As the Board Chair of Urban Habitat, I am pleased to welcome Allen Fernandez Smith as our new executive director. Al brings the vision, management skill, content expertise, and commitment to social justice, Urban Habitat needs to continue as a leading voice for regional equity. He understands the synergy of policy and action, the importance of building strategic alliances among non-traditional partners, and the interconnectedness of our ongoing fights for social, economic, and environmental justice.
Al’s core values shine through when you meet him, as does his strong personal commitment to building power in low-income communities and communities of color. His engaging and direct communication style combined with his expertise in the areas of economic development, education, and leadership development resonates well with Urban Habitat’s mission, goals, and strategies. We are excited to see how his fresh eyes and leadership will strengthen and guide the organization as we enter our third decade.
Al joins the organization as its program areas are logging significant accomplishments. Highlights of our recent work include:
The Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI), dedicated to increasing the representation of low-income people and people of color on public boards and commissions throughout the Bay Area, graduated its second class in January and has just closed the nominations for the third. BCLI alumni are now serving on local boards and commissions in San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond.
The Transportation Justice program has helped spotlight the need for civil rights compliance by transit operators nationwide. Federal Transit Administration head, Peter Rogoff, recently wrote to agencies around the country, echoing some of the concerns raised by Urban Habitat and allies in their complaint against BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission over the Oakland Airport Connector project.
The lawsuit against Pleasanton’s housing cap brought by Public Advocates on behalf of Urban Habitat and Pleasanton resident Sandra DeGregorio ended with a settlement that makes the city accountable for its fair share of regional housing needs. Urban Habitat’s Land Use and Housing program continues to support allies on the ground in Pleasanton as they implement the settlement agreement, and work on affordable housing policies, programs, and organizing throughout the region.
The Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) has mobilized its coalition of grassroots partners for the latest phase in the development of Richmond’s General Plan. They have testified at hearings and met one-on-one with city officials to ensure that the Plan addresses the needs of the city’s low-income residents and residents of color. Their efforts have spurred language changes that introduce equity in several elements of the plan.
And Race, Poverty & the Environment is pioneering the use of multimedia communications at Urban Habitat with its podcast series, Radio RP&E. This new format enables RP&E to build stronger collaborations with other news producers and expand our reach to new audiences.
With these and other projects in full swing, we look forward to working with you, and with Al, in the months and years ahead.