Collaborative Effort Saves Affordable Housing in Redwood City

Given the dual perks of beautiful, historic homes and close proximity to Silicon Valley, it’s not surprising that housing prices have risen quickly, and gentrification has raged through the port town of Redwood City over the past ten years. Though the census bureau estimates that at least 50 percent of the households in the southernmost end of the city earn an income of less than 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), the median rent in Redwood City is now more than twice the national median.

Such rocketing rates make it impossible for low-to-middle-income workers to settle down in their own community, and spells near certain displacement for those already here. Fortunately there are efforts at play to protect affordable housing and stop displacement in Redwood City, and those proving most successful are coordinated efforts like the one that saved 3592 Rolison Road.

This 1960s, single-story, 10-unit building is home to 13 professionals. Each tenant has a studio apartment with a small outdoor patio and a parking spot, and the building is only a short walk to a great market, bakery, coffee house, and brewery.

In 2018, however, the homes of residents at 3592 Rolison Road were suddenly at risk. After years of living under an owner who only slightly increased their rent over time, the building was up for sale and likely to be purchased and turned into market rate housing. They were terrified.

“When things get sold around here, they are instantly torn down,” says Tom Hem, a digital pre-press technician at a local printing company, who has lived at 3592 Rolison for almost 12 years. “And, whenever they build something new, it’s high end. That’s what developers do. They don’t put in affordable housing, they put in stuff a choice few people can afford. Unless someone steps in to keep the property affordable.”

HIP Housing, a non-profit affordable housing developer in the Bay Area, learned the building was being sold and stepped in to try and acquire it. Getting access to the funding needed, however, was going to take time, and time was not something that the red-hot San Mateo County housing market could accommodate.

That is when a second partner joined the effort to save this small, but crucial, building. The Sand Hill Foundation, a private foundation based in Palo Alto, offered to purchase and hold the building while HIP Housing built the financing needed to buy it themselves.

Sand Hill provided HIP with site control, but HIP, though grateful for the temporary reprieve, still had to find resources to purchase it outright, and quickly.

Redwood City has a program that balances housing stock by compelling market-rate developers to pay a fee to the city every time they develop a project. These fees are then redistributed to critical affordable housing projects. In an unusual move, Premia Capital, a local commercial real estate agency which admired HIP’s work, reached out to Redwood City to ask that their $2.49 million worth of fees go directly to any projects HIP was trying to fund. 3592 Rolison Road fit the bill.

“This was especially innovative,” says Kate Comfort, executive director of HIP Housing. “When it comes to protecting and preserving affordable housing, you have to act quickly. Redwood City’s great use of their Affordable Housing Ordinance and Impact Fee program and Premia’s proactive approach allowed us to get this funding when we actually needed it, and save this property. ”

 With fees from Premia in hand, the project only needed a loan of $1 million to meet the rest of the purchase price. Comfort approached a local community development financial institution, Capital Impact Partners, to see if they could help. Among other sources of funding that Capital Impact distributes, they originate loans for the Bay’s Future Fund (BFF), one of the largest housing funds in the nation. As the investing arm of the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, BFF is focused entirely on preserving, protecting, and producing affordable housing in the Bay Area. Andrew King, senior loan officer at Capital Impact, knew 3592 Rolison Road was a perfect project for BFF.

“It was an exciting, worthwhile project that even had everyone’s attention at city hall, and we knew that, with the Bay’s Future Fund, we could get HIP the rates and loan terms they needed,” said King. “We were so impressed by the project that we added an additional $100,000 to the loan– for a total $1.3 million– so HIP could also do some repairs.”

In the end, between the amount Redwood City put towards the purchase price and the Bay’s Future Fund’s long-term, low-interest loan, HIP’s mortgage payments on the property would be low enough to guarantee that rent for existing tenants will not change; and rent will be restricted to occupancy by people earning 60% of the Area Media Income (AMI) or below for the next 55 years.

Comfort is most impressed by the way it all came together. “To have private, public, and nonprofit partners all working together is exciting. We even got a local property management company to pitch in and help with some necessary, immediate renovations pro bono. This is atypical in the development world and just goes to show that, when various sectors are working together, you can get so much more done. It’s a thrilling feeling.”

Cindy Wu, Executive Director of Bay Area LISC, who manages the Bay’s Future Fund, agrees, “This is the story of partnership—of a group of diverse organizations coming together to make sure we don’t lose existing affordable housing— to maintain the livability of a piece of a neighborhood for the families that live there.”

 

 

 

Embedding Racial Equity in Housing and the Launch of the Community Housing Fund

Embedding Racial Equity in Housing and the Launch of the Community Housing Fund

In the San Jose metro area, those who are in the lower-income tier spend more than half of their income on rent. This cost burden creates debilitating financial pressure on households that try to stay in their neighborhoods, pushes many of them out of their communities altogether and exacerbates the racial inequities in our community. This issue is not unique to San Jose, and exists in communities across the Bay Area and the nation.

Public policies such as redlining, racialized zoning, segregation, predatory lending, urban renewal, exclusions in the New Deal and the G.I. Bill have produced the racial disparities that permeate housing policy today. For example, while GI Bill’s language did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, it was structured in a way that ultimately shut doors for the 1.2 million Black veterans who had bravely served their country during World War II.

At the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, we fight to shift the narrative around housing justice and develop tangible solutions to produce and preserve affordable housing. We also recognize that the world around us is changing rapidly, presenting us with the most complex set of issues facing our region in more than a generation. It is our position, that this is a moment where we can advance policies and solutions that are truly transformative for our communities – for now, and for the next generation of Bay Area residents.

A recent report revealed that for every 100 households in California that earn an extremely low income, only 36 rental units are available; and when compared to white households, Black, Native American, and Latinx households are more likely to earn an extremely low income. In our home state of California, more than two-thirds of people with unaffordable housing costs are Black, Indigenous or People of Color.

An unaffordable rental market has hardest hit those families of color who earn the lowest income.  According to the California Housing Partnership, of the 5.89 million renter households living in California, 1.97 million come from the two lowest income groups—extremely low-income (ELI) and very low-income (VLI). Meanwhile, only 668,000 rental homes are affordable and available to households at these income levels, resulting in a shortfall of 1.30 million affordable rental homes.

 

We want to be part of the solution. This is why the Partnership for the Bay’s Future focuses on both policy change and affordable housing investment, to help the Bay Area region produce, preserve and protect more affordable housing for all.

As part of this work to help close the housing gap, the Partnership for the Bay’s Future worked alongside our partners to launch the Community Housing Fund (CHF), a $150M loan fund designed to serve five counties in the Bay Area: San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. The Community Housing Fund is one of the largest funds dedicated to preserving and producing housing for renters earning extremely low incomes. Seeded by our partner Facebook, the fund supports various loans, from predevelopment through permanent financing, and has flexible underwriting to help create a structure that best fits individual project needs. This fund will help fill a critical gap in the Bay Area, where there is an immense shortage of extremely low-income housing and few dedicated funding streams to build it. We expect the demand for the CHF to be high and will consider applications on a first come first serve basis.

The Community Housing Fund is managed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), whose mission is to forge resilient and inclusive communities of opportunity across America and help to create great places to live, work, visit, do business, and raise families. To find out how to access the fund, visit baysfuture.org

The Community Housing Fund is now part of the family of funds that makes up the Partnership for the Bay’s Future’s lending and sits alongside the Bay’s Future Fund (BFF), which was designed to address a wide range of current housing needs and evolve as the market changes. To date, the BFF has closed 16 deals for a total of 1,391 units and $108M invested. This family of funds began with an investment by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Additional investments were made by Genentech, LISC, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Capital Impact Partners, Morgan Stanley, Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco Foundation, First Republic Bank, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, JPMorgan Chase. Investments from Destination: Home, and Facebook support the Comunity Housing Fund.

With a goal of investing $500 million by the end of 2025, the Community Housing Fund and the Bay’s Future Fund provide significant resources to support housing affordability that will protect our most vulnerable residents now and into the future. We believe that a stable home is crucial to maintaining a healthy, thriving community. And we believe investment in affordable housing will promote our region’s long-term economic success and racial diversity.

Our work to expand, improve and diversify the mix of homes across our region is a critical part of an intentional effort to advance equity and inclusion. We simply cannot ignore the context of how we arrived at this moment. We have to acknowledge the harm and mistrust that past housing policies created. The result is that people of color are over-represented among the homeless, those most impacted by the lack of affordable housing, job and health inequalities. We cannot undo the past, but we can redesign the policies of the past. We can also make investments in housing so that people from all walks of life have affordable places to live and are able to enjoy the benefits of our growing, prosperous region. We invite you to join us in this mission.

To apply for funding, email any of the following loan officers:

To support our efforts to preserve, produce and protect affordable housing in the Bay Area or to keep up to date on housing justice issues email Khanh Russo at krusso@sff.org

 

 

CSH, Capital Impact, and Allied Housing Close on 125-unit Supportive Housing Project using the Partnership for the Bay’s Future

Hayward’s Mt Eden neighborhood will welcome a new, 125-unit Permanent Supportive Housing Development in early 2023. When complete, the project will provide housing for individuals and families earning 20%-60% Average Median Income (AMI), and may ultimately be able to house tenants earning as little as 15% AMI. The development will offer integrated services to help the formerly homeless families and individuals who live there get back on their feet.

Abode Services, a nonprofit organization committed to ending homelessness, purchased the three-acre site at 2595 Depot Road for $3.5 million from Horizon Services, Inc. — a nonprofit social service organization with alcohol and drug treatment centers across the Bay Area. The landmark deal allows Horizon to continue operating its residential alcohol and drug treatment center, Cronin House, on one acre of the property in perpetuity, while Abode’s development arm, Allied Housing, will build and operate supportive housing on the unused additional two acres.  It was a win-win for everyone, and an extraordinary opportunity for two institutions committed to helping homeless residents of Alameda County to work together.

The site acquisition was funded by Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), a national affordable housing non-profit focused on permanent supportive housing with participation from Capital Impact Partners, also a national affordable housing non-profit, leveraging capital from the Bay’s Future Fund. Both organizations, along with LISCs, are originators for the Bay’s Future Fund. The Bay’s Future Fund (BFF)–part of the investment arm for the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, a unique cross-sector effort to tackle Bay Area housing issues with the dual approach of employing policy and affordable housing lending—strives to provide loan capital to meet the unique needs of affordable housing developers in the Bay Area.

“We went to CSH and they recommended the Bay’s Future Fund as an entity that could satisfy our budget by providing favorable interest rates that lowered project costs,” says Macy Leung, Project Manager at Allied Housing/Abode Services. “The Bay’s Future Fund’s loan terms were favorable and CSH/Capital Impact as loan servicers were also extremely flexible, allowing us to draw money based on the phasing of the project and when we really needed it, rather than establishing a set schedule, as many other funders do. This was crucial to the success of the project.”

Located in a neighborhood near transit and community colleges, Allied’s vision was to build a multi-unit, affordable housing project where half the units could be reserved for the chronically homeless. When appropriate, individuals seeking support at Cronin House with permanent housing needs could be referred to the County and work with Abode to seek placement for them at 2595 Depot Road.

Andrea Morgan, Senior Community Investment Officer of CSH was impressed by the developer’s intent. “Allied came to us with a thoughtful design. In addition to the money anticipated from the County to provide ongoing services, Allied carved out a portion of the project’s operating budget to provide services as well—to make sure tenants would have a high quality of life and thrive in the environment where they’re living.”

Abode is working in close collaboration with Horizon to make sure that the development is inclusive of Cronin House, because the two entities are meant to overlap.  Allied plans to use some of the project’s funding to redesign and upgrade the exterior of Cronin House, plus add BBQ equipment, parking, a fitness area, and landscaping.

“We are deliberately designing this residence to be a space of progress, hope, and wellness” says Leung. “A place where people who used to be homeless can find security and support, and can build a solid foundation from which they can reach their potential. It is being designed to be encouraging and inspiring.”

The project will also be Hayward’s first all-electric and solar project, designed to comply with the city’s recently adopted Reach Code – a local building energy code that “reaches” beyond the state minimum requirements for energy use in building design and construction. Allied plans to break ground in Spring or Summer of 2021.

“It’s rewarding to see projects like this move forward to support people who are under the threat of homelessness or rebuilding their lives after experiencing homelessness in a space that will create hope,” says Michelle Holleran, Vice President of Impact Finance at JP Morgan Chase, the largest debt investor in the BFF.

“These are the kinds of creative, groundbreaking projects we need more of in the Bay Area,” says Cindy Wu, Executive Director of Bay Area LISC, the organization that manages the Bay’s Future Fund, which was responsible for funding the acquisition and predevelopment of project site. “Every time we find a new way to build, and serve these populations, we set an example, and create an opportunity for exponential change.”

The Bay’s Future Fund was made possible by the generous support of our debt investors including: JPMorgan Chase, First Republic Bank, San Francisco Foundation, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

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.

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To Protect Public Health, We Must Address Our Housing Challenges

As we thank our health workers during National Public Health Week, communities across the country continue emergency response to COVID-19. In the Bay Area, residents have been sheltering in place for weeks and grappling with the threat posed by this global pandemic—not just to our health, but to widening existing inequities in our housing and economic systems.

The challenge is great, but there are promising solutions. Smart policy plus people power can help solve our housing crisis and economic inequality. The work has new urgency, as our longstanding housing challenges collide with the new public health threat of COVID-19.

One of the clearest examples of this is that the effectiveness of sheltering in place—a key mitigation strategy—is entirely dependent on whether people can safely stay in their homes, something that is not possible for a growing number of Bay Area residents. Many in our community are homeless or at risk of losing their housing, such as and the hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs and can’t pay rent.

As our local governments and community leaders work in overtime to respond to COVID-19, the connection between housing and health has never been clearer, both for individual and community health.

Not only is our health system ill-prepared to address a crisis of this magnitude, but so is our housing infrastructure. The Bay Area has the third largest homeless population in the country, with around 30,000 people as of 2017, and that number has only grown in the years leading to the current public health crisis. The conditions of homelessness—such as crowded encampments, lack of healthcare, and poor sanitation resources—create environments that facilitate the rapid spread of infectious diseases. This means that housing must be one of our first lines of defense against COVID-19.

There is reason to be hopeful. Already, we’re seeing local communities adopt creative strategies to address homelessness and health, like Oakland repurposing hotels to shelter people who are unhoused, or San Jose rolling out a plan to build hundreds of tiny homes as shelters. Innovation at the local level often serves as a pilot that opens the door to wider change: where local governments lead, the state often follows.

Of course, homelessness is only part of the picture. With skyrocketing housing costs, many Bay Area households are considered “housing insecure”—that is, 30% or more of their income spent on housing costs, meaning they are often at risk of losing their homes if they experience a loss of income or a financial emergency. On top of that, many families are experiencing job losses and must deal with the associated loss of employer-provided healthcare.

Given that the US unemployment rates are the worst they’ve been since Great Depression and workers across the board are struggling, we’re now at a critical crossroads: can we take bold action to prevent housing-insecure folks from hitting the tipping point into homelessness?

To address the current crisis and prevent future ones, we must invest in short-term and long-term housing solutions, especially in tenant protection and the preservation of affordable housing. This is why the Partnership for the Bay’s Future is supporting Bay Area local governments and community groups in using policy to promote housing equity.

But simply getting people into housing—and keeping them housed—isn’t enough. The health impacts of housing go well beyond the ability to take shelter from a global pandemic. The quality and safety of housing matters, along with housing affordability, neighborhoods where residents feel a sense of safety and belonging, and proximity to important resources like jobs and schools. And data shows that people’s health suffers when they do not feel stable and secure in their housing.

Yet so many of our region’s families are one paycheck away from homelessness and often must make impossible choices like paying for rent or putting food on the table. This is a problem that should concern us all.

Put simply, housing justice is good for public health. This is true with or without a crisis demanding our attention and action. COVID-19 has simply underscored our housing system’s alarming vulnerability, and shows us that we are truly all in this together. Collectively, we are only as healthy as the least sheltered, least cared-for among us.

While much of the future is uncertain, one thing is for sure: we shouldn’t be trying to get back to business as usual. We have an opportunity to respond to the urgency of today in a way that transforms the future. Let’s rise to the occasion by reconsidering outdated policies and use community-driven policy to build a more equitable housing system that works for everyone and protects us all.

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Coming together for a livable Bay Area: first Challenge Grant convening

As the Bay Area adjusts to the recent shelter-in-place order to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that people’s access to quality housing that they can afford has tremendous impact on our ability as a community to stop the spread of the virus. At the most basic level, how can we be asking folks to shelter in place if they don’t have shelter, or are at risk of losing it? It’s clear that our region’s longstanding housing crisis has collided dangerously with this new public health crisis. The need for affordable, stable housing has never been more clear or more urgent.

The Partnership for the Bay’s Future—a multi-sector collaboration working toward a Bay Area of inclusion and shared prosperity—recently held our first Challenge Grant convening. For the first time, we brought together the Challenge Grant change agents from across the region: local government staff from six cities and one county, community partners at local nonprofits, and mid-career fellows who are boosting their community’s capacity to advance equitable housing policy solutions.

One of the Partnership’s big bets is that we can’t change our current housing system without addressing the policies that govern how we build and manage housing, and we can’t address policy without enhancing the capacity of local government and connecting to grassroots people power. So to kick off this work, the Challenge Grant team spent a day learning from and connecting with one another, laying the foundation for a strong regional network.

Challenge Grant recipients
Our first Challenge Grant cohort gathered March 6, 2020, to share best practices, learn from each other, and launch their housing policy projects.

Deep commitment to the Partnership’s north star of an inclusive, vibrant, and livable Bay Area was clear from the start as each participant shared a person or group of people who motivated them to do this important work. The Challenge Grant fellows presented on their jurisdictions’ policy projects, highlighting areas of potential collaboration and setting up channels for sharing best practices and advice. Many of the grantee groups are working on tenant and community opportunity to purchase acts and on setting up community land trusts, and they talked through some of the common challenges they were seeing and got advice from other communities that had experience with these models.

It was clear that there is so much transformative potential in bringing equitable housing champions together to collaborate and share lessons learned from across the region.

To end on a personal note, this work means a lot to me as someone who was born and raised in the Bay Area and whose immigrant parents found welcome and opportunity here. At the Partnership’s recent press conference, I spoke with Redwood City Mayor Diane Howard, who asked how I’ve managed to stay in the Bay Area for so long, and I told her I’ve just been lucky: I’ve benefited from an unpredictable mix of good timing, privilege, and my parents’ sacrifices.

That’s why I’m proud to be leading the Partnership’s Policy Fund, so that we can make sure that being able to live in this amazing region is an opportunity available to all, not just the fortunate few. I can’t wait to see what this incredible cohort accomplishes over the next two years, and I hope you’ll join me in supporting their efforts.

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