Author Richard Rothstein calls for new civil rights movement to address housing scarcity and injustice at Shareable event

On November 6, 2019, over 130 attendees gathered at SPUR in downtown San Francisco for Shareable’s event: How Racism Shaped the Housing Crisis & What We Can Do About It. The evening began with a keynote speech by author Richard Rothstein who discussed his acclaimed book, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.” 

Speaking to the full house, Rothstein called for change. “We have an apartheid society,” he said, and that while we may not want to admit it, we need race-specific policies in the United States to reverse the damage done to African Americans and other minorities by government policies. Rothstein argued that every metropolitan area in the U.S. is racially segregated due to racist housing policies enacted by multiple levels of government. One result of this segregation is that, “schools are more segregated now than any other time in the last 50 years,” Rothstein said. 

Author Richard Rothstein calls for new civil rights movement to address housing scarcity and injustice at Shareable event
Author Richard Rothstein giving his keynote speech on the history of segregationist housing policy in the U.S.

Rothstein’s call to action was for a new civil rights movement in the U.S. to reverse the damage done to minorities and enact policies that make high quality housing available to all. “We need a new civil rights movement that’s as vigorous as the one in the 1960s,” he said. “Policies don’t enact themselves.” 

Following the keynote, Rothstein joined a panel discussion moderated by Noni Session, Executive Director of the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, with Chris Iglesias, Executive Director of Unity Council, and Sarah Jo Szambelan, Research Director at SPUR and leader of their place types research.

Noni Session
Noni Session, Executive Director of East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, moderates the panel following Rothstein’s keynote.

Session asked panelists about whether the solutions being enacted — for instance, upzoning single family suburbs to allow more density — can ease the housing crisis and create more justice. Rothstein discussed the need for public housing: “In expensive areas like San Francisco, the private sector is incapable of building housing for low-income communities,” he said pointing out the fact that it isn’t financially feasible. “This is why we need public housing.”

Notably Session asked the panelists about how we can move forward in a society where housing, which many argue should be a right, is actually treated as a commodity. Initially stumped, panelists discussed the need to change how we view housing, echoing Rothstein’s call fundamental change that might come from a revived civil rights movement.

Session called on Iglesias to share his experience developing affordable housing in East Oakland’s Fruitvale district, the largest Latino community in the Bay Area. He shared how city council members initially discouraged him from developing below market units, the difficulty in financing such projects, and how the money big local tech companies have pledged to address the housing crisis hasn’t found its way to the grassroots yet.  

Chris Iglesias
Chris Iglesias, Executive Director of The Unity Council, contributes to the panel discussion.

Szambelan shared her work for SPUR on place types, detailing how 75 percent of the urban land in the Bay Area is zoned single family and how these areas are disproportionately white, especially outer ring suburbs. 

Sarah Jo Szambelan
SPUR’s Sarah Jo Szambelan shares data about land use in the Bay Area.

The event was part of Shareable’s fall editorial series on U.S. zoning and housing solutions prompted by a nationwide trend to upzone single family areas started in Minneapolis late last year. Neal Gorenflo, Executive Director of Shareable, opened the event by calling this moment a potential turning point for more justice in U.S. housing policy, but only if parallel inclusionary measures are enacted alongside upzoning.

You can watch the entire program in the video below:

Courtney Pankrat

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Courtney Pankrat |

Courtney is the editorial and communications manager at Shareable. She also works as a freelance writer and is currently based out of Denver, Colorado. Her work has appeared in Shareable,

Neal Gorenflo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Neal Gorenflo | |

Neal Gorenflo is the executive director and co-founder of Shareable, an award-winning news, action, connection hub for the sharing transformation. An epiphany in 2004 inspired Neal to leave the


Things I share: Time with friends and family, stories, laughs, books, ideas, nature, resources, passions, my network.