Pierce County, workers at minimum wage would need to work more than two full-time jobs to be able to afford housing. I also wanted you to know that more than half the jobs in the Pacific Northwest pay less than $20 an hour and you have to be able to make over $22 an hour to afford housing. In Pierce County, 69% of all low income households pay more than 30% of income for housing expenses and 38% pay more than 50% of their income for housing expenses. Federal data shows that white families today earn nearly 10 times the net worth of black families and it will take black people 242 years to catch up to white wealth if white wealth stopped accumulating today. So on the whole, rents could rise as much as 46% in the next 10 years. Increases in housing costs have outpaced increases in household incomes. The median home value has risen by 31%. Rent has increased by 23%. Income has only increased by 10%. In 2017, Hilltop offered limited affordable housing options for low-income renters. Many Hilltop residents can’t and couldn’t keep up with the pace of rising house costs. Just a side note: a $100 increase in rent equals a 15% increase in homelessness. In Pierce County, the chances of living to 77 years are five times higher in communities with a lower percentage of people of color. In certain areas, whites have received 100% mortgage funding for moving in certain areas in Tacoma.
I also wanted to talk about the migration. In 2017, Tacoma hosted one of the top ten zip codes for gentrification nationally. Between 2010 and 2015, 35% of the African American population vacated Hilltop. In 2015, white residents increased from 48% to 51%, black residents [decreased] from 25% to 21%, and Hispanics went from 11% to 9%. It’s also important to note that there’s a limited amount of affordable rental units in Hilltop [for] reasons [including] occupancy by higher income households, growth in units not targeted to households with the lowest incomes, and loss of units priced for extremely low-income households. One third of Pierce County household residents are suffering from cost burdens and to afford a two-bedroom in Pierce County, a worker at minimum wage would need to work more than two full-time jobs to afford housing.
Why is this so important to me? I have a bachelor’s degree, I have an education, I have lived experiences, I’m very resourceful, but also I found me and my family homeless not for the first time—for the third time—last year for nine months. All the services and organizations that I went to for help could not help me. I wasn’t on drugs, I had an education, and I wasn’t in domestic violence. So I was turned away a lot of the time. The only reason I am able to be able here to today—the only reason I was able to make it—is because community members stepped up where organizations and non-profits couldn’t help me. And so I’m a part of the work because I know where the gaps are. I know that my lived experience is just as valid as anybody with a professional degree and I believe also what Miriam was saying that you can cannot change the problem if you don’t allow people like me to be a part of the conversation and for you to listen to my voice just as much as you would anybody else. Thank you for your time.
Miriam McBride is a Black and Fijian young queer organizer who began organizing in high school. Miriam comes from a line of chiefs, resistance builders, and self governing people and believes it is her purpose to play their role in creating liberation and fueling Black joy. Miriam believes in the power of people and creating spaces that allow those most impacted to show up and be in their full selves because that is how authentic change happens.Miriam is a dancer, poet, photographer, mentor, and space holder. They are the community organizer at Hilltop Urban Gardens for the Land and Housing Liberation Campaign to defend, increase, and preserve Black home ownership in Hilltop. Miriam works with the The People’s Assembly’s Youth Voice Team to empower youth voices, the Making Connections Initiative to address holistic centered solutions to community mental and emotional health, Black and Indigenous Organizing (BIO) to foster spaces for young Black and Indigenous folks to have a space for accountable and healing solidarity, and she also has her own media platform Truth Movement Innertainment aimed to highlight community joy.
Adriane Wilson is a driven community activist and an impassioned advocate for uplifting and empowering black, brown and low income communities through grassroots efforts. She focuses on issues of food justice, land and housing liberation, and financial empowerment for African Americans. She excels at clearly articulating community concerns and creating suggestions for how to improve community engagement to ultimately improve outcomes and advance equity goals. Her work centers communities of color and low-income communities that are typically underrepresented in the policies, programs, and services that seek to serve them. As a woman of color who has deep ties in Tacoma and who has herself overcome personal and professional challenges, she is extremely skilled at connecting with people where they are, listening and motivating their engagement to bring about real change. Adriane has more than 10 years of experience working with non-profits and government agencies. She is supported by a network of grassroots activists and serves on a few Boards and Community groups. Adriane is known as a truth teller, she holds those in power accountable and responds to social and community plights through anti-racists actions.