San Francisco + Online

Ideas + Action 2023: Housing Beyond Zero-Sum


Ideas + Action, August 29, 2023 at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco


Thank you for joining us for Ideas + Action 2023: Housing Beyond Zero-Sum!

Housing policy is often viewed as a zero-sum game, where some prosper at the expense of others. Common conceptions include “policies that support renters harm homeowners,” “new apartments undermine existing neighborhoods,” and “affordable housing leads to declining property values.” What causes us to think in these dichotomies in the first place? What role does racism play in these debates? And what shifts would need to take place to create something different?

We were joined by New York Times bestselling author Heather McGhee  as the keynote speaker who helped us better understand how racism played a role in our housing system and her vision of what a just society would look like as it relates to housing policy.





Kick-off the day with a keynote from a New York Times bestselling author and policy advocate.

  • Heather McGhee / The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

2:05 p.m. | CONVERSATION

Hear our keynote speaker in conversation with SPUR's President and CEO, Alicia John-Baptiste, as they discuss housing policy beyond a zero-sum game, what role racism plays in these conversations, and what shifts need to take place to create something different. This conversation will be moderated by Tomiquia Moss, Founder & CEO of All Home.

IA headshots

3 p.m. | BREAK


Join one of the following roundtable discussions with thought leaders from around the Bay Area to find common ground, accelerate action-oriented thinking and tackle some of the biggest challenges facing housing in the region:


SESSION A: Changing the Stories We Tell to Change our Housing Future

SESSION B: Overcoming Racial Exclusion in Housing Policy

SESSION C: Anti-Displacement and New Housing Production: Finding a Way Toward “Yes, And”

SESSION D: Treating Housing As Human Right: Learnings From Abroad

*The breakout sessions are invite-only

5 p.m. | RECEPTION

Continue the conversation over drinks.

Keynote Speaker: Heather McGhee

Ideas + Action 2023 Keynote Speaker: Heather McGhee

Heather McGee headshotHeather designs and promotes solutions to inequality in America. Over her career in public policy, Heather has crafted legislation, testified before Congress and helped shape presidential campaign platforms. Her book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together spent 10 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was longlisted for the National Book Award and Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. The New York Times called it, “The book that should change how progressives talk about race.” and the Chicago Tribune said, “Required reading to move the country forward...”. It is a Washington Post and TIME Magazine Must-Read Book of 2021. The Sum of Us was adapted into a Spotify podcast by Higher Ground, the production company of Barack and Michelle Obama in June 2022, and will be adapted into a young adult readers’ version by Random House Children’s in 2023.

Heather is an educator, serving currently as a Visiting Lecturer in Urban Studies at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies. She has also held visiting positions at Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Grand Strategy Program and the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. She is the recipient of honorary degrees from Muhlenberg College, Niagara University, and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.

For nearly two decades, Heather helped build the non-partisan "think and do" tank Demos, serving four years as president. Under McGhee’s leadership, Demos moved their original idea for “debt-free college” into the center of the 2016 presidential debate, argued before the Supreme Court to protect voting rights in January 2018, helped win pro-voter reforms in five states over two years, provided expert testimony to Congressional committees, including a Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2017, and led the research campaigns behind successful wage increases for low-paid workers on federal contracts, as well as at McDonalds, Walmart and other chain retailers.

As an executive, McGhee transformed Demos on multiple levels. She led a successful strategic planning and rebranding process. She designed a Racial Equity Organizational Transformation which led to an increase in staff racial diversity (from 27 percent people of color to 60 percent in four years), an original racial equity curriculum for staff professional development and a complete overhaul of the organization’s research, litigation and campaign strategies using a racial equity lens. McGhee also nearly doubled the organizational budget in four years. A strong coalition-builder and trusted cross-movement leader, McGhee deepened Demos’ influence through new networks and collaborations inside and outside the Beltway.

An influential voice in the media and a former NBC contributor, McGhee regularly appears on NBC’s Meet the Press and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Deadline White House and All In. Her 2020 TED talk is entitled “Racism Has a Cost for Everyone”. She has shared her opinions, writing and research in numerous outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Politico and National Public Radio. McGhee’s conversation on a C-SPAN program in 2016 with a white man who asked for her help to overcome his racial prejudice went viral, receiving more than 10 million views and sparking wide media coverage that included a New York Times op-ed, a New Yorker piece and a CNN town hall. In spring 2018, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz asked McGhee to advise the company as it designed an anti-bias training for 250,000 employees in the wake of the unjust arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia store. McGhee wrote a report with recommendations for how Starbucks can apply a racial equity lens to their businesses, and how other companies both large and small can benefit from doing the same.

McGhee also played a leadership role in steering the historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and was one of the key advocates credited for the adoption of the Volcker Rule.

She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Yale University and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law,. McGhee is the chair of the board of Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, and also serves on the boards of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Open Society Foundations’ US Programs and Demos.

For more information, please visit and follow Heather on Twitter: @hmcghee and Instagram and Facebook: @HeatherCMcGhee

Breakout Sessions

Session A: Changing the Stories We Tell to Change our Housing Future
Presented by Gensler
The mental models we hold define our reality and what we think is possible to achieve. Part of changing the world comes from changing the story. How has the story changed in the housing space in recent years? What can we learn from these changes? And what is the new housing story that needs to be told in order to create a more abundant, racially just future?


  • Cory Fischer / Lead Narrative Strategist, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California
  • Annie Fryman / Director of Special Projects, SPUR
  • Laura Hughes / Director of Narrative Strategies, PolicyLink
  • Saidah Leatutufu-Burch, Ed. D. / Director of Dream Keeper Initiatives, San Francisco Human Rights Commission

Ronak Davé Okoye / Chief of Strategic Initiatives, SPUR

Session B: Overcoming Racial Exclusion in Housing Policy
Presented by Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Recent years have seen an explosion of research on the nature of racial exclusion in housing policy as well as on-the-ground work to address racial exclusion through housing element law and implementation. What have we learned? What can we do better? And what steps need to be taken to ensure that “housing for all and not just the few” becomes the reality across the Bay Area?


  • Mayor Jesse Arreguín / Mayor, City of Berkeley
  • Irene Cheng / Co-Chair of the Housing Committee, The Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign
  • Stephen Menendian / Assistant Director, Othering & Belonging Institute
  • Marico Sayoc / Executive Director, CASSY | Former Mayor, Town of Los Gatos

Erika Pinto / San José Planning Policy Manager, SPUR

Session C: Anti-Displacement and New Housing Production: Finding a Way Toward “Yes, And”
Presented by San Francisco Foundation
The community planning field continues to debate the effects of new market-rate housing development on displacement. Some point to research showing that new housing construction improves affordability at the regional scale. Others argue that the construction of new housing — with rents and prices set beyond the reach of low- and middle-income households — can drive up housing prices and rents in a neighborhood and induce displacement of both residents and businesses. How can we address these issues in a data-informed way that stays true to the lived experience of communities impacted by displacement pressures? Is there a new way to have this challenging conversation? What have we learned in recent years that can point to a different way forward?


  • Karen Chapple / Director of the School of Cities, University of Toronto | Founder, Urban Displacement Project at UC Berkeley
  • Karoleen Feng / Community Real Estate Director, MEDA
  • Rebecca Foster / Chief Executive Officer, San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund
  • Chloe Jackman / Chief Hype Officer, Chloe Jackman Studios

Sujata Srivastava / San Francisco Director, SPUR

Session D: Treating Housing As a Human Right: Learnings From Abroad
Presented by Crankstart

In the United States, housing is treated as a financial asset — something to be bought and sold. But in other countries, housing is treated as a human right — something that is essential to the well-being of all people. What happens when the government’s role in the housing sector is organized around the concept of housing as a human right? How can housing be treated more like infrastructure? What is social housing and what lessons might it hold in the United States context?


  • Ruby Bolaria-Shifrin / Head of Community, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
  • Natalie Bonnewit / Principal, Bonnewit Development Services
  • Helmi Hisserich / Director of Global Solutions, Global Policy Leadership Academy
  • Joseph Ooi / Co-Director, Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies | Professor, National University of Singapore
  • Kristy Wang / Principal, Community Planning Collaborative

Michael Lane / State Policy Director, SPUR


Sponsors as of 8/24

Refund Policy

Sponsorship payments: Will not be refunded, as sponsorship benefits take effect immediately and are on-going through the date of the event.

Auxiliary Services

If, in order to participate in a SPUR event, you need auxiliary aids or services for a disability (e.g., qualified interpreter, qualified reader, written materials, taped texts) please submit your request five business days before the event to [email protected] or 415-781-8726 x132. SPUR will work with you in identifying effective auxiliary aids or services that it can provide. If you need to cancel your request, please notify SPUR at least two business days before the event.