We Are Making California Better
CNC works to ensure that Black, Latino, Latinx, low and moderate-income Asians, and Indigenous families in California, especially those in rural areas like the Sierra Foothills, San Joaquin, Central, and Imperial Valleys, have the resources they need to thrive. We live in and grew up in the cities and towns that we serve. Like many in our communities, our families do not always have what they need to flourish. We deserve better. Our families deserve neighborhoods that are clean and free of toxic chemicals, with access to affordable and quality health coverage, where people have the freedom to make their own medical decisions with their doctors. Our families deserve neighborhoods with access to sustainable jobs and livable wages, with a criminal justice system that promotes fairness and safety and is based on smart incentives and alternatives to incarceration. Our families deserve neighborhoods with housing options that are not only affordable but safe, with sidewalks on our streets, so we can finally have finished neighborhoods. At CNC, we engage our families year-round to create political will and economic change, to tear down the systems of oppression that have historically exploited and restricted our families, to build a Liberation Economy, and to build a new California.
The housing crisis in California is rapidly worsening. Today, California is home to some of the nation’s most expensive metropolitan areas, including Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Merced, and Fresno. The median rent in these areas is $1,859, $1,507, and $1,364, respectively. Overall, California has the second highest median rent in the country, with rents topping $2,201, and features some of the nation’s highest home prices, with single-family homes carrying a median price of nearly $900,000. Put simply, housing in California is unaffordable.
Part of the story behind this reality is that the state is currently facing a massive housing shortage – estimated to be at least 2.5 million homes. Another factor is that the state’s housing cost has climbed tremendously over the past several decades. This is partly due to exclusionary zoning prohibiting multi-family homes from being built in some of our communities and speculative real estate investors exploiting renters. Today, the rapid rise in housing costs means that a minimum wage worker earning $15 an hour would need to work 83 hours a week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. That is unacceptable.
The housing crisis in California also leads to an increase in the number of unhoused residents, with over 160,000 people unhoused on any given day. California’s unhoused residents are disproportionately Black and Brown. Most of these individuals are unsheltered – living outside and sleeping in tents, parks, or even their cars.
Housing is a fundamental human right. Ending the housing crisis in California is not just about ensuring everyone has a place to live; it is also about ensuring that Californians have safe, secure housing - redressing housing policies that have failed to protect historically marginalized populations. To improve affordability, increase our housing supply, and end the suffering of our neighbors, we must push policymakers to make transformative changes to housing policy.
These four policies can help bring us closer to creating a California where our neighbors, especially Black and Brown neighbors, have access to safe, affordable, and stable housing:
1. Increase Immigrant Homeownership. In the U.S., immigrant homeownership rates trail rates among native-born households. Policy choices often leave immigrant families needing help accessing public support. At the same time, disparities like these are also byproducts of a dual financial system that excludes communities of color from fully accessing wealth-building financial products and services. To begin addressing the homeownership gap facing immigrant families – particularly in a state like ours that is home to nearly 11 million people of immigrant origin – the state should work to increase access to culturally appropriate homeownership support services for our immigrant neighbors, while also making it easier for tenants to purchase the homes and buildings they already live in.
2. Replace Exclusionary Zoning Laws with Inclusionary Zoning. Exclusionary zoning laws restrict the type of homes (ex. single-family or multi-family) that can be built in a neighborhood. Most residential land zoned throughout the state and country is limited to detached single-family homes. For example, a 2018 New York Times report found that 94 percent of residential land zoned in San Jose was zoned for single-family homes. Additionally, a 2022 UC Berkeley study found that 76% of Los Angeles County had single-family zoning. Single-family homes are more expensive, take up more land, and shut out housing for low-income to moderate-income families, who tend to be Black and Brown. New affordable housing policies must end exclusionary zoning in the state.
We also need to hold developers accountable for increasing affordable housing units. Generally, cities establish basic requirements for each housing development that must be set aside for renters or sold at affordable prices. However, in some instances, developers can opt out of building units that provide long-term affordable housing, especially for low-income households. To date, more than 170 cities and counties in California have adopted inclusionary zoning policies. Cities and counties that have not adopted these laws should move to do so and ensure that developers cannot opt out of providing affordable housing to low-income families.
3. Expand Social Housing. Social housing is community-owned and exists outside the for-profit housing market. Social housing units are mixed-income – with the rents of higher-income renters helping to subsidize those of extremely low-, low-and middle-income households – are not segregated by race and must meet specific building and living standards. AB 2053, the Social Housing Act of 2022, would have established the California Housing Authority to create sustainable, community-owned affordable housing. Policymakers in 2023 should move quickly to reintroduce AB 2053 or similar legislation and identify the standards and requirements that define a social housing policy program’s scope and objectives.
4. Extend Existing Tenant Protections to Undocumented Renters. The common practice among landlords of asking prospective tenants to provide a social security number is a barrier to housing for undocumented renters. California should amend the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act of 2017 to extend protections to all tenants, regardless of immigration status, to bar discrimination against undocumented renters.
In California, Black and Brown people have long been exposed to environmental racism. Our neighbors face poor air quality, unsafe drinking water, toxic chemical exposure, climate change, and extreme weather events that cause negative health outcomes and premature deaths.
Take our water systems: over 1 million residents in the San Joaquin Valley are dependent on contaminated water, which can prove fatal to infants and damaging to adults. Over 450,000 people in Fresno County and over 32,000 in Tulare County are served by water systems violating drinking water standards because of contaminants like nitrate and arsenic. Residents of the Coachella Valley use water containing 10 times the allowable limit of arsenic. More than 920,000 Californians face an increased risk of cancer and liver and kidney problems due to substandard tap water.
While these marginalized communities recognize the impact of environmental disparities on their livelihoods, policymakers have not made the best decisions to address the environmental racism these families face. In 2016, environmental justice advocates raised concerns about extending AB 32 because the bill did not significantly limit greenhouse gas pollution found primarily in Black and Brown neighborhoods. After passing the bill, the state’s biggest polluters reduced their overall greenhouse gas emissions while increasing air pollutants that threatened the well-being of Black and Brown residents.
Ending environmental racism requires effective policies that reverse the harms of environmental injustice, stop the environmental exploitation of communities of color, and hold corporate giants accountable for their pollution.
Our families deserve to live in clean, pollution-free neighborhoods. Here is what could move us in this direction:
1. Get Federal Climate, Energy, and Infrastructure Funds to Our Neighborhoods. Climate policies must meet the needs of our most impacted neighborhoods. State legislators should reintroduce legislation similar to AB 2419, the California Justice 40 Act, which would have required 40 percent of federal climate, clean energy, and infrastructure funds to flow to the state to benefit disadvantaged communities who have experienced environmental burdens. The bill would have also required 10 percent of these funds to help low-income communities. A bill similar to the California Justice 40 Act has the potential to substantially improve the public health, economic prosperity, and environmental sustainability of our neighborhoods.
At the same time, state lawmakers must also leverage federal resources from the Inflation Reduction Act, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act to address environmental racism. Specifically, the state should use some of these funds to capitalize on a public bank focused on making green investments that curb environmental racism throughout our state.
2. Protect Californians from Excessive Heat at Home. As temperatures rise, our families need access to safe, code-compliant housing that prioritizes safe indoor temperatures. Between 2010 and 2019, the hottest decade on record, California’s official death record attributed 599 deaths to heat exposure. Climate-vulnerable neighborhoods are susceptible to heat risk. A bill like AB 2597 would establish safe indoor air temperatures for newly installed units and existing dwellings, protecting our neighborhoods in the hottest months.
3. Clean Air and Water for Every Californian. Air pollution and climate change caused by oil and gas extraction devastate our families’ well-being and health. Asthma and cardiovascular disease, for example, are made worse by the subpar air quality in our areas. People exposed to more pollution are also at a greater risk of experiencing severe symptoms and other diseases. State lawmakers should enact policies that provide every Californian with the right to clean air and water.
4. Curb Corporate Polluters. Corporations are not only responsible for a majority of greenhouse gas emissions that create climate change but also often exceed their pollutant limits. Corporate pollutants threaten the health of our marginalized neighbors and have fatal effects. California should increase fines for those violating air pollution standards, such as AB 2910 of 2022, to increase the maximum penalty for industrial violators from $10,000 to $30,000. The state should also establish greater oversight and transparency over corporate polluters, as the originally introduced SB 260 proposed – by requiring large corporations to publicly disclose uniform, verifiable data on their greenhouse gas emissions.
HEALTH FOR OUR FAMILIES
Institutional and systemic racism has served as a foundation for our country's policies, causing health inequities, health disparities, and disease. Our Black, Latino, Latinx, low and moderate-income Asians, and Indigenous families in California face higher rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and many more health conditions than their White counterparts. These issues are made worse by non-medical conditions that can weaken the health and well-being of an individual. Factors include where a person lives and goes to work, whether they have access to affordable and healthy food, clean and safe places to exercise, and basic health care.
Although provisions from the Affordable Care Act decreased the uninsured rate between White individuals and other races and Hispanic groups, the U.S. Census Bureau documented inequalities in health coverage by race continue. Data found the 2021 uninsured rate ranged from 5.7% for White, non-Hispanic people to 9.6% for Black or African American, 17.7% for Hispanic or Latinos, and 18.8% for those identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native.
Poor health and lack of access to health care compound the injustices our families face. The following policy ideas address these inequities:
1. Defend the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) increased health insurance coverage by providing premium tax credits that lower costs for individuals and families. Additionally, the ACA expanded the Medicaid program and supported creative medical care that decreased health care costs. As a result, insurance companies and some policymakers want to repeal the law so they can deny coverage to our neighbors and family members with pre-existing conditions, such as those suffering from asthma, diabetes, and cancer.
2. Cap Insulin Prices. Since the early 2000s, insulin costs have skyrocketed by 600%, causing many diabetes patients to ration the drug, which may lead to complete loss of vision and many other health complications. Although the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) caps insulin at $35 a month for Medicare recipients, the uninsured or those with private insurance still have to pay out-of-pocket.
POLICING & IMMIGRATION
Built on anti-Black racism, the prison industry and the judicial system perpetuate the theft, exclusion, and exploitation that define our current Oppression Economy. Year after year, California pours more and more resources into policing and prisons, despite 60 years of evidence showing no meaningful effect on crime. For example, as part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2022-2023 budget, he proposed spending $447.4 million over five years to support nine public safety proposals.
Too often, investments like these come at the expense of our most marginalized neighbors, including immigrants, who are already severely impacted by police surveillance, arrests, detentions, and deportation. These investments also crowd out other necessary investments that can protect and uplift our families. And, with higher paying salaries – including an average salary of $81,170 for California correctional officers – policing and prison jobs also become some of the few economic opportunities available to many of our neighbors.
Ultimately, over-investment in policing and incarceration threatens the safety of our neighborhoods. Our family members are more likely to be stopped by the police, seriously injured or killed by the police, and detained by immigration enforcement each month. To ensure the safety of our neighbors of color, we believe that we must rethink the systems of policing in our state. Doing so means cutting the resources funneled to police forces every year and reassessing the roles police officers take on in our neighborhoods.
Here are five ideas we have identified to breakdown systemic racism and inequality that is rooted in policing our communities:
1. Establish and Expand Civil Response Programs. Too often, police officers take on roles and respond to calls they need to be equipped for, such as mental health crises. Localities should seek to establish Neighborhood Civil Response Teams to promote peace and safety without police involvement. Neighborhood Civil Response Teams should be staffed by dedicated non-police city staff and mental health professionals. These teams can work to respond to behavioral health emergencies, take theft and property damage reports, develop strategies to improve safety, and coordinate resources to implement these strategies. Such a program should invest in expanding the existing civil response program and support existing organizations responding to non-life-threatening emergencies and calls related to behavioral health.
The state should simultaneously establish a $100 million Behavioral Emergency Response Team Program building on the recently launched $10 million C.R.I.S.E.S. Grant Pilot Program. The program will provide grants to support community organizations to respond to 911 calls involving people experiencing mental health crises.
2. Create Participatory Budgeting Processes. Too often, we are left out of decisions about how public dollars will be spent in our neighborhoods. Localities throughout the state should move to adopt a participatory budgeting process that allows residents to directly determine how a portion of the public budget is spent. Participatory budgeting can help ensure that our public dollars go toward investments that uplift rather than police our neighbors.
3. Democratize Criminal-Legal Data. Policing, crime, and court data are far too inaccessible to the public – impeding accountability for criminal-legal institutions and personnel. State lawmakers should develop uniform criminal justice data standards for state and local agencies to follow when collecting and reporting on this data. Lawmakers should also clarify with whom and when local criminal justice data can be shared. This will make it easier for advocates and researchers to seek the information they need to understand what is happening in their neighborhoods. Finally, state lawmakers should require that every police department collect and publish criminal justice data on their websites. These data should include arrest data, broken down by race, and demographic information of sworn officers. Statewide data collection should be utilized with data collections that look at past transgressions or misconduct histories of police officers.
4. Prohibit Police-ICE Collaboration. Currently, California law enforcement officers are allowed to transfer individuals convicted of specific crimes from local jails and state prisons to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.). The state also allows the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to enforce immigration laws. A good policy option to consider emulating would be AB 937, the VISION Act, which would have ended both practices, shielding all immigrants from harsh immigration-related penalties after individuals have completed their criminal sentences.
5. Close Prisons, Reinvest Funds into Community Services. Despite its reputation as one of the most progressive states in the nation, California proportionately incarcerates more people of color than any other state. Building on Governor Newsom’s budget proposals for closing state prisons and uplifting the work of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, we support efforts to close at least ten state-owned prisons over the next five years. Closing state-owned prisons would generate savings of at least $1.6 billion per year. Savings such as these can then be used to fund community-based services and resources that uplift and support our neighborhoods.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to an abortion on June 24, 2022. This landmark ruling threatens the reproductive freedom of women and childbearing people. Since then, California has voted to support abortion access. Nearly 70% of voters favored codifying the state's constitution to protect a person's "fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives."
As the driving force of our homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces, women deserve complete access to economic, social, and political power. Family planning is a personal choice, and women should be free to make medical decisions with their physicians.
SUSTAINABLE JOBS & LIVABLE WAGES
The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 is far from what an average worker needs to sustain themselves and their families. In California, even the state minimum wage of $15 does not cover basic living expenses, such as food, housing, and transportation. According to data from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, a single adult worker in the state would need to make $21.82 an hour to support themselves, and a working family of four would need to earn $30.54 an hour. At the current rate, these wages are improbable to reach. Especially when nearly a third of California families are working poor, and the state is home to the second-highest median rent of $2,201 in the nation.
Every worker in California should have access to meaningful workplace protections and jobs that pay a living wage. When we say “every worker,” we mean everyone – including undocumented immigrants, women, and historically marginalized groups. As we work towards realizing this vision, here are some ideas to create an economy that fairly values and compensates people of color throughout the state:
1. Raise the State Minimum Wage to $18 an Hour. While establishing a livable wage may take time, increasing the state minimum wage is a vital step we can and should continue to take toward ensuring fair compensation for low-wage workers. The Living Wage Act, a 2024 ballot initiative, would raise the state’s minimum wage from $15 to $18 by 2026 and index it to inflation to ensure the minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living.
2. Hold Corporations Accountable for Abusive Working Conditions. California is home to 35 Amazon Distribution centers – the most distribution centers in the country. Foster Farms, a poultry company with operations throughout the West and East Coasts, is also headquartered in the state. Both corporations are notorious for cultivating a stressful and exhausting work environment for employees. The state should enact policies that redress corporate economic and labor harms and abuses. These policies should include reducing the number of open grievances from employees, examining the culture of work at these corporations, and fining or banning businesses that foster unhealthy work environments.
3. Create a Statewide Youth Apprenticeship Program to Increase Awareness and Connections to Quality Jobs for California’s Young People. Although California has more than 85,000 apprenticeship programs, only 0.2% are oriented toward the state’s youth. Such a limited number of programs leaves countless young people throughout the state disconnected from pipelines that can lead to sustainable and well-paying jobs. State legislators should introduce a bill similar to SB 1351, the California Youth Apprenticeship Program. This bill would have established the California Youth Apprenticeship Program and the Office of the California Youth Apprenticeship Program within the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. SB 1351 would have also provided grants to organizations to fund existing apprenticeship programs or to develop new apprenticeship programs to serve opportunity youth, foster youth, and other targeted youth between the ages of 16 to 24.