Girl Scout tackles housing crisis for Gold Award

Emily Costanza of Walnut Creek talks to audience members at the May 2 Concord City Council meeting after making a presentation about the Bay Area housing crisis. The issue is the subject of her Girl Scout Gold Award. Courtesy Monique Costanza

WALNUT CREEK — For her Girl Scout Gold Award, Emily Costanza wanted to tackle an issue that has a huge impact on many people’s lives, so the Walnut Creek teen looked close to home for something that was affecting her own family.

For the past seven years, Costanza and her mom and two younger siblings have been living in a 1,100-square-foot Walnut Creek apartment. Prior to that, her family lived in an impressive two-story home in Antioch, but they have chosen to remain in Walnut Creek for the quality schools there despite the downsized housing situation.

“We have not wanted to stay in this apartment, but there is simply nothing on the market in Walnut Creek that my mom can afford. Our home situation is exactly what prompted my desire to do this project,” the Las Lomas High School senior said.

To combat the Bay Area issues of high rents and a lack of affordable housing, Costanza has been collecting written and videotaped testimonies from area residents facing the same issues. Her plan is to present them to California Gov. Jerry Brown alongside Assemblywoman Catharine Baker on May 17 in Sacramento.

Costanza’s wish is that her efforts will spark moratoriums on rent hikes and evictions. Along the way, citizens, elected officials and Realtors have been incredibly supportive and receptive to her project, according to Costanza.

“I am aware that my single efforts cannot spark such a huge change. Realistically, I hope that my determination and passion for this project, as well as the voices of many supporters, will speak to Gov. Brown and inspire and urge him to take a step toward reform and reduce the hardships our community faces in the Bay Area,” she said.

In gathering evidence for her project, Costanza has heard stories of renters being forced out of longtime homes and some becoming homeless. She met one woman who had to find subsidized housing at retirement age after being homeless for a short period of time despite the fact that she wanted to work, but no one would hire her.

“For me, the best thing I have learned by doing this project is that we are never alone in our struggles and there are always others thinking the same thing or dealing with the same issue,” she said. “Many people are fighting the same battle and willing to support anyone who will fight alongside with them.”

Along with the looming Gold Award deadline, Costanza is helping to plan her Senior Ball, studying for finals and AP exams, writing scholarship essays and playing soccer. She has been a Girl Scout for 12 years.

“Emily is the busiest young adult I know,” said her mom, Monique Lazzarini. “This teen is looking forward to graduation so she can rest.”

Even if her efforts result in a small part of the housing crisis being solved, Costanza will be pleased. She said that this problem affects most cities here.

“It will take time, but this problem can’t start to reform until a step is taken forward,” Costanza said. “Gov. Brown has to be the one to take that step because if we want California to continue to thrive, we have to be able to house our citizens.”

To learn more about the Gold Award project, check out Emily Costanza’s Facebook page called Bay Area Housing Crisis, or you can reach her at costanza_emily@yahoo.com.