As the Bay Area continues to experience both rapid economic growth and widening income disparities, data trends show many communities of color are being displaced across the region, dramatically transforming large swaths of the outer suburbs.
The large-scale movement of working class and low-income communities of color into suburban cities “is the geographic expression of the new labor market, the increasing concentration of affluence in the region’s economic centers, and new forms of racial segregation,” according to the 2016 Urban Habitat report “Race, Inequality, and the Resegregation of the Bay Area.”
Tony Roshan Samara, director of Land Use and Housing at Urban Habitat, said:
“What we’re seeing is a structural transformation of metro regions. … It’s segregation as we typically thought about it but in reverse.”
Many low-income families have been forced by astronomical housing costs into the more affordable suburbs of Contra Costa, Alameda, Solano, Napa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Additionally, more well-off, non-white households are making a calculated economic decision to relocate to areas where their housing dollars will go farther — where they can afford “more house” for their buck — in the hope that the grass will be greener on the other side of Mt. Diablo. This so-called “resegregation” phenomenon is being played out in Antioch, where from 2000 to 2015 the city’s population grew from 92,765 to roughly 107,000.
The African American population increased from 9 percent to 18 percent of the overall population and Latino residents increased from 22 percent to 34 percent of the population, according to data from the Bay Area Equity Atlas, an analysis tool and database focused on the metrics of inequality in the region.
During that same period, the Asian population grew from 7 percent to 12 percent, the white population decreased from 58 percent to 32 percent and the city’s median earnings (for full-time workers) dropped by roughly $2,700 to $50,833 — about $10,000 lower than the median earnings for the wider Bay Area, according to the atlas.
With these demographic shifts comes concern that the new populations in places like Antioch will struggle with “the uneven distribution of resources in terms of race and class,” Samara said:
“Suburbs formed in part to keep the problems of the cities at bay, and now those problems are at their doorstep.”
Consequently, many suburban communities are now struggling to provide health services, food programs, affordable housing and other safety net programs to growing populations.
Mariana Moore, senior director of the Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa, says she’s seeing just that:
“There are waves of displacement and everyone thinks about San Francisco and Oakland and Silicon Valley. … But there is less conversation about where people are going, and the communities that are welcoming them — or not welcoming them.”
Moore says part of the problem is that local political leaders are often ill-prepared or simply not interested in addressing the needs of their new constituents so policies and resource allocation have not kept pace with the current landscape.
“In Concord and Antioch and points further east, how well and to what extent are our policy leaders paying attention, noticing this is happening? … Not very much and not at all. Either they’re clueless or they just don’t care.”
Lamar Thorpe, one of two African Americans who sit on the five-member Antioch City Council, said Contra Costa County has failed to fund social service programs to the degree required by Antioch’s growing population.
“The county fails to provide quality social services in east county, but it’s not their fault. … Because the number of residents never justified the investment, so there is no infrastructure in East County when it comes to social services.”
Thorpe, who moved to Antioch from Maryland seven years ago and worked in San Jose, says the story of the city’s African American population growth is more complicated than most people realize because there are many socio-economic variables within the larger black community:
“If you watch the news you would believe that every black person who has moved out here has been forced here by gentrification. … When you start digging deeper, you start to realize that, oh, it’s not as simple as I thought it was.”
Thorpe, who also identifies as Latino, says many of his neighbors are people of color who hold advanced degrees, make good money and commute to jobs in the region’s economic centers. He said:
“I’m somewhat blown away by this constant narrative (of) ‘Oh, my God, all these poor people of color have been forced to live in Antioch or far East Contra Costa County.”
Urban Habitat’s Samara also notes that resegregation is not simply an issue of poverty; it’s also about culture and community engagement:
“It’s a multi-class phenomena.”
For example, while few Antioch residents live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of both poverty and segregation, 90 percent of Latino Antioch residents live in neighborhoods with few civic resources or opportunities — such as affordable housing, health care and jobs — as do 84 percent of African Americans, according to the Bay Area Equity Atlas.
Sarah Treuhaft, managing director at PolicyLink, a national research and advocacy group working to advance racial and economic equity, said:
“What we see in Antioch is that neighborhood opportunity is fairly low overall for everyone: 86 percent of residents live in low resource neighborhoods and there is little variation by race.”
“But still there are racial inequities: 7 percent of black residents live in neighborhoods with high levels of segregation and poverty compared to just 2 percent of white residents.”
One of the largest challenges faced by many residents in the far eastern suburbs is the likelihood that they are engaged in the daily grind of excruciatingly long commutes.
And while this burden is borne by people of all races and income levels, it falls disproportionately on people of color, who as a result spend less time at home with their families and in their communities. While 16.4 percent of all people living in Antioch in 2015 commuted at least 90 minutes one way to work, this reality was faced by 20 percent of African American residents, about 15 percent of Latinos and nearly 20 percent of Asians or Pacific Islanders, according to the Bay Area Equity Atlas.
During that same year, 3.2 percent of all Bay Area residents engaged in this type of extreme commuting, according to the atlas. Although 2015 is the most recent year for which data is available, the commute struggles have only gotten worse in the last few years.
The consequences of this can be damaging to individuals, families and entire communities that lose the benefits of civic or social engagement from citizens who are simply too busy or too exhausted by their jobs and commutes to participate.
“Just on a personal level, that’s very challenging. … Your entire life becomes shaped by your work and your commute to work. Your entire life becomes an appendage to your job.”
Still, some newcomers like Thorpe — who can afford to live closer to his job but prefers the suburban experience — are happy with the arrangement.
“The commutes have been tough, but whatever! I live in a big house and make better money and it doesn’t all go into housing costs.”
Former Antioch Mayor Mary Rocha, now a school board trustee, started her local political career in 1970 and has seen the city’s transformation from sleepy river community to suburban boom town as vast housing tracts sprang up primarily in the hills and pasture land south of state Highway 4.
The 80-year-old Rocha said:
“Antioch was always considered the conservative white town. In those days, we were a rural area. We’ve changed to a big city.”
Increasingly, many of the city’s long-time residents are looking to cash in on the Bay Area’s sky-high real estate prices by selling their homes while the selling is good, Rocha said.
Currently, Antioch’s median home price stands at about $465,000, up from roughly $185,000 in 2010, according to the online real estate database Zillow.
This is compared to the Bay Area’s median price of $860,000 as identified by CoreLogic, a real estate research firm.
Rocha says she expects Antioch’s population to grow increasingly diverse and as it does, the political influence of new residents will also increase.
This is a process that seems to have kicked off already, as many newcomers across the eastern suburbs hail from communities with strong traditions of advocacy and protest and whose political identity is interwoven with the concepts of racial and social justice, human rights and equity, said Ensuring Opportunity’s Moore:
“People can start to change the culture from the inside. … Meanwhile, it’s really hard to know how to advocate in this more suburban environment.”