Housing Justice is Climate Justice

By Colin Miller, Urban Habitat

Climate change has become almost universally recognized as the single greatest threat to life. No substantive action has been taken at the international (United Nations) or federal level to deal with the growing crisis. On March 1, 2011, Oakland’s City Council stepped up its leadership on climate change to pass the city’s first Energy and Climate Action Plan (ECAP) with some of the strongest greenhouse gas reduction goals of any city in the country.

Until the Energy & Climate Action Plan forced the City Council to discuss housing within the context of taking meaningful action on climate change, the City Council had barely discussed the issue since 2002 when Oakland’s Just Cause eviction protection ordinance was passed by popular vote.

Cross-Sector Coalition Fights for Equitable Policies around Greenhouse Gas Reduction

The passage of the ECAP is the culmination of two years of advocacy and leadership on bold solutions to pollution and poverty by the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) – a cross-sector coalition of community-based organizations, social and environmental justice advocates, organized labor and green businesses. The Oakland Climate Action Coalition influenced the ECAP to achieve three things simultaneously:

  1. Reduce green house gas emissions
  2. Increase the capacity of communities to adapt to the effects of climate change
  3. Set Oakland on the course for a robust sustainable economy with good green job opportunities.

Approximately one third of the 150 policies ultimately adopted in the Energy & Climate Action Plan came directly from the community through the OCAC, which, since 2009 brought dozens of unlikely organizations and thousands of Oakland residents together and into the city’s planning process.

In the last months before passage of the plan, the Oakland Climate Action Coalition united with Causa Justa::Just Cause to reframe issues of housing justice as climate justice in advocacy around ECAP.

Housing Justice and Climate Change: What’s the Link?

But what does housing justice have to do with climate change? Why is it that the Coalition decided to focus on housing justice and preventing displacement as a means of preventing climate change?

Causa Justa::Just Cause and the Oakland Climate Action Coalition advocated for stronger renter and tenant protections to prevent displacement, but the Oakland City Council voted only to study the amount of affordable housing currently available and planned for near transit stations and corridors, as well as the possibility of a transit-oriented development affordability policy and a displacement prevention policy.

The only concrete outcome emerging from City Council was the decision to study the future need of affordable housing development and possibly adopting renter and tenant protections to prevent displacement. While this is a good first step, it is entirely inadequate to address the scale of the problem at hand.

Oakland Must Take Stronger Position

As a matter of both social equity and meaningful action on climate change, it’s critical that Oakland take a stronger position on these issues. Implementing stronger renter protections costs nothing, and adopting strong anti-displacement provisions in the ECAP may also position Oakland to receive more regional federal funding.

Achieving housing justice is no longer simply a matter of protecting the rights of low-income families and communities of color. Stabilizing diverse communities and preventing the economic displacement of vulnerable communities will be essential to address the global crisis facing humanity at this turning point in history. It’s is in the hands of our City Council to turn this moment of crisis into a golden opportunity: by taking bold leadership, and passing strong renter protections to advance both housing and climate justice in Oakland.