The right to a roof over one’s head shouldn’t just go to the person or family with the biggest paycheck.
The way Maria Poblet sees it, access to housing is a human right. Unfortunately it’s not the reality for many longtime residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. Fueled by a booming tech industry where high-paying jobs are driving up costs across the board, housing costs are skyrocketing. And many are finding that they can no longer afford to stay in their neighborhoods.
That’s why Maria is working vigorously for the housing rights of the marginalized through her work as the executive director of Causa Justa::Just Cause. A large part of the organization’s efforts are focused on helping Latino and African-American families on the brink of eviction.
“What we bring to the table is our ability to think outside of the box. We have a critique of how development has happened historically, and we believe it’s possible to have growth without displacement,” Maria said.
As part of Levi Strauss & Co.’s new class of Pioneers in Justice – Pioneers 2020 – Maria represents the next-generation of Bay Area social justice leaders at the forefront of policy and systems change in the areas of gender, climate change, criminal justice, LGBT rights, racial equity, immigrant rights and anti-violence.
Prior to joining Causa Justa::Just Cause, Maria used fighting words—literally—to bring attention to social injustice. As a participant in the program Poetry for the People, Maria helped others find their voice through writing. “I heard incredible, moving stories, and gained a deep understanding that marginalized communities truly have a vision for how things could be—but the issue is that nobody is listening to them. There are no voiceless people, there are only people whose voices are not being heard.”
She asked herself, “What if we built institutions that became that voice?” That epiphany served as the catalyst for her involvement in community organizing.
Every day the Causa Justa::Just Cause team works to help people see themselves not as the victims, but as the protagonist of economic and political change. “There are folks who are sleeping in their cars and still come to city hall to create policy that will prevent evictions, so that others won’t go through that experience,” she said. “That kind of bravery is profoundly inspiring.”
Getting tech companies to pay more taxes to help reduce housing costs for lower-income families and address homelessness is one of Causa Justa::Just Cause’s top priorities. Supporters of the proposal believe that increasing the taxes of tech companies could benefit those who are facing displacement. “Local government can stand alongside long-term residents to determine what kind of development the community needs and wants, and prioritize accordingly,” she said.
In addition to the payroll tax proposal, Causa Justa::Just Cause is powerfully addressing gentrification in Oakland. This November, Oakland voters will consider a proposal her organization helped craft, the Renter Protection Act. If approved, it will keep thousands of longtime residents in their homes by limiting rent increases and curbing no-fault evictions.
While she’s led the organization to many triumphs, there’s one accomplishment that she holds dear – the merger of two non-profits that created Causa Justa::Just Cause. Maria was instrumental in bridging the African-American and Latino communities together under one umbrella forming Justa Causa::Just Cause. “Being able to create an organization that was founded on the value of unity between these two communities –which have so much in common but are too often pitted against each other — was extremely transformative,” she said.
“The experiences are different in each community,” she added, “and we continue to deepen our understanding of each other. That’s the work we do everyday here.”