Housing justice champions adapt together at the third Challenge Grant convening

Hi, I’m Evita Chávez, and I just joined the San Francisco Foundation as Associate Initiative Officer for Partnership for the Bay’s Future. I had the privilege of beginning my tenure in this position by attending the third quarterly convening for the Partnership’s Challenge Grants, where members of the Partnership had the opportunity to share with and learn from each other. The quarterly convenings are an invaluable opportunity to gather with thought leaders from throughout the Bay Area and discuss approaches to the region’s historic housing crisis. This year, it is especially important to have a space for these minds to come together as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to elevate the urgency and foundational importance of access to safe, affordable housing.

The consequences of insecure housing on health have cost thousands of lives, forcing many to choose between paying for medical care versus paying for rent. A recent study found that 54% of cost-burdened renters delay care due to costs, with 83% of renters prioritizing paying rent before anything else. Housing Pulse Survey data reports that over 1.2 million Californians are currently behind on rent, a bitter reality for the half of all renters in San Francisco and the East Bay who have lost income during the pandemic. Support for renters has had to move almost entirely online as a result of the pandemic, creating new obstacles to access as many struggle to access internet.

The Challenge Grants quarterly convening provided a space for folks to share what they have learned this year and to meet others who are doing similar work. In a year where we have all learned to live at a distance, the convening provided a space to connect people, ideas, and practices.

I was struck by the overall positivity and optimism of the group. This optimism was supported by a strong camaraderie amongst the participants and deep commitment to housing justice. People seemed genuinely happy to see each other and to hear ideas, with hosts of panels happily exclaiming names of folks who entered the Zoom room. The ends of presentations were met with a flurry of questions, especially asking if materials could be shared within the Partnership and then publicly. Breakout groups were filled with smiles and deep conversation, led by intelligent questions from folks familiar with each other’s work. I took rigorous notes, trying to collect as much of the rich information as I could. I was truly drinking from the firehose, but I savored every second. Continuing in the spirit of communal sharing and learning, I am excited to write about the convening here.

The stated goals of this meeting, the third convening of the Partnership’s Challenge Grant recipients, were threefold: 1) to share regional perspectives on the state of housing during the Covid-19 pandemic, 2) to learn about and share best practices for community engagement virtually and at a distance, and 3) to share and learn about opportunities and challenges to advancing effective tenant protection and preservation strategies. A common word in these conversations was “adaptive,” used not only to celebrate the adaptations these convenings have had to make since the first meeting in March, but also in regard to the work members of the Partnership have been doing on the ground over the past six months and to the public narrative shift around housing as the pandemic has elevated understanding of access to housing as a lever for health equity.

The convening featured a morning session discussing strategies for effectively engaging community during the pandemic and two simultaneous afternoon sessions on preservation and renter protection strategies.

The morning session emphasized the adaptive nature of the work by discussing new challenges to community engagement that have emerged as a result of our new working-from-a-distance normal. While we still face the same challenges of accessibility, such as language barriers, time constraints, and the complexity of government systems, these challenges and our traditional approaches to them have manifested differently in a world trapped on a digital screen. Panelists in the morning session spoke of successful public engagement campaigns and the barriers that still need to be addressed. PolicyLink’s Inclusive Processes to Advance Racial Equity in Housing Recovery: A Guide for Cities during the Covid-19 Pandemic guide is a helpful tool to think critically about and address barriers to community engagement in the Covid-19 era.

The afternoon sessions allowed for more in-depth conversation about perseveration and tenant protection practices that members of the Partnership currently employ, including San Jose’s Anti-displacement Strategy and the current campaign in Berkeley to pass a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

In a time where we are forced to perpetually readjust and adapt, the convening presented an exciting opportunity for the Challenge Grant community to share out what they have learned during this adaptation process and collectively envision a better future for the Bay Area. I look forward to the next convening and all the updates we will be sharing then. In the meantime, keep up with work of the Partnership and the Challenge Grant cohort on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Community ownership model saves residents from eviction

Jayda is packing her family’s things into boxes, but she’s not moving. She’s preparing to temporarily relocate while her family’s home gets desperately needed repairs. It’s the end of what has been a very long road to home security for Jayda and her co-tenants, and the beginning of a happy new chapter in their lives.

Jayda and her family are members of a resident operated housing cooperative at 1432 12th Avenue in Oakland, along with four other families. Many of the residents have deep roots in the building spanning almost 20 years; over time the group has formed a deep cohesion on mission and values. “They say it’s remarkable that, when talking to us, you’re never really talking to an individual; you’re always talking to the house. We collectively make decisions,” says Christine, one of the resident members of the Co-op.

Multi-unit building on 12th Ave in Oakland recently acquired by BACLT

They got there the hard way. Years of landlord abuse and dangerous building habitability issues forged a bond as the residents fought together for a safe and affordable home. Finally, this June, the hard-earned battle was won when they intercepted the purchase of their building by a private developer in favor of a sale to Bay Area Community Land Trust (BACLT). Thanks to a loan from the Bay’s Future Fund (BFF) and affordable housing preservation financing from the City of Oakland, BACLT was not only able to purchase the house, but will make all critical repairs and preserve rent at below 50% AMI for current residents in perpetuity. BACLT, a longstanding nonprofit working to expand access to permanent affordable housing by establishing co-ops, will empower these residents to make decisions about the future of the building.

Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) manages the Bay’s Future Fund. “We were thrilled to be able to help support and guide this project to fruition,” says Cindy Wu, Executive Director of Bay Area LISC. “This is what we’re all about. But this victory really belongs to a fiercely determined group of tenants. They turned this building into affordable housing. It’s an incredible story.”

It’s a story that heated up when two of the building’s residents discovered that 1432 12th Avenue had fallen into foreclosure, and into the hands of an investor looking to sell. Before they knew it, the investor had a buyer. The tenants acted fast to save the building’s affordability. Five of the six units in the building were occupied by low and extremely-low income households paying rents ranging from 31-50% Area Median Income (AMI). Though the building fell under Oakland’s rent control ordinances, so many renovations were needed to bring the building up to code that, if the building was purchased by a market rate developer, the costs of those improvements would be passed on to residents—pricing them out of affordability.

They reached out to BACLT for help.  The organization determined that the acquisition and preservation of their building was feasible but, given the low rents and how much work there was to do, they needed serious financing and low rates to make the deal work. This is where Bay Area LISC and the Bay’s Future Fund came into play.

The Bay’s Future Fund (BFF) is one of the loan funds under the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, a collaborative regional effort to protect, produce, and preserve affordable housing in the bay area. BACLT was already working with LISC on another affordable housing project and knew that the BFF had loan products that might work. They applied for a blend of financing from the BFF and the City of Oakland and got commitments from both.

“The project likely would not have been possible if we hadn’t gotten the low interest rates BFF was able to offer us,” says Miranda Strominger, Program Manager at BACLT, “Nor without their support. We sent some preliminary numbers to the underwriter at Bay Area LISC, and she really helped us push it through from the very start. They had an energy for it from the beginning.”

Miranda thinks back to when she first met the residents of 1432 12th Avenue, to talk with them about  whether they were ready to live as a co-op. “They said, ‘We’ve already been cooperating together for so long. That’s what we’ve had to do to survive.’” remembers Miranda. “So, it’s been very exciting to hear from some of the group that a lot of that stress and insecurity is gone. Now we get to sustainably work together as partners for their self-determination.”

While the house’s foundation is replaced, BACLT’s contractors will work on everything from repairing inadequate gas, electric, and sewage lines to replacing and repairing stairs and windows and installing a new roof. Residents will also get new flooring and kitchen appliances, and even some needed landscaping.

Jayda is thrilled. “From what I can tell from current market rates, a two bedroom in my neighborhood is close to $1600-$2000, but my rent is $1050. And my daughter is going to get a bedroom! They’re going to build a wall to make her own room. We’re also getting a washer and dryer, and I’m going to get a new stove and oven!”

Bay Area LISC is proud to leverage the Bay’s Future Fund to help support and protect these families from being displaced, especially during a global pandemic and look forward to funding more projects that protect, preserve, and build affordable homes for our Bay Area neighbors.

Read More :