Growing up, my parents taught me about my responsibilities to my family, my school and my country. Taking responsibility was expected of me. Today, it appears the emphasis has shifted from people taking responsibility to demanding their rights.
There is an extreme focus on rights — as individuals and as members of a democratic society. The public discourse is filled with discussions of rights — whose rights trump the others or are being infringed — but often there is silence about having responsibilities.
There is a constant tension between rights and responsibilities that requires attention to be paid to both sides of the equation, if balance and fairness are to prevail. If responsibilities are ignored, rights are jeopardized. Those who came before us did not ignore or shirk their responsibilities. Our forebears made great sacrifices to secure our rights. They saw that they had a responsibility to shape the future, in fact, they took responsibility for the future.
To protect our right to liberty, the generations before us shouldered the responsibilities to defend our nation, house their families, educate their children and be active participants in our democracy.
The North Bay is paradise and we are blessed to live here. But that blessing may become a curse if we continue to focus primarily on rights.
One area that points out the disparity in focus is the housing crisis.
Housing is a basic human right and we, as individuals and as a community, have a fundamental responsibility to provide it. If we continue to throw up barriers to block new housing, we are doomed. There is a shortage of workers; the strong economy is generating lots of new jobs and at the same time, the workforce is shrinking as the baby boomers retire.
There is no good outcome to a community that refuses to house the workforce it depends on — teachers, health care workers, public safety personnel — because those workers, when given the choice to be rid of long commutes, will choose jobs closer to home, leaving communities with costly housing without the workforce needed.
We have been failing to meet the demand for housing for decades and that failure has put us in a crisis today. We have a responsibility to build more workforce and affordable housing.
When even two-income families are priced out of the market, it is time to recognize that not building housing is more threatening to our future than building it.
How wide can we force the gap between the “haves” and “havenots” before there are serious consequences from those who been denied their right to housing?
It is time for each of us to take responsibility, to choose to be part of the solution and join together to support more workforce and affordable housing so the future of our cities and towns is shaped with intent and purpose.
To keep our economy strong, we need to welcome the next generation of workers. We want our families close by so let’s give our children and our aging parents a chance to live near us.
If we shun our responsibility, we push the problem onto people in other counties — why should they shoulder the responsibility that we refuse? Let’s make room for the people who have a stake by birth or employment in the North Bay, and not risk the health of our environment, economy and social fabric.
The housing crisis is a great challenge. It will take the collective efforts of right-minded people with a shared purpose to solve this crisis. We need a willingness by people and our elected officials to explore how to make housing, for sale and rent, more affordable, allow new types of housing, revisit zoning and permitting fees, adopt new innovations and support possible and promising ideas.
It is our responsibility to bear some change, make small sacrifices, accept newcomers and work together to strengthen our communities. We need to figure out what can we say “yes” to and not stop at “no.”
Let’s end the silence and speak about our responsibilities as loudly as we do about our rights. The future we want can begin with this step — a step towards solutions, understanding and opportunity.
When we value both equal rights and equal responsibilities, we fulfill the ideals of our founders, the needs of our communities, and the dreams of our children.
Cynthia Murray is president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council. She is a former president of the Marin Board of Supervisors and former mayor of Novato. The council, an organization of employers in Marin and Sonoma counties, is hosting a North Bay Housing Summit on May 8 at the Petaluma Sheraton.