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Equitable Development: A False Construct

Community reflection, 2021:

Without redistributive polices to redress past and ongoing exploitation, there is no equitable development.


Without protecting renters and home-owners in communities of color from losing their housing to displacement via market speculation, there is no health equity.

"What creates crisis cannot solve it" --The Red Nation


“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. -- Audre Lorde

As neighbors who have engaged in the public process to improve the health and well-being of our communities over decades and decades, we have collectively learned that we cannot depend on policy (the “system’s tools'') to bring stability, health and well-being to our neighborhoods. We understand that the system’s tools are based on an extractive model of development, and are defined, approved and utilized by the political (decision-making powers) and economic (private and public actors and investors) to build and legitimize strategies for promoting the profit-motives that drive the gentrification of long-divested communities of color. 


This extractive model of development relies on historic and present inequities of our communities in order to perpetuate cycles of exploitation, devalorization and disinvestment that create the required profit-motives that drive the feasibility and "opportunity" of today’s investment and development. Because resources, land and labor are exploited and extracted through the system of racial capitalism,  the financial benefits of investment and development create a profit-motive that incentivizes targeted exclusion, exploitation and extraction of communities of color. The reliance on this model of extraction makes equitable development an oxymoron, and a near-impossibility for our communities. The crisis for our communities is rooted in the fact that development relies on exploitation and extraction in order to create value and profit for investors. No solution that comes from this system will "solve" what is a fundamental characteristic of how the system was designed to function successfully for investors and developers.

While equitable development may remain a near impossibility for our communities, "We Decide the Future: Turning Equitable Development Upside Down" is designed to suggest an adaptable collective process, including tools of community visioning, research and analysis, in order to guide the orientation, and intervention, for approaching material, grassroots, community-determined solutions, development and stewardship. To get to this dream of equitable development, we must first reject all extractive models of development, and instead support and advocate for development based on the collective self-determination of communities that have been harmed by extractive development through reparations and redistributive policies. We aim for pushing, influencing and fighting for a vision of community-determination, with the autonomy to build projects, programs and structures that address and meet community needs, built by and for everybody in our communities.


With this understanding of these possibilities and limitations, we believe it is important to highlight four assumptions that illustrate how we begin to define the possible points of collective orientation, intervention and action surrounding “equitable development.”

1. DISPLACEMENT HURTS COMMUNITY HEALTH: The extreme gap between the cost of rent and income in communities of color puts gentrification, displacement and racial disparities at the center of policy and public health. Housing instability has negative health effects. When families don't have stable housing, their risk of struggling with poor health outcomes and material hardships, such as food insecurity, increases. When neighborhoods change rapidly, pushing existing residents out, disparities in health widen. Studies indicate that those impacted typically have shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease thus leading to higher health care costs. Findings further show that as the number of adverse housing circumstances increased, the odds of child and caregiver health risks also increased. By acknowledging that the current system of extraction, based in white supremacy, targets communities of color we then understand how this system creates wide-spread systemic harm that can be measured through racial health disparities. These racial health disparities are manufactured and maintained by this racialized policy, investment and development, and are facilitated through zoning, exclusionary housing policies, and housing finance and incentives, and include the history of predatory finance and lending, and are rooted in colonization, slavery, policing and criminalization of poverty and mass incarceration. The impacts of this systemic violence on communities of color spans generations and may be nearly impossible to measure or fully calculate this harm to community health.


2. DEVELOPMENT IS DRIVING DISPLACEMENT: The impact of investment and development on the rent gap and involuntary displacement is the result of this predatory shadow that has driven a century of exclusionary policy (and zoning), and exclusion from public spending (divestment).  By highlighting historic extraction, exploitation and exclusion and the ongoing impacts of redlining and gentrification, we can see how the policy of extraction defines the economic conditions of the housing market that push out long-time neighbors through price-shadowing and compounding the severity of the tax burden faced by low-income homeowners, and exasperating the rent burden faced by neighborhood renters. 

3. EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT REQUIRES REPARATION: Redistributive policies and reparations are necessary to address past systemic violence of extraction and exclusion weaponized against communities of color. Reparations and other forms of economic solidarity function by directly repaying communities most-harmed for past systemic extraction. By repairing harm from historic and ongoing extraction, there is a tangible pathway to move development toward a more equitable possibility by embedding those reparations into the financing or the funding required to make material benefit for communities of color who are disproportionately harmed. In this way, reparations are a material way to acknowledge and redress this historic exploitation that made past and present profits possible. Reparations should first redress descendants in Indigenous and Black communities for the violence of colonization and slavery, and further to reparate the descendants and historically marginalized residents of redlined neighborhoods. We urge every policy-maker, investor and developer to include sufficient funding as part of their project to reparate stolen land, stolen labor, and stolen lives, and to include the families who have lived through these cycles of racist divestment and redevelopment (and whose exploitation made current development financially feasible). Reparations can also serve as a model of health equity and housing stability, by directly funding those individuals and families most impacted by extraction (stabilizing those most impacted by displacement pressures), and in-turn, a direct way to fund the stability of society as a whole.

4. AFFORDABLE HOUSING MUST BE REDEFINED AND RESTRUCTURED: “Affordable housing”, as it exists today, is not a solution to the housing crisis. As a charity-oriented model, affordable housing mechanisms are, and always have been, manipulated in order to maintain and support the current wishes of the market. Historically, affordable housing solutions for communities of color have been short-term fixes that do not address the root cause of the issue; social and economic exploitation. We know the legacies of “public housing” and how affordable housing is defined fall short because they were created as market solutions, and were not created by nor involved the communities who need them. New models of development, focused in local economy, that are not dependent on extractive processes are needed. In order to address the root cause of the housing crisis, transformative solutions must be employed where development is community determined, oriented around health and wellbeing, where the long-term goals of the community are the priority, and those goals are intertwined with community governance, ownership, stewardship and investment. 

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