Accelerating Transformative & Equitable Housing Solutions – Convening Recap

Khanh Russo & Cindy Wu

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more evident that many of our systems, especially those in housing, are broken. Despite years of public discussion about the affordable housing crisis, nothing brought the dire need to build a future where everyone has a stable and affordable place to live into starker relief than COVID-19. While increasing numbers of people lost income during the pandemic either due to illness or economic impacts, housing prices in the Bay Area continued to rise. The result has been devastating. We cannot wait any longer to bring new ideas into action to address the housing reality facing our region.

When we launched the Partnership for the Bay’s Future (PBF) three years ago, we were led by a deeply held belief that having a home is a matter of basic justice. And we knew that it takes innovation to build a future where everyone has a stable home and is free to pursue their dreams and build the lives they want to live. That’s why we manifested a new equitable approach to fighting the housing crisis – creating an organization that both had a Policy Fund to support the creation and implementation of equitable-centered policies to stem the tide of displacement; and a Family of Loan Funds to invest in preserving and producing affordable housing across the Bay Area. The idea was that it takes both to cause change and that each arm of the organization could inform and complement the other.

On March 3rd, we acknowledged three years of PBF by bringing together affordable housing practitioners, policy makers, and experts for a virtual convening on what has been working, what challenges we have faced, and how we can accelerate equitable housing solutions.  Anchored by a keynote address from Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez, we were joined by over 400 housing champions from across the region and state, all sharing a common passion of working to make sure everyone has a comfortable and affordable place to call home. It was clear that all present felt there was no time to waste. As Secretary Ramirez said, “The the moment requires us to be disruptors.”

Advancing Equitable Policies

Based in our belief that effective policy is the key to scaling and replicating what works, one of our founding ideas was for PBF’s Policy Fund to facilitate collaboration between local jurisdictions and trusted community organizations which would bring the voices of those often excluded from the policy process: renters, low-income residents, and people of color. The plan also included providing technical assistance and hiring housing fellows to serve as full-time government staff, adding capacity to advance housing policies and serve as a bridge to increase engagement between jurisdictions and their community partners. The idea was that by bringing together these three elements – community engagement, a government eager to pass equitable housing policies, and added capacity – it would inform more effective and equitable policies.

The Policy Fund’s pilot program launched at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. This timing was a blessing in disguise as the Challenge Grants teams were positioned to provide critical support for jurisdictions as they mounted an initial response to COVID. The fellows we seated in jurisdictions strengthened those jurisdictions’ capacity to put emergency housing measures in place. The critical support that PBF provided to jurisdictions in their initial response to COVID with such policies as eviction moratoria and rental assistance protected 73,000 tenants from losing their homes.

Due to the increased capacity and community partnerships, many of the jurisdictions – most notably San Jose, Oakland and County of Alameda – implemented tenant protection policies such as eviction moratoria, expanding tenant protections, and bans on rental increases. Fellows in San Jose and Redwood City brought the expertise for developing anti-displacement policies, resulting in more inclusive proposals. And community partners like East Palo Alto Community Alliance and Neighborhood Development Organization were at the table to co-create policies to preserve mobile home parks with East Palo Alto City leaders in a more intentional way. We found that by involving trusted community partners at the beginning of the effort, the process was authentic, community involved, and equity centered. As a result of the Challenge Grants, 28 anti-displacement, tenant protection and housing preservation policies have been proposed by jurisdictions; and we expect 12 of those to pass in 2022, which are likely to impact 500,000 renters in the Bay Area.

This new model works. It has not only allowed jurisdictions to create more equitable policies but has provided them the structure to work together as a cohort to quickly learn, accelerating policy development and implementation efforts and to scale regionally. Equally important, we helped community organizations and members build lasting, trusting partnerships with government representatives and helped them understand how to effect policy change.

We are looking forward to applying our learnings to our next set of jurisdictions with our Breakthrough Grants, launching this June. Exciting policy ideas from the incoming fellows have already started pouring in, such as equity platforms, community-led equity committees, and a reparations framework. Oakland and San Francisco will be working on efforts to support emerging BIPOC developers, and we have jurisdictions planning to partner with faith-based organizations to convert underutilized land and to empower land trusts to acquire land.

As Senior Director of PBF (and VP of Policy and Innovation, San Francisco Foundation) Khanh Russo said, “Even with the challenges we have faced, we were not deterred. We are transforming systems and making sure that we build back better.”

Funding Preservation and Production

But policy work is only half the battle. The Partnership is proud to have produced or preserved over 3,000 units of affordable housing through our Family of Loan Funds. We also came up with a new way to evaluate this success. With $300M out the door and over 30 deals closed so far through the two funds that make up PBF’s $500M Family of Loan Funds— the Bay’s Future Fund and the Community Housing Fund — we knew it was time to assess our impact.

“Our ambition at Partnership for the Bay’s Future goes beyond number of units. Equity goals are our north star,” stated Cindy Wu, Executive Director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in the Bay Area, which manages the funds. “We wanted to assess not only the number of units secured, but how we were making progress towards our racial equity and economic inclusion goals. We therefore decided to develop a robust framework to hold ourselves accountable to the mission of the Partnership.”

We started by identifying the specific impact goals of the Partnership and then built a crosswalk between those goals and data that our lending partners had already collected from borrowers or that could reasonably be collected. We used that information to create indicators, then vetted them with the Partnership stakeholders. The resulting Equity Dashboard is now leading the Community Development Finance field. Using this dashboard, we also found PBF’s Family of Loan funds to be making strong progress including:

  • Half of the units financed via the Community Housing Fund (CHF) will be affordable to households earning below 30% AMI, and 90% of the housing we have financed through the Bay’s Future Fund will be permanently affordable to households earning between 51-80% of Area Median Income (AMI).
  • 95% of the tenants living in the homes preserved through the Bay’s Future Fund (BFF) investments identify as people of color.
  • 63% of the new construction units financed are expected to house non-white households once they ready to be occupied.
  • 38% of the leadership of organizations borrowing from PBF identify as people of color, a notable statistic in the real estate development industry which is dominated by white-owned and managed firms.

By pairing innovative investment with game-changing policies, PBF is reinventing the systems and policies that have put Bay Area housing beyond the reach of too many individuals and families. We are very much looking forward to continuing on this path, in partnership with the many community partners from whom we have learned so much.

Secretary Ramirez summed it up nicely by saying, “The pandemic exposed deep rooted housing inequities, especially for our most vulnerable communities. The pandemic, however, has also been the great accelerator – giving us the opportunity to work together in new ways towards both short- and long-term solutions.”

Watch the full convening