The Breakthrough Grants

The Policy Fund is launching the Breakthrough Grants for Housing Production and Preservation (“Breakthrough Grants”), a program to catalyze policy innovation in building and preserving affordable housing in local communities. In a time of tough COVID-related budget and staffing constraints, the Breakthrough Grants provide increased capacity and tailored technical assistance that will support local breakthroughs in equitable housing solutions.

The Breakthrough Grants are all about helping communities pass equitable housing policy. We do this by:

Placing a dynamic, mission-driven fellow within local governments
Funding community partners to work with local government to engage and activate the local community.
Supporting cohort success with peer learning opportunities and funding for technical assistance to help each cohort meet their policy goals

The program is open to local governments in the Bay Area who apply in partnership with a community partner organization. The Policy Fund will select a cohort of jurisdictions that propose the most high-impact, yet realistically achievable plans to be a part of the Breakthrough Grants. Applications are due July 30, 2021 and awards will be announced in the Fall. 

What is the Partnership for the Bay’s Future?

The Partnership for the Bay’s Future helps make homes more affordable across the Bay Area with a unique dual approach: in collaboration with partners, we work to advance policy changes that protect residents and improve affordability, and we invest in building new and rehabilitating existing affordable homes, always through a lens of racial equity and economic inclusion. We bring this two-pronged strategy to life through the Partnership’s

  • Policy Fund, which supports policy solutions to stem the tide of displacement, and preserve and produce housing, and
  • Family of Loan Funds, which increases housing supply through responsive and creative financing.

The Policy Fund is the key policy arm of the Partnership for the Bay’s Future and recognizes that bold policy change is needed to address our housing shortage and affordability challenges. Managed by the San Francisco Foundation, the Policy Fund builds the capacity and networks required for equitable local policy change by working with community groups to help them bring the voices of renters, low-income residents, and people of color into the local and regional policy process and by helping local governments create and successfully implement policies that enable more Bay Area residents to remain in their communities.

The Policy Fund administers grant programs that are designed to: 

  • Increase racial and economic equity across the region by increasing affordable housing production, preserving existing affordable housing, and stemming displacement of people of color and other marginalized communities from across the Bay Area 
  • Develop a robust regional network and a community of practice made up of housing advocates in local government and community-based organizations 
  • Support the rise of new leaders that can support the region’s housing and tenant protection efforts long-term  
  • Provide models for change that inspire other jurisdictions to follow suit  
  • Connect with aligned change efforts across the region that amplify impact  

The Family of Loan Funds, one of the nation’s largest-ever private-sector housing funds, supports the production and preservation of affordable homes in five Bay Area counties. Managed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), these funds are designed to address the lack of affordable homes—a reality that disproportionately impacts households of color—by bridging funding gaps throughout the region’s rental housing market.  

Learn more about the Partnership here.

What are the Breakthrough Grants?

The Policy Fund’s Breakthrough Grants for Housing Production and Preservation (“Breakthrough Grants”) are a program designed to bring together Bay Area jurisdictions and catalyze policy innovation in building and preserving affordable housing in local communities. The Policy Fund will select a cohort of jurisdictions that propose the most high-impact, yet realistically achievable plans to be a part of the Breakthrough Grant program.

The cohort will be made up of “core teams” working collaboratively to advance housing production and preservation policy across the Bay Area. A core team will consist of local government staff who work closely with their Breakthrough Grant fellow and a local community partner organization. This “inside-outside” partnership ensures community input and support for local policy and provides essential capacity to move the work forward.

Within the two-year grant period, each of the Breakthrough Grant jurisdictions will receive two years of capacity, community engagement, and tailored technical assistance support from the Policy Fund. After the program, participants will become part of the Policy Fund alumni program, and continue to have access to the Partnership network and other supports.

Chosen jurisdictions will be expected to pass and/or implement a package of affordable housing production and preservation policies in collaboration with their community partners. If your jurisdiction is interested in applying and is not sure who might be a suitable community partner, contact the Policy Fund to discuss options.

Why apply?

The Breakthrough Grants are designed to have a transformative effect on how jurisdictions approach housing through community-driven policy. Through increased capacity and tailored technical assistance in a time of tough COVID-related budget and staffing constraints, these grants will support breakthroughs in local housing initiatives by guaranteeing that housing solutions continue to move forward.

Over a two-year timeframe, Breakthrough Grant sites will each receive a capacity building and technical assistance package to pass and implement production and preservation policies. The package, valued at $500,000, will include: 

  • A full-time fellow, housed in the jurisdiction’s office, dedicated to moving Breakthrough Grant work forward. The fellow also serves as a liaison between the jurisdiction and the community partner. 
  • Funding and support for community partners to work in partnership with the jurisdiction by helping in developing and building community support for Breakthrough Grant policies. Community partners ensure that community voice is part of the policy process and will receive grants from the Policy Fund.  
  • Peer cohorts that meet regularly throughout the grant period to exchange ideas and problem-solve in real time. 
  • Access to tailored technical assistance from expert consultants on areas such as messaging and communications support, data analysis, polling support, policy strategy.  
  • Targeted underwriting guidance from the Partnership for the Bay’s Future Family of Loan Funds to apply for capital investments located in the jurisdiction. 

After the end of two-year program, cohort members will enter the Policy Fund alumni program, which offers continued networking and support opportunities across all previous cohorts. 

Who is eligible to apply?

Breakthrough Grants are open to local governments (towns, cities, and counties) in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara that are currently experiencing, or at risk of experiencing displacement or exclusion of low-income people and communities of color. 

The Policy Fund will accept applications from: 

  • Local government departments that play a lead role in housing, planning, community development, or other relevant areas, 
  • Local government departments partnering together, or  
  • Regional entities or jurisdictions partnering together (such as a county and a city within its borders).  

Applications must identify at least one community partner and include a letter of support from that partner. Successful applications will explain how the jurisdiction will adopt and/or implement its policy package to advance affordable housing production and preservation in collaboration with a community partner (scroll down for a list of potential policy projects).   

Jurisdictions that have previously received a Challenge Grant are eligible to apply. 

What is the application and selection timeline?

May 2021  Breakthrough Grant application is released. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. You can apply here.
Applicants who are seeking technical assistance in putting together their applications should request an Application Grant.  
June 2, 2021 Information session. Register here.  
July 30, 2021  Breakthrough Grant proposals due.   
September – October 2021 Applications reviewed by the Policy Fund and finalists interviewed.
October 2021 Award announcement .
Please note that these dates are subject to change. 

What support is available for interested applicants?

The Policy Fund is offering technical assistance to jurisdictions who would like support in developing their Breakthrough Grant applications. Jurisdictions may request technical assistance support by applying for an Application Grant. These grants will provide funding to a jurisdiction to work with consultants on developing a competitive Breakthrough Grant proposal. If your jurisdiction does not have a consultant identified, the Policy Fund can engage one of our pre-selected consultants to work with you.

If your jurisdiction is interested in applying and is not sure who might be a suitable community partner, contact the Policy Fund to discuss options. 

The Application Grant is an optional support for applicants offered by the Policy Fund. Jurisdictions do not need to apply for a Application Grant in order to pursue a Breakthrough Grant.  

What are some potential Breakthrough Grant policies? 

The following is a list of policy efforts that have been identified as promising areas of work. Jurisdictions that have already enacted some of the listed policies are encouraged to apply and will be considered as competitive as jurisdictions that have not. 

While the policies below have been identified as promising, we recognize that breakthrough often occurs through ideas we haven’t seen before. This list is meant to stimulate applicants’ thinking and approaches and not intended to be prescriptive. We encourage applicants to put forward high impact and equity oriented policies, whether or not they are not listed here.

Establish post-COVID recovery plansThe 2020 pandemic catalyzed innovative short-term policy solutions to housing insecurity and homelessness, such as rental assistance and rapid temporary shelters. Communities now need to pivot to longer-term solutions, many of which can build on policies adopted during the pandemic. Examples include: 

  • Leveraging federal funding to sustain COVID-era housing policies, such as using motels, accessory dwelling units and other spaces to provide housing 
  • Developing a plan for converting vacated commercial and offices spaces to housing 

Collaborate with underrepresented partners in the production spaceThis effort would engage a broader set of leaders who can bring powerful voices for communities that are too often left behind and whose voices are not heard in policy discussions. Examples include: 

  • Working with faith-based organizations to allow for greater flexibility in building housing on religious land
  • Developing zoning overlays that would allow and/or incentivize land owned by faith-based organizations to be more easily used for affordable housing production
  • Establishing and implementing a process to prioritize emerging BIPOC-led developers for jurisdictional projects

Leverage timely policy opportunitiesA number of policy opportunities will arise during the two-year Breakthrough Grant period, which we encourage applicants to leverage. Examples include: 

  • Developing and implementing a Housing Element that demonstrates the jurisdiction is affirmatively furthering fair housing, engaging community, and centering the voices of BIPOC residents 
  • Creating/using innovative technology tools to evaluate site selection for housing 

Streamline and adapt the production process. The production process in communities across the Bay Area can be complex and cumbersome. We encourage jurisdictions to think about ways to streamline this process based on the needs of actors in the affordable housing production space. Examples include: 

  • Developing and implementing accessory dwelling unit permit streamlining processes and financing tools 
  • Evaluating governmental and non-governmental constraints on affordable housing production, then develop and pass policies to address those constraints 
  • Developing and implementing a workplan to leverage public lands for affordable housing 
  • Adopting and encouraging modular construction 

Pass zoning and land use changes. Local governments across California and the nation have turned to zoning changes as a solution for acute housing shortages. Land use and zoning decisions have long excluded low-income communities of color and we encourage changes to these long-standing exclusionary policies to redress the harm. Examples include: 

  • Approving zoning changes to allow for higher density across a jurisdiction. 
  • Adopting incentives for transit-oriented affordable housing development. 

Encourage community ownership opportunities. The Bay Area loses about 32,000 unsubsidized affordable housing units each year. Preservation policies have the potential to transform our communities in the Bay Area and can be a part of a broader community wealth-building strategy. Examples include: 

  • Supporting community land trusts through developing collective acquisition processes  
  • Passing a Community or Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA/TOPA) to provide community organizations or tenants the first right of refusal when a landlord sells, giving them time to assemble acquisition funding and financing 
  • Developing a local funding program to support preservation deals specific to the local jurisdiction context, including building types, project sponsors, etc.  
  • Developing a proactive rental inspection policy (code enforcement) that can be achieved without risk of eviction or displacement for tenants.  
  • Developing a tenant bill of rights to guide acquisition processes that centers tenants and their experience. 

How can I learn more about the Breakthrough Grants?

The Partnership for the Bay’s Future held an information session for the Breakthrough Grants on June 2, 2021. If you missed it, you can watch the full session below.

For more information, one on one scheduling requests, or any questions you might have, contact Evita Chávez at  

Hear from the Challenge Grant cohort

The Challenge Grants, awarded in 2020, are focused on protecting renters and preserving existing affordable housing. The Challenge Grant program provides additional capacity and expertise to grantee local governments, including a mid-career housing policy fellow, support for community partners to engage the local community in the policy process, and access to technical assistance from expert consultants.

The East Palo Alto Challenge Grant team advocates for Measure V

“The Challenge Grant program gave us a new opportunity to center community voice in the policy-making process. The Bay Area 4 All Preservation Table is made up of grassroots organizations, like ACCE, APEN, CJJC, and OakCLT, so all of our work is rooted in their members’ lived experiences and ideas about how to transform the housing system to make it work for BIPOC, immigrant, and low-income communities.

–  Leslie Gordon, Program Manager of Equitable Development at Urban Habitat

“The work has moved forward thanks to the core team. It has built a stronger partnership between government staff and community, which means we can craft equity-centered policy like the Citywide Anti-Displacement Strategy. The other thing that has worked really well is having a strong fellow cohort: being connected to other jurisdictions who are going through similar challenges has helped us troubleshoot and share resources.”

 – Aboubacar “Asn” Ndiaye, San Jose Challenge Grant Fellow

We were awarded a Challenge Grant last year, which placed a fellow within our department and adding capacity we needed to address some of the root causes of the affordability crisis in our community. Our fellow provided critical support to our policy priorities and partnership with community organizations.

-Rachel Horst, Housing Project Manager at the City of East Palo Alto