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When asked why she advocates for affordable homes, Donna Colombo says “I believe the best communities are diverse communities.”
As Executive Director of the Trinity Center, a homeless service provider in Walnut Creek, Donna works tirelessly to provide services to community members who are experiencing homelessness. Over years of this work, Donna has seen first hand that incomes are not keeping pace with rising rents, and that more and more families, seniors, and people with disabilities are forced into homelessness.
“The more Walnut Creek grows, the greater the need to address disparities,” Donna shares. “I want to make sure there are policies that prevent displacement and create affordable housing opportunities, and that’s why I got involved with EBHO.”
As an EBHO member, Donna has been active in numerous campaigns for affordable homes in Walnut Creek, including with the Coalition for a Vibrant and Inclusive Walnut Creek (C-VIEW) and the Multi-Faith Action Coalition. Donna was even able to work with EBHO and the expertise of our membership to assess the feasibility of building affordable homes on site at the St. Paul Episcopal Church, where the Trinity Center is located. As a result of Donna’s hard work, advocacy, and a little help from EBHO’s membership, a proposal to develop permanently affordable homes for Trinity Center clients is currently in the works.
Donna also recently spearheaded an effort to get the City to approve using Walnut Creek’s Armory as a temporary homeless shelter for her clients in the winter. As a result of Donna’s organizing and advocacy efforts, and despite organized opposition, City Council unanimously approved the temporary usage. Planning Commission still has to approve the use permit, but Donna’s advocacy and Council’s strong endorsement will serve as powerful testimony for getting the temporary shelter fully approved.
Donna is indeed an EBHO member to be reckoned with, and we’re honored to have her be a part of our community of affordable housing advocates. “I love the access to EBHO’s expertise, perspectives, and advice,” Donna notes. “Working towards a common goal is so much easier than on your own.”
What’s your #WhyILoveEBHO story?
Theola has lived at Palo Vista Gardens, an Oakland Housing Authority affordable housing property for seniors in East Oakland, for just about three years. She describes her life at Palo Vista as one of community, togetherness, and fun. “We do some of everything here,” she notes. And as President of Palo Vista’s Resident Council, member of multiple Palo Vista clubs and activities, and active advocate for affordable homes, Theola helps lead much of the “everything” that goes on at Palo Vista.
Originally from Arkansas, Theola is no stranger to social justice work. She recounts vivid memories of participating in sit-ins against segregation policies in Little Rock or switching the “white” and “colored” signs on water fountains and bathroom doors. As she describes it “The Klansman ran us out of Little Rock.” Barely into her 20s, Theola boarded a bus that took five days to get to Oakland – where Theola has since built a life, community, and home.
With EBHO, Theola has been active on a number of Oakland affordable housing and anti-displacement campaigns. She talks passionately about the need for affordable homes, noting that “rents have skyrocketed, and families living on minimum wage need help living in Oakland. That’s why affordable housing is so important.” Most recently, she has been an active member of Oakland United, a community coalition of housing, environmental, labor, and tenants rights groups fighting for a Coliseum City that provides affordable homes, clean air, good jobs, and no displacement. She has spoken at numerous actions, City Council meetings, and participated in faith-rooted events such as EBHO’s Interfaith Communities United ‘Sacred Land, Sacred Communities’ Anti-Displacement Vigil for Coliseum City.
“I’ve really enjoyed being a part of that [Oakland United] campaign,” says Theola, “Parts of Oakland are being totally overlooked and people are being displaced. We’re organizing to stop displacement so that families can make ends meet and have a roof over their heads.”
While Theola cares about seniors like herself who have lived in Oakland for years but who are now unable to afford market-rate housing, she is also especially concerned about children who lack safe, affordable places to call home. “Children learn better when they have a clean, decent place to live. We need more affordable homes so that children can have their own space to learn and grow.”
Why does Theola love EBHO? “EBHO gets involved in the community, and works to help all people have their voice be heard.”
What’s your #WhyILoveEBHO story?
For Kenneth, building and advocating for more quality affordable housing is more than a day job. It hits home.
He grew up in low-income housing in Oakland, where living in an affordable home made it possible for his family to make ends meet. Affordable housing has also made it possible for his sister to be able to live comfortably and afford critical services for her family. “There are many situations that force people to need affordable housing, and I know first hand what it’s like to have that need,” says Kenneth.
Knowing how an affordable home can make all the difference in building healthy neighborhoods, Kenneth now spends his days making sure more of them are being built in partnership with local communities. He is currently Principal of Landis Development, LLC, an eco-urban real estate development and services company committed to serving historically neglected and minority neighborhoods.
As a longtime EBHO member, he’s also also been a tireless advocate for affordable homes. Active on campaigns in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, Kenneth has lended his technical expertise and voice on countless occasions, helping to secure critical wins in cities across the East Bay. “EBHO holds a special place in my heart – it fills an important void by lifting up affordable housing and social justice issues.”
What does Kenneth love most about EBHO? “The diversity in our membership – that we’re able to have multiple view points on each issue,” which he believes strengthens our power and impact. “I also like the events and the food!” he notes, with a smile.
What’s your #WhyILoveEBHO story?