How do you inspire residents to participate in the planning of their neighborhood when they are dealing with skyrocketing rents, pest problems, and sketchy landlords? Meeting them where they are is a good start.
One of Greenbelt Alliance’s goals for urban village planning in San Jose has been to better engage the city’s Latino population in the process, and in the West San Carlos neighborhood, Luther Burbank Elementary is a gateway into the local Latino community.
I first met Principal Marvelyn Maldonado nearly two years ago and was immediately struck by her commitment to and love for the community. She patiently fielded my phone calls, opened up her school to our community engagement events, and was a speaker on our walking tour, but I sensed that she was dealing with bigger issues.
This became apparent when I asked her to circulate our community platform with Padres con Poder, a group of parents that meets monthly in the school’s library. The group was hesitant to sign on even though some of their ideas from an earlier Spanish-language workshop were reflected in the platform. They believed that the West San Carlos urban village plan would not benefit their community. Padres con Poder’s hesitancy confirmed the need for them to have a stronger voice in the process.
The community wanted to be more informed, so I got together with Chris Lepe of TransForm, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Neighborhood Housing Services of Silicon Valley, and Latinos United for a New America (LUNA). We brainstormed ideas for a second Spanish-language workshop geared to the parents. While I wanted them to weigh in on the City’s urban village plan, the more immediate need was for them to know their rights as tenants.
More than 50 parents attended our community workshop (along with their well-behaved children). The Law Foundation presented and answered questions on housing, covering topics such as rent, habitability, discrimination, and eviction. Neighborhood Housing Services explained their Responsible Landlord Engagement Initiative. LUNA encouraged people to attend an immigration reform rally. We addressed their immediate concerns as families and as a community first, and then tied it back to planning for the long-term needs of the neighborhood such as:
- More homes, jobs, and parks along West San Carlos Street
- Bus Rapid Transit
- A Safe Routes to School program
We also encouraged attendees to get involved with the city’s housing impact fee, which will be voted on by the City Council later this spring, and the Burbank Community Association.
Padres con Poder is a passionate group of parents who love where they live and want to see their community thrive. Greenbelt Alliance will continue our work in nurturing Padres con Poder and other members of the Latino community as leaders whose ideas can help shape the future of San Jose.