Foundations in my Backyard

How I came to the pro-housing movement and why I continue to do the work

There’s a particular housing moment I never forget, a grand opening of affordable homes that was very meaningful to me. It was Colma’s Veterans Village and at the time I was working as an Organizer for the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County. What made it so impactful was listening to the unscripted story of an individual who described how having a home made them feel human again.

Ground Breaking of Millbrae Gateway. December 2019

Sit with that for a moment. What basic human functions do you normally do at home and never give a second thought to? Eating, sleeping, and using the bathroom. You need to do these things to live, but what if you were in a state where you had to do those functions outside, sometimes in public? Or your home in which you do those functions was precarious and uncertain week after week?

I think back to that moment a lot as a clear example of why I work in housing and how it touches the very core of what housing is. A foundation, a base, a human right, a shelter. Yet in American society, we have historically treated it as a commodity rather than a necessity for human survival, often with intentional discrimination. It has left many people to assume housing is something deserved or undeserved, rather than a requirement for all. So I ask you, dear reader, is your humanity defined by your housing situation?

Speaking in public comment for more homes in Belmont, CA. April 2019

I look back to my own origin point in housing. As a teenager of The Great Recession, I saw and experienced what just the threat of losing your home could look like. I saw what losing your home or moving away did to my friends and classmates, and what lack of societal support did to their well-being. I’ve witnessed the impacts on housing insecure students at UC Berkeley and family members facing eviction. It was not within their control and it was horrifying. It set in my mind that housing security was a state, not an attribution of one’s humanity. People are not homeless or housing insecure, they are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Without that universal foundation, abundantly available, those experiences will only continue to the friends, family, and community members we love.

As I start my new role as the Peninsula and South Bay Organizing Manager for YIMBY Action, I hope to set that foundation for others. By bringing empathy, sympathy, compassion, and real-life stories, like the one I heard at Colma’s Veterans Village, to the table, I hope to provide abundant housing with dignity for all. And, to combat the systemic economic and racial inequities that come with it. At the end of the day, I’m in this fight to provide and secure roofs over heads and bring to life the belief that housing IS a human right, especially in our own backyards.

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Alexander Melendrez

For public thoughts too long for social media. I was into haiku briefly. Some newsletter highlights. Peninsula and South Bay Organizing Manager for YIMBY Action