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COMMENTARY: Building power for California’s kids

SAN FRANCISCO BAY VIEW — Whether you ask a parent, a teacher or even a college student like me, creating a better world for kids is the top priority.

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By Eliza Brooks

Whether you ask a parent, a teacher or even a college student like me, creating a better world for kids is the top priority. If that’s the case, then why aren’t Pro-Kid values reflected in California’s public policy? A recent study ranked California 36th out of 50 states in children’s wellbeing. Being pro-kid means more than just not being anti-kid, it means embracing the idea that children need to be supported across all sectors to live a safe, happy and healthy childhood.

Yet in the state of California, the metrics for crucial indicators of child well-being are far lower than they should be, especially when broken down by race. Children of color face systemic barriers including inequitable school discipline policies like suspensions for willful defiance, a catch-all term used to justify disciplinary action for minor misconduct, and poor access to healthcare due a lack of coordination within the system.

For example, suspensions for willful defiance disproportionately impact students of color. In 2013, Black students were more than four times as likely to be suspended as White students, even when accused of similar behavior. These students then face ripple consequences: Students who have been expelled or suspended are six times more likely to repeat a grade, five times more likely to drop-out of high school, and three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system.

Earlier this year, The Children’s Movement came together to take a stand against disproportionate punishments and supported Senate Bill 607 (Skinner), which would limit suspensions for willful defiance. The letter outlined the ramifications of suspensions for willful defiance and was signed by over 120 organizations across the state of California, including Children Now, ABEN (A Black Education Network), the Children’s Defense Fund and Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action. This letter sent a powerful message to lawmakers, who quickly signed the bill into law in May 2018.

Why aren’t Pro-Kid values reflected in California’s public policy? A recent study ranked California 36th out of 50 states in children’s wellbeing.

On the health side, while almost 5.5 million children in California are covered by Medi-Cal, there are not enough doctors to ensure that everyone is getting quality preventive care. In 2015, there were only 39 doctors who accept Medi-Cal for every 100,000 patients, a number well below the state standard of 50 (Report Card). In fact, California ranks among the bottom two states for Medicaid provider rates.

This lack of coordination means that while quality healthcare is attainable for some kids, it is not accessible to all kids. Research shows that this lack of access leads to emergency room visits for chronic conditions, like asthma. These high rates of ER usage often fall along racial lines. For example, Black children are eight times more likely than children who are Asian-Pacific Islander to visit the ER for asthma related complications.

As a result of Children Now advocacy efforts, the 2018-2019 state budget allotted $1 billion to practitioner reimbursement programs that will expand the availability of medical and dental services for children covered by Medi-cal.

Inadequate health and education resources have a destructive impact on child development and socioemotional well-being. And the result of slow-moving policy processes and fractured advocacy efforts is plain and simple: California’s kids of color are not receiving the resources they need to thrive.

So what can we do about it? The Children’s Movement has an answer: By connecting all of the different community groups, businesses, nonprofits, education and health groups that care so deeply about kids, we can create a power base that can be leveraged to promote pro-kid policies statewide.

The result of slow-moving policy processes and fractured advocacy efforts is plain and simple: California’s kids of color are not receiving the resources they need to thrive.

The Children’s Movement currently connects 2,700 businesses, organizations and nonprofits to create an unprecedented pro-kid power base. These groups can opt to sign on to advocacy letters, such as the willful defiance letter, through The Children’s Movement that are sent directly to state senators and assembly members.

Members of the Movement range from local Boys & Girls Clubs, to LGBTQ groups, to NAACP chapters to immigrant rights centers. And while these diverse groups may have differing agendas, they can come together on one crucial issue: kids.

Every day we don’t engage in advocacy is a crucial day for a child lacking resources. We urge your groups to sign on to The Children’s Movement at https://www.childrennow.org/themovement/. Rather than losing hope, we must remember that our voices are the most powerful tool in the fight for the rights and the equitable distribution of resources for our children, our families and our communities.

Eliza Brooks, a political science major at UC Berkeley and a fellow for the Children’s Movement of California, can be reached at EBrooks@childrennow.org. She also works with the Black Recruitment and Retention Center at UC Berkeley, a Black student-run organization founded in 1983.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay View.

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BOE Member Malia Cohen Raises Red Flag on Bank-Breaking Prop 19 Tax Costs

“The challenge is that it was voted upon and the election has been certified. So, it’s the law,” Cohen said during a virtual media news briefing with reporters from across the state on January 29 organized by California Black Media.

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Malia M. Cohen, the only African American member of the California Board of Equalization (BOE), has some critical concerns about the cost homeowners will have to bear because of Proposition 19, a constitutional amendment that took effect on Dec. 16, 2020.

 Cohen, who represents 10 million Californians in 23 counties on the board, is concerned with how Prop. 19 will affect Black and other minority homeowners across California. The BOE is the commission responsible for implementing the law.

“The challenge is that it was voted upon and the election has been certified. So, it’s the law,” Cohen said during a virtual media news briefing with reporters from across the state on January 29 organized by California Black Media.

In her commentary, Cohen discussed the ways the law will impact all property owners.

 “It not only affects our respective Black communities,” she told the reporters. “It affects all homeowners and property owners in the state of California. When people wake up there is going to be a massive coalition (to fight it) — possibly an uprising. People need to know what the real deal is.”

 Cohen said she is planning other events similar to the news briefing she had with CBM. There, residents of California will begin to hear about “the first steps” they can take to become educated about how Prop.19 will hit their bottom lines. This is something she feels was not adequately explained to voters when the referendum was placed on the ballot last November.

 On Nov. 3, 2020, California voters approved Prop. 19, the “Home Protection for Seniors, Severely Disabled, Families, and Victims of Wildfire or Natural Disasters Act.”

 Although Prop. 19 was enacted in December, Cohen warns that a critical part of the legislation will take effect on February 16. Until that date, the state currently allows tax breaks for parent-child transfers. When parents give or sell real property to their children (or perhaps, grandchildren), that heir continues to pay property taxes at the same rate assessed on the home value as the parent.

 After February 16, Prop. 19 will eradicate the parent-child exclusion. Then, parents would still be able to transfer their house to a child, and the child may keep the parent’s assessed value. But the Prop. 19 law has added one critical condition: the child must move into the residence and make the property his or her own primary residence. If not, the property will be reassessed at what the current tax cost is for the home at that time.

 Cohen discussed the immediate property tax implications and how it might impede property owners’ intentions to create generational wealth by transferring their personal residence and other property they own to their children as part of their estate planning.

 BOE Tax Counsel Richard Moon also participated in the briefing.

 “What is required is that a child moving into the home must file a homeowner exemption and that needs to be done within a year of the transfer date,” Moon said. “The child has one year to move into the family home and maintain that family home in order to keep the exclusion. But if they move out after three years, the property would be assessed at that point.”

 Rates of Black homeownership in California and across the country are still far below that of Whites and other minorities. Critics of the law say the fact that Prop. 19 could set up even more barriers to African Americans owning homes – and straddle struggling families with additional financial burdens – is problematic. About 2.2 million Black people reside in California, around 5.5% of the state’s population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the rate of white American homeownership is over 73%, while that of African Americans stands at 41%, Black Enterprise magazine reported in 2019.

 According to data compiled by Lending Tree, the country’s leading online home loan marketplace, Los Angeles is one of the cities with the highest percentage of Black homeowners. Utah’s Salt Lake City, Texas’ San Antonio, Oregon’s Portland, and Northern California’s San Jose are also included on that list.

 African Americans primarily generate wealth through homeownership and home inheritances, according to data included in the Urban Institute’s “2019 Black Homeownership Gap: Research Trends and Why Growing Gap Matters” report.

 “Homeownership is currently the largest single source of wealth-building” among the Black population, the study stated. Between 2005 and 2008, over 240,000 African Americans lost their homes to foreclosure according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

 “The financial crisis triggered a massive destruction of wealth for African Americans,” Alanna McCargo, co-director of the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center told the Washington Post in 2019. “Wealth is inextricably linked to housing, and that wealth gap is evident in figures for Black-owned property in this country.”

 The law, as it is written, would exclude from the term “purchase” and the phrase “change in ownership” for purposes of determining the “full cash value” of property in the purchase or transfer of a family home or family farm, for example.

 Hardy Brown, Publisher Emeritus of the Black Voice News in Riverside says some of the spirit of Prop. 19 may have been positive. The state intended to provide financial cover for the mostly white Californians living in fire- and flood-prone parts of the state in the event disaster happens. But what it ends up doing, he argues, is decimate the wealth of Blacks and other minorities.

 “It doesn’t help,” said Brown. “It might make a quick buck for campaign contributors or help the state to be a good neighbor to some people, but severely harms others in the process. What it really ends up doing is putting another law on the necks of Black people in the state of California. It will choke the breath right out of us.”

 Under its constitutional mandate, the BOE oversees the assessment practices of the state’s 58 county assessors, who are charged with establishing values for approximately 13.6 million properties each year.  

 “We are not talking about $25 million palaces in Malibu. We are talking about humble homes. Middle-class homes,” Cohen said. “I live in the Bay View community (of San Francisco). We’re talking about Baldwin Hills of Los Angeles or Encanto in San Diego and other communities throughout California. Homes that were purchased for $100,000 decades ago that now have a market value of over $1 million. These homes were paid for through hard work and could be potentially lost.”

 

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California Voice - San Francisco Bay View

California Hotel tenants fight for their human right to housing

SAN FRANCISCO BAY VIEW — Holding signs saying “Protect our right to stay” and chanting “Housing is a human right,” residents of Oakland’s California Hotel, the stately old five-story brick landmark at 3501 San Pablo Ave., demonstrated July 14 against being unlawfully kicked out of their homes. The owners attempted to intimidate the 72 remaining residents of the 150-unit building into moving by having property manager the John Stewart Co. threaten to stop paying the property’s utilities and security bills.

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By Reginald James

Holding signs saying “Protect our right to stay” and chanting “Housing is a human right,” residents of Oakland’s California Hotel, the stately old five-story brick landmark at 3501 San Pablo Ave., demonstrated July 14 against being unlawfully kicked out of their homes. The owners attempted to intimidate the 72 remaining residents of the 150-unit building into moving by having property manager the John Stewart Co. threaten to stop paying the property’s utilities and security bills.

However, last Friday, an Alameda County Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order requiring the owners, Oakland Community Housing Inc. (OCHI), to keep the gas, water and electricity on, according to attorney John Murcko.

“When we are removed by what is called urban renewal, we call it what it really is: gentrification.”

Oakland Nation of Islam Minister Keith Muhammad

“The tenants want to stay here,” said Murcko, who also represented the tenants in two previous lawsuits over deplorable conditions at the property. “A lot of them have been here over a decade. Most have no place else to go.”

Murcko stated that OCHI is under contract requiring them to manage the property as affordable housing to very low-income tenants. That is a stipulation of the low-cost 30-year government loans OCHI used to buy and maintain the hotel.

Residents initially received a letter June 18 stating, “The John Stewart Company will no longer be the management agent for your community effective July 15, 2008.” As if to add confusion and insult to injury, the letter continues, “It has been a pleasure working with you and we wish you the best.”

A follow-up letter dated June 20 states, “Cahon Associates, Inc., the owner of the building, cannot afford to hire another management company to operate the California Hotel or subsidize the operating deficit that exists at the property. In addition, local and state law require onsite management for buildings the size of the California Hotel. If the owner does not replace the onsite manager, the building will be out of compliance with local and state law.” Cahon Associates is a subsidiary of OCHI.

The letter continues, “As a result, the building may close down shortly after July 15. Tenants should begin to look for another place to live and plan to vacate the building on or before July 15th. Eden Information & Referral (Eden I&R) will be available to provide some tenant assistance to help in your search for new housing.”

The City Council approved a little over $893,000 for relocation assistance for residents of properties owned by OCHI. However, as reported in the materials presented to the Council, the scarcity of affordable housing stock has contributed to the difficulty of tenants relocating.

“The closing of seven affordable rental properties will have significant negative impacts,” according to the June 17 City Council agenda materials. “Foremost is the tremendous negative impact on the 215 current residents who will have to relocate in a rental market that is already tight.”.

“There’s nothing available,” California Hotel tenant Robin Menefee said. “There’s nowhere to go.” Menefee will stay after the John Stewart Co. abandons the property.

OCHI subsidiary Cahon Associates claims it is broke. “They own 13 buildings probably worth $130 million,” said Murcko. “This is a fraud on the city and a fraud on the people of Oakland.”

Since informing the city, OCHI has received a $1.5 million subsidy to cover management and other operating costs for their numerous properties in Oakland, with most going to the California Hotel, according to the Oakland Tribune. But residents don’t feel the money was invested in improving their living conditions. There were many complaints of infestation. Even a major lobby window on the ground floor on San Pablo was broken and boarded up.

The company received $5.1 million from the City of Oakland in the ‘80s to buy the property and has since received tens of millions in state and federal monies.

The Oakland Tribune reported that Sean Rogan, deputy director of the city’s department of Housing and Economic Development, attributes the failure of tenants relocating to bad advice from outside agitators. “It’s unfortunate and counterproductive that other organizations are urging the tenants to not sign anything and don’t take the tenant relocation assistance,” he said.

However, residents attribute their determination to stay to the lack of available housing and their resentment at being forced to move out of their homes. Although they’ve consistently paid rent, they’ve never reaped the improvements they’ve been promised.

“They want me to get the hell out,” said Lee Jenkins, a 60-year-old resident who has lived in the building for 16 years. “I don’t want to go nowhere. They haven’t given me an eviction notice, so I’m going to fight it.”

Jenkins, like many of the elderly or disabled living in the building, who are either low income or no-income, has nowhere else to turn.

Oakland Nation of Islam Minister Keith Muhammad, who spoke at the rally, put the events in context of the larger land grab taking place in Oakland:

“When we are removed by what is called urban renewal, we call it what it really is: gentrification,” said Muhammad. “They want to turn West Oakland into East San Francisco.”

The minister also saw a relationship between the removal of tenants and the recent so-called “Nutcracker” sting in June, which resulted in 50 arrests. Muhammad suggests the raids, resulting in the seizure of 40 weapons but no arrests of any actual weapon suppliers is “managed mayhem” that will allow the plan to force low-income people, especially African-Americans, from their homes to escalate and intensify.

“When this property hits the open market, no one who lives here now will likely be able to live here again, because we will not be able to afford it,” Muhammad added.

When asked by television reporters, “What happens if property management leaves,” Murcko responded, “The tenants will step up.” And they have.

On IndyBay.org in an update, Lynda Carson reported that “George Stringer, a long-time tenant of the California Hotel … stated that the John Stewart Company packed up and moved today, shut down the front desk and left by around 5-6 p.m.

“‘The John Stewart Company packed up to go, and left behind a security guard to keep an eye on the place, and the rest of us that are holding out are doing just fine, so far,’ said Stringer. ‘These people tried to force us out as though we do not have any rights as tenants in Oakland or California, and we’re staying as long as we can. The rents are too high for us to try and move anywhere else at this point, and we are better off staying put and exerting our rights as tenants.’”

Stringer, born in Monroe, Louisiana, and raised in Oakland, knows the rules. He managed the Exodus House in Oakland until he moved to the California Hotel three years ago. There he pays $400 a month for a single room with bath and shares a kitchen with other tenants on his floor.

“The California Hotel is just the first building,” said Robbie Clark, an organizer with Just Cause Oakland, who led the chants and rallying cry with tenants and supporters Monday. “There will more than likely be others. We have to come together as a community and prevent the displacement of residents.”

Cahon Associates also owns six other affordable housing developments in Oakland, including Marin Way, San Antonio Terraces, James Lock Court and Slim Jenkins Court. One property, Drasnin Manor, is facing foreclosure by Washington Mutual. Foreclosure would possibly eliminate any affordable housing restrictions, according to City documents.

All six are scheduled to be closed down and turned into transitional housing with the eviction of the residents in the future after the California Hotel is shut down.

A June 5 report from the Redevelopment Agency and the City of Oakland warns that at least 537 tenants in 11 out of 14 properties owned by OCHI are at risk of losing their housing. OCHI owns about 638 units of affordable housing and all of their tenants are at risk of losing their homes in the coming months, according to the report.

OCHI did not respond to requests for comment but will have to face tenants in court July 30 at 2:30 p.m. at the Hayward Hall of Justice, Department 510, 24405 Amador St. in Hayward. For more information, contact Robbie Clark at Just Cause Oakland, (510) 763-5877, email Robbie@justcauseoakland.org or visit www.justcauseoakland.org.

Reginald James is editor-in-chief of the Laney Tower newspaper at Laney College in Oakland. Email him at reggiegeneral@yahoo.com. Housing rights advocate Lynda Carson contributed to the story. She may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com or (510) 763-1085.

This story is published as part of SFBV’s Bay View Archive project, made possible by the San Francisco Foundation. For more information, click here.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay View.

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California Voice - San Francisco Bay View

Last NY Panther in prison, Jalil Muntaqim draws strong support for 11th parole hearing in 48 years

SAN FRANCISCO BAY VIEW — A group of prominent academics, lawyers and activists published an open letter on May 21 calling for the release of political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim (aka Anthony Bottom), the only remaining Black Panther incarcerated in New York. He was arrested 48 years ago, when he was 19 years old, and is scheduled for his 11th parole hearing in September 2019. Signers include Professor Angela Davis of the University of California at Santa Cruz, Professor Cornel West of Harvard, actor and activist Danny Glover, musician and filmmaker Boots Riley, author Michelle Alexander and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Patrisse Cullors.

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By the Center for Constitutional Rights

New York – A group of prominent academics, lawyers and activists published an open letter on May 21 calling for the release of political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim (aka Anthony Bottom), the only remaining Black Panther incarcerated in New York. He was arrested 48 years ago, when he was 19 years old, and is scheduled for his 11th parole hearing in September 2019. Signers include Professor Angela Davis of the University of California at Santa Cruz, Professor Cornel West of Harvard, actor and activist Danny Glover, musician and filmmaker Boots Riley, author Michelle Alexander and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Patrisse Cullors.

The letter reads:

“We the undersigned offer our strongest support for the release of Jalil Muntaqim (aka Anthony Bottom) on parole. We also ask that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo commute his sentence to time served. Jalil was arrested in 1971 when he was only 19 years old and a member of the Black Panther Party. Forty‐eight years later he is the only Black Panther prisoner who remains incarcerated in New York State prisons. It is time for this father, grandfather and great-grandfather to come home.

“Over the decades, Jalil has consistently demonstrated his commitment to sustaining family relationships, pursuing educational advancement and providing service to the community, inside and outside of prison. He has served as a teacher, mentor and role model for hundreds of other incarcerated people. He stands as an example of the potential to reflect, change and grow despite the many challenges of the prison environment.

“Jalil is scheduled for his 12th parole hearing this coming September. One of his co‐defendants, Albert ‘Nuh’ Washington, died in prison in 2000. The other, Herman Bell, was released in April 2018 after serving almost 45 years in prison. There is no justification for Jalil to be held in prison any longer. He should be released at his next parole hearing when he will be 68 years old.

“We believe in the principles of restorative justice. While we understand the serious nature of the crimes for which Jalil has been convicted, a life sentence should not be a death sentence. Forty‐eight years is long enough. After all this time, Jalil Muntaqim belongs with his family and his community.”

See the letter here.

To contract CCR, go to https://ccrjustice.org/home/who-we-are/contacting-center-constitutional-rights.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay View

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