Intersections With Land and Housing

At the farmer’s market on Sunday, I noticed a sign at the Happy Boy booth: “We farm on Amah Mutsun land.”

The Amah Mutsun are one of the indigenous people from this part of California. They aren’t a federally recognized tribe, but they are very active in working with farmers and both state and national parks to manage land as it was done by their ancestors for many years before the Spanish and then the Americans settled out here.

Other indigenous Californians are also actively asserting their presence here. My sweetheart and I contribute to the Sogorea Te land trust because where we live is on Ohlone land and we support their efforts to claim and manage land around here.

It’s also a reminder that despite the ugly history, indigenous Californians and other Native Americans are still here.

It is not uncommon for meetings around here to begin with a reminder that we are on Ohlone land. Sometimes I feel like this is something that is now safe to say, because we know the number of people who have such heritage is small. But it’s still important to say it, even if we’re not going to give it all back.

Truth is, there’s no real way to give it all back, because at this point there are many people who both need and have some right to the land.

Oakland, for example, has a significant African American population, though the percentage is down substantially in recent years due in great part to gentrification. Traditionally Black neighborhoods are under siege from the absurd real estate prices and development of properties aimed at those who make good money but find San Francisco too expensive.

Because of this, and also because we would like to live in cooperative housing, my sweetheart and I are also part of the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, which is committed to addressing the housing discrimination that affects many different groups in Oakland. Being involved in housing and land issues is one important way to deal with the systemic inequality around here.

Real estate around here is very expensive and not simply because lots of people want to live here. The system is set up to overvalue land at the expense of everything else. Many Anglo people of both my parents’ and my generations throughout the U.S. have developed a certain amount of family wealth because of this. I have personally benefited from it.

African Americans didn’t, due to federal and state laws (now mostly abolished, but with lingering effects) and redlining by lenders, insurers, and developers. The same is true for many others who aren’t Anglo.

For example, many Japanese-American families lost everything during World War II, when they were sent to camps for the crime of their heritage. The Chinese exclusion act made it difficult for many Chinese Americans to build up wealth in land.

And although California, like Texas, is home to many people of Mexican heritage who were here before the Anglo Americans came in, Mexican Americans and other Hispanics have run into similar problems, and that’s without even looking at immigration-related issues.

What this all means to me is that when I look at issues of housing and affordability and land management, I have to think intersectionally. While this is a term more often associated with feminism, I am beginning to understand that it is relevant whenever we’re talking about changes to a system that is not working well for most people.

What this means to me in a very personal way right now is that I feel obligated to take into account all of these different issues when I think about where and how I want to live. Even something as personal and important as where I live is a political decision.

Right now I’m just thinking about inequality and the best ways for people to live in urban areas, but of course the climate crisis affects housing, too. There’s another intersection.

I’d really like to live in a reality in which housing, at least, is simple, but I don’t think it’ll happen in my lifetime. But, since I am at core an optimist, I hope that some day human beings will become so civilized that all the basics of life are simple for everyone.

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