News: Palo Alto explores new policies to help tenants

Rental protection policies have been items of great interest to Palo Alto City Councilmembers for years and are therefore the focus of the Palo Alto Challenge Grant team. The policy package described in the article below came together through months of discussions with renters and service providers, thanks to coordination with community partner SV@Home and new local organization Palo Alto Renters Association (PARA). The renter protection package works to improve access for renters from a variety of different standpoints and is currently being discussed with the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC), an important stop along the way to City Council discussion planned for summer 2021. This article unpacks some of the discussion held at the last public meeting, during which three policies were reviewed. A continuation of that conversation will be held at today’s (Wednesday, April 28) PTC meeting at 6pm. – Lauren Bigelow, Palo Alto Challenge Grant Fellow

 

Is Palo Alto ready for rent stabilization? City explores new policies to help tenants

Planning commission supports creating survey, expanding city’s program for assistance

by Gennady Sheyner / Palo Alto Weekly

Seeking to address the plight of low-income residents in a city with famously astronomical rents, Palo Alto is considering a wide range of new programs designed to protect and assist tenants facing displacement.

Some of these programs — including, most notably, rental stabilization — have been brought up in the past, only to fizzle in the face of political opposition. Others, including limits on security deposits that landlords can charge and a “fair chance” ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on criminal backgrounds, would be discussed for the first time.

The wide-ranging effort kicked off on Wednesday night, when the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission unanimously endorsed two new initiatives to support renters: establishing a survey program that would allow the city to track its inventory of rental properties and expanding renter relocation assistance, with a particular focus on the “cost-burdened” households — those that spend more than 30% of their income on rent.

The commission split over a third program: expanding protections for renters facing eviction beyond those already included in Assembly Bill 1482, the 2019 legislation that capped rent increases and, in many cases, prohibited property owners from terminating tenancies without just cause. By a 4-3 vote, with Chair Bart Hechtman, Vice Chair Giselle Roohparvar and Commissioner Michael Alcheck dissenting, the commission voted to recommend extending just-cause protections to properties that had been built within the past 15 years as well as to renters who moved into their residences less than a year ago. Both of these categories are currently exempt from the state bill.

Other ideas that are on the table and that the commission plans to debate in the coming months include enacting rent stabilization and providing tenants with a right to counsel when dealing with eviction. The commission plans to discuss these ideas in the coming months before they go to the City Council for review and approval.

The new push to strengthen tenant protection is, in some ways, a revival of a debate that has proceeded in fits and starts since 2017, when three members of the council — Tom DuBois, Lydia Kou and former council member Karen Holman first proposed in a memo that the city consider rent stabilization and other measures to help renters, who make up 45% of the city’s households. The proposals in the memo, which included a cap on rent increases, were ultimately rejected by the council majority, which strongly opposed any new policies that border on rent control. The most vocal opponents of the proposal were former council members Greg Scharff and Adrian Fine, who argued at one hearing that instituting rent stabilization would “reduce housing availability and decrease housing quality.”

The debate grew more heated in 2018, when the three council members — this time, with support from former council member Cory Wolbach — submitted a new memo with a more modest set of reforms, including better enforcement of the city’s requirement for one-year leases and evaluation of stronger renter-relocation assistance. While the council agreed to study these ideas, they once again rejected an attempt by DuBois and others to reintroduce the topic of rent stabilization for further study.

Now, with Scharff and Fine no longer on the council and DuBois’ political camp enjoying a council majority, the topic of rent protection is set to return to the council agenda. Even though the council agreed in 2018 not to even study rent stabilization, the idea is one of seven that had been identified by the city as worth considering.

Lauren Bigelow, a fellow with Partnership for the Bay who is leading Palo Alto’s effort, outlined on Wednesday the seven strategies that her group believes the city should pursue. In the coming months, she and the city’s planning staff plan to conduct more outreach about these policies to property owners and landlords before the topic is expected to return to the council in late summer.

Some of these policies, including rent stabilization and right to counsel, face high hurdles because of, respectively, political division and high costs. But the commission agreed on Wednesday that others could — and should — be enacted as soon as possible.

The proposed survey is at the top of the list. The commission agreed that creating a registry of rental properties — akin to ones already in place in cities such as Mountain View and East Palo Alto — is critical for gathering data before any new initiatives are enacted. The commission also agreed that the city should pay for the survey rather than funding it through a fee that would be assessed to each rental unit.

“The policies that we ultimately come up with in the city need to be narrowly tailored to address the problem,” Hechtman said. “They don’t need to be broadly tailored to make us feel good.”

Commissioner Ed Lauing called the topic of renter assistance “the most important issue for land use in Palo Alto” and noted that protecting renters is “essential to our community.” According to data provided by Bigelow, 27% of the city’s renter households earn less than $50,000 per year, which creates a significant challenge in a city where the average rent is close to $3,000 per month and where about 14% of rental units are deed-restricted as affordable housing.

And while the overall percentage of “cost-burdened” rental households is at 37%, the rate is higher than 70% in every category where the household income falls under $75,000.

“This is about housing affordability and socioeconomic diversity. This has got to be our top priority,” Lauing said.

The city already has a tenant relocation assistance program that requires property owners to provide between $7,000 (for studios) and $17,000 (for apartments with three or more bedrooms) in assistance to households facing eviction. The program, however, only applies to buildings with 50 or more apartments, which make up about 22% of the city’s rental stock. The proposal that the city is evaluating would expand the range of properties that would be subject to this requirement.

While most commissioners supported the goal of the proposed program, both Roohparvar and Alcheck raised concerns about the unintended consequences of enacting new renter protections. Both worried about situations in which a property owner wants to redevelop the property to create more units but is deterred from doing so by policies that make it cost prohibitive — or procedurally difficult — to vacate the property.

Alcheck said he is deeply concerned about the impacts of any programs that can “make the outlook for future housing development even more bleak.”

“But my hope is that we appreciate this notion that as a city we have failed to address a major problem in our community and as a state we failed to address this very same problem,” Alcheck said. “We’re not addressing housing development, we’re not addressing the homeless situation and — in that vacuum — we’re left with one tool that has lots of consequences.”

Hechtman agreed and suggested that as the city moves to expand its requirements for relocation assistance, it should focus on those with low incomes.

“We really need to be cautious when we lower that threshold because we’re talking about multifamily properties that could potentially redevelop with more units,” Hechtman said. “We need to think about, ‘Are we going to create disincentives for a property owner with five-unit buildings to tear it down and create a 10-unit building if we’re going to burden them with these kinds of costs?'”

Prodded by Hechtman and Alcheck, the commission agreed to focus its expanded relocation-assistance programs on households with low or moderate incomes, rather than basing it on the number of apartments at a given property. Commissioner Bryna Chang also pushed back against suggestions that the new policy will deter redevelopment. A property owner who is evicting tenants as part of a redevelopment project should be able to pay for eviction assistance from the proceeds they will likely net from the additional units, as well as from the higher rent that they would likely charge in the newly built property, she said.

“We want redevelopment and we don’t want to lose housing,” Chang said. “But if someone evicts everyone in order to redevelop, they probably will go denser, so it will pay for itself.

 

Read the full article here.

East Palo Alto Challenge Grant Partners are One Step Closer to Creating a “Placekeepers Co-Op” through the Acquisition of the YUCA Building

 

Just last month, YUCA (Youth United for Community Action), a 27-year-old grassroots organization in East Palo Alto focused on social justice and youth empowerment, was on the verge of being displaced from its yellow adobe brick home of 11 years, after the long-time property owner told YUCA staff that he intended to remodel the house and put it on the market for sale.  

With the incredible support from foundations, philanthropists, and private donors, YUCA was able to fundraise the $1.2M needed to acquire the house.  YUCA is now fundraising an additional $500,000 on GoFundMe to provide much-needed rehabilitation and repairs to the main building and its accessory dwelling unit (ADU). 

This fundraising effort fits within the broader vision listed in East Palo Alto’s Partnership for the Bay’s Future Challenge Grant. The Challenge Grants bringlocal changemakerstogether to work on housing policies that protect tenants and preserve existing affordable housing. One of the East Palo Alto Challenge Grant goals is to launch a preservation model centered on a Community Land Trust (CLT) to acquire, rehabilitate, and redevelop properties.  

The East Palo Alto Challenge Grant partners identified the YUCA site at 2135 Clarke Ave2,692 sq ft single-family home property that holds a historical significance in the community as an intergenerational center for organizing, learning, and healingas one of the pilot projects to acquire buildings and retain that building’s affordability under a community land trust 

Challenge Grant partners EPACANDO (East Palo Alto Community Alliance and Neighborhood Development Organization) and PAHALI (Preserving Affordable Housing Assets Longterm, Inc.) community land trust are working with YUCA to complete the acquisition and ensure permanent affordability and community stewardship of the site.  

While EPACANDO has pledged a $250,000 loan toward the purchase of the YUCA site, it has also committed to providing technical assistance for the future production of an additional ADU, for a total of two ADU’s on the site 

EPACANDO has a 30-year track record of helping expand affordable housing and is currently administering the City of East Palo Alto’s below market rate ownership program. EPACANDO’s new CANDO ADU program is helping homeowners get ADUs by offering free ADU lot assessments, financial counseling, and permitting, construction, and leasing support. Three pilot ADUs are now breaking ground under the CANDO ADU program, and a new ADU on the YUCA site could be the next pilot project if enough funding is secured. 

What makes the YUCA ADU pilot project unique is PAHALI’s commitment to keeping the site’s ADU permanently affordable through community stewardship. This site will serve as the inaugural “placekeepers co-op, ultimately comprising more than 20 scattered-site ADUs for cooperative shareholding members 

PAHALI is a 25-year-old community land trust whose mission is placekeeping for local placekeepers; serving the region and focusing on East Palo Alto. “Pahali” is a Swahili word that means “place.” The name is an intentional reference to African-American roots of the community land trust movement in the United States and to the African-American leadership of the establishment of self-governance for East Palo Alto residents.   

“Black and indigenous communities have already identified community stewardship as a vision for community healing and prosperity, so it is important for us to listen and act on these teachings,” said Ofelia Bello, Youth United for Community Action Executive Director and PAHALI Board Chair.   

To that end, PAHALI aims to address the barriers to homeownership by holding land in a community land trust and conveying affordable housing to a cooperative of placekeepers of East Palo Alto. These placekeepers include low-income, multiracial, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational East Palo Alto residents who are facing housing instability and who would greatly benefit from becoming stewards of their own community.

One of these placekeepers is Leonora Martinez, whose story has been widely shared and illustrates the role community land trusts can play in keeping residents rooted and civically engaged in East Palo Alto. Leonora has been able to develop her leadership skills serving on the PAHALI board. 

The scattered-site ADU placekeepers co-op” pilot that closely couples the community land trust and youth leadership development may be the first of its kind in the Bay Area.  

A project of this magnitude, however, will require enough flexible acquisition capital to pay for other rapid-response land acquisitions, as well as enough gap permanent financing to keep the land affordable if it must be acquired at near-market price 

In the November 2020 election, East Palo Alto Challenge Grant partners and local community leaders attempted to pass a hotel tax to fund affordable housing acquisition, redevelopment, and rehabilitation. Although the attempt fell just short of the two-thirds threshold needed to pass, advocates are not losing hope to bring this back to the voters 

In the meantime, East Palo Alto Challenge Grant partners are appealing to private funders to help with the acquisitions.

The YUCA site will serve as the first, but not the last, of this “placekeepers co-op” in East Palo Alto. It honors both YUCA and PAHALI’s missions to ensure that homegrown leadership continues to help steward the present and future of East Palo Alto, by putting youth at the forefront.  

With this partnership, YUCA is proving that youth are not just the promise of the future, but all the possibilities of the present,” Bello said. 

Funders like the Grove Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation, and several individuals, family foundations, and community foundations have identified the tremendous need for creating affordable homeownership opportunities in communities impacted by our history of racist housing and land use laws. One of these communities is East Palo Altowhich currently houses a majority of residents who are low-income, people of color facing high housing cost burdensMost importantly, they are seeing the importance of youth empowerment in the housing and community ownership movement. 

Community land trusts, and the placekeepers co-op in particular, show the power of collaboration and community over the long haulThe San Francisco Foundation is proud to support this work and the possibilities this pilot represents said Aysha Pamukcu, Policy Fund Initiative Officer for the Partnership for the Bay’s Future. 

After all, intergenerational stewardship of land requires intergenerational leadership development. 

Centering Equity in Housing – Convening Review

On March 21, 2021 we had an unprecedented opportunity — amidst a global pandemic and a national reckoning with racial injustice — to join together to discuss the reimagination of our housing system and to prioritize solutions with equity at the core. Specifically,  solutions that recognize and dismantle centuries of exclusionary policies and practices that have created socially and economically segregated neighborhoods, created or prevented wealth building, and made Black and brown populations more vulnerable to crises of all kinds.

The convening brought together affordable housing practitioners, thought leaders, and experts to learn and share ideas on housing policies and innovations that center racial equity. Sessions explored topics like small-scale projects that are advancing housing equity efforts locally, how to build community power through narrative, equity-based policy models, and more.

The following sessions took place live during the event:

Introducing the Partnership for the Bay’s Future

Welcome Remarks and Keynote

Join Khanh Russo, Senior Director for the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, and Cindy Wu, Executive Director for LISC Bay Area, for welcoming remarks in the Centering Equity in Housing Convening, followed by a keynote from David Williams, Policy Outreach Director at Opportunity Insights.

David discusses his work at the intersection of equity and policy, including Creating Moves to Opportunity, a national housing mobility initiative. Introduction to the keynote is by Ruby Bolaria-Shifrin, Director of Housing Affordability at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Main Stage Panel

Affordable homes for Black and Brown households continue to languish behind the national average. New economic hardship triggered by the pandemic compounds historic challenges to marginalized communities. In this context, housing stakeholders are working toward equitable housing policies and wealth-building opportunities for all households, especially for low-income households of color.

Hear perspectives from the Partnership for the Bay’s Future Policy Fund and Family of Loan Funds about creating more equitable housing opportunities.

Featured speakers include Aysha Pamukcu, Policy Fund Initiative Officer, Partnership for the Bay’s Future and Asha Rao, Senior Director of Investments for Bay Area LISC. Moderated by Molly Solomon, KQED’s Housing Reporter and Co-host of the Housing podcast, Sold Out: Rethinking Housing in America.

Session A – Big Impact, Small Scale

Session A panel highlights the big wins we can make preserving tenant-occupied rental housing and shines a light on how cities and funders can deepen their support for this high-impact affordable housing solution. It is a conversation between organizations working in different counties to see what we can learn and build on each other’s wins.

Featured panelists include Karoleen Feng, Community Real Estate Director, MEDA, and Aubra Levine, Real Estate Development Director, the Unity Council. Moderated by Aboubacar Ndiaye, Partnership for the Bay’s Future Challenge Grant Fellow.

Session B – Community Power Through Narrative

Session B panel highlights ways we can come together to support housing reform by leveraging the power of narrative and storytelling. Here we discuss strategies to build long-lasting public support for housing.

Featured speakers include Dr. Tiffany Manuel (Dr.T), Founder, President, and CEO of TheCaseMade and RyanNicole Austin, Grammy-nominated MC and Poet and award-winning Artist, Actress, Athlete, and Activist. Moderated by Anna Cash, Partnership for the Bay’s Future Challenge Grant Fellow.

Session C – Advancing Housing Justice Policies

Session C panelists share their experiences in developing cohesive local policies that protect families and individuals burdened by high rents and preserve and produce affordable housing. They discuss how to center marginalized voices for effective, inclusive policy-making that enables Bay Area residents to remain in their communities.

Featured speakers include Ofelia Bello, Executive Director of YUCA in East Palo Alto, and Jennifer Pearce, Housing and Community Development Manager of Alameda County. Moderated by Karen Camacho, Partnership for the Bay’s Future Challenge Grant Fellow.

Closing Remarks

Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, Executive Director SOMOS Mayfair, leads the closing of the Partnership for the Bay’s Future Centering Equity in Housing Convening.

SOMOS Mayfair supports children, organizes families, and connects neighbors to uplift the dreams, power, and leadership of community and address systemic inequities.

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The Value and Meaning of “Home”: The Partnership for the Bay’s Future at Two Years

This past year has been one of extraordinary challenges and hardships for many in our community. It was a year that prompted all of us to reflect on the value of home — home as a place of safety, stability, and sanctuary.  As a collaborative initiative focused on producing, preserving, and protecting affordable homes in the San Francisco Bay area, the Partnership for the Bay’s Future found our work more pressing, as more families in the Bay Area struggled to find and stay in homes they could afford.

We recently marked our second anniversary at the Partnership for the Bay’s Future. Anniversaries for organizations like ours are muted events in the midst of a pandemic, but they are still a time to take stock of progress and map where we still need to go.

While the pandemic compelled us to adjust to new ways of virtual collaboration, our Partnership proved to be adaptive and resilient, and our investment in producing new and preserving and rehabilitating existing affordable homes in the Bay Area continued apace. In the last year, the Partnership’s Bay’s Future Fund closed seven deals that will produce new housing for 492 individuals and families and financed eight deals that kept housing affordable for more than 460 individuals and families. And in December 2020, our partner Facebook and Destination: Home announced the launch of the Community Housing Fund, the latest member of our family of loan funds dedicated to investment in producing and preserving affordable homes for Bay Area residents with extremely low incomes.

This short highlight video provides greater detail on our work.

The Partnership is also about advancing policies to protect Bay Area renters vulnerable to displacement and eviction. Our Challenge Grant cohort, which began its work just over a year ago,  continues to lay the groundwork for equitable housing policy throughout the Bay Area, working with government and community-based organizations across the region.  

To make our work more transparent for all audiences, including and especially prospective new partners looking to work with us, we have refreshed the Partnership website, adding new features to make it easier to track our progress and learn how to collaborate with us.  For example, check out the new impact map on our home page, which allows you to see our latest news from each of the five Bay Area counties where we are currently working.

Visit the Who We Are page to get to know our Partnership team and to see a timeline of our milestones to date. And visit The Work page to learn more about our family of loan funds if you are a developer interested in building or preserving affordable homes. If you are interested in changing housing policy in our region, you can learn about future grant funding opportunities from our Policy Fund.

The urgency of our work — to create a Bay Area where diverse people from all walks of life can afford to live and thrive — has only grown as pandemic-related income and job loss magnified our region’s housing affordability challenges.  A recent 2021 Bay Area Equity Atlas study estimated that 137,500 Bay Area households, or approximately 11 percent of the region’s renter households, are currently behind on rent and at risk of eviction unless new renter protections are implemented. The study found that rent indebtedness in the Bay Area hits low-wage workers and people of color the hardest — nearly 8 in 10 households behind on rent earn less than $75,000 a year, and 90 percent of at-risk renters are people of color.

The Bay Area Equity Atlas analysis looked at the nine-county Bay Areas. Still, the overwhelming majority of at-risk households identified — 113,966, or nearly 83 percent — are in the five counties where the Partnership for the Bay’s Future’s work and investment are focused.  

It will take all of us, across different sectors and communities, working together to meet the challenges before us, and we know that this year — the Partnership’s third year — is a critical one. We hope you will join our movement to create a more resilient and equitable Bay Area.