A Recipe to Create Affordable Housing

Nonprofit developer MidPen Housing has been building affordable housing in the Bay Area for more than 50 years, but as the region’s housing crisis has reached new depths, the organization took a bold step to strengthen their mission to assist low-income residents. In 2020, MidPen adopted a new strategic plan that aims to set aside at least 40% of the new homes in their development pipeline for either permanent supportive housing or households earning extremely low incomes (ELI, below 30% of area median income). 

“Every year HUD increases the area median income (AMI) not because actual income is increasing, but to match drastically rising rents and, for the past few years, the AMI has been increasing by about 10% annually in Santa Clara County,” says MidPen Vice President of Business Development Felix AuYeung. “This means that low-income housing is not serving the population that it used to. We want to ensure we can continue to serve fixed-income families, people with disabilities, and households with other limitations.” 

AuYeung adds, “Homelessness in the state of California is severe. As affordable housing providers, there is no line behind us. There are very few other options for creating permanent housing support for these members of our community. We feel we have to take on more responsibility.” 

MidPen is putting its new plan into action with its latest development, which will serve formerly homeless residents and households earning extremely low incomes in the leafy suburb of Sunnyvale. And it’s very much needed. 

“We have to remember that there are unhoused individuals in every Bay Area community, so we can’t just have projects in the three big urban centers,” says Ray Bramson, COO of Destination: Home, an integral project partner. “Sunnyvale is an exciting place to build—bucolic and suburban and yet near the Caltrain and replete with amenities. It’s a place where you can spend the rest of your life and have access to all the little joys that make it a home.” 

But location is only one of the things that makes this project so refreshing. The most inspiring thing about 1171 Sonora Court–a seven-to-eight story building which will add at least 160 more homes to the community when it is completed in 2030–is how it came together. 

In January 2020, after the city of Sunnyvale supported MidPen’s purchase of a neighboring site on Sonora Court that will result in 176 affordable homes, MidPen was looking to develop another project of similar scale in the area, which has been gradually becoming  more residential. The owner of a manufacturing site kitty corner from the 2020 purchase placed their property, 1171 Sonora Court, on the market. MidPen promptly purchased the property and is now in the process of moving the project forward. 

“It was an extraordinary deal because it meant purchasing a piece of land that wouldn’t be developed for several years – something we could only do because of our strong relationship with the city, which encouraged us to apply for future City funding from anticipated impact fees,” says AuYeung. “At that point, all we needed was to find someone who would lend us the money for the acquisition, which meant finding someone willing to take this leap with us.” 

MidPen reached out to the Community Housing Fund (CHF) for support. CHF, a loan fund launched under the Partnership for the Bay’s Future in December 2020 with $150M seed funding from Facebook and additional funding from Destination: Home and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), is dedicated to producing housing for renters earning extremely low incomes. LISC manages the fund and serves as a lender, along with Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and Capital Impact Partners. 

It was exactly the type of project the founders of the Community Housing Fund had in mind when developing this resource and lenders at CSH started underwriting it immediately. 

“CSH works to provide early, higher-risk capital to developers who provide housing for individuals and families who experience homelessness,” says Brigitt Jandreau, Chief Lending Officer for CSH. “We were thrilled to make this loan because the project is not only committed to racial equity and serving those with extremely low incomes, but the large number of units in the development means we can help provide much-needed housing and supportive services to help a significant population in this community really build strong futures and thrive.”  

Because of this partnership, every unit at 1171 Sonora Court will be affordable, with at least 20% of the homes designated as permanent supportive housing , another 20% of homes for those earning up to 30% AMI, and the remaining homes reserved for those making between 30% AMI and 70% AMI. The building will accommodate both individuals and families with a diverse unit mix from studios to three-bedroom apartments and will include several shared spaces such as a community room, resident lounge, community kitchen, learning center, laundry rooms, playground, central courtyard, case management rooms, and structured parking.

Residents will also be able to take advantage of a large array of services, including an academic program run by MidPen Resident Services that supports kids after school and in the summer, and a leadership program for youth. Adult programs include financial and vocational management. Onsite staff will also construct service plans for each resident experiencing chronic homelessness; then provide them with services covering issues ranging from housing retention to ongoing behavior modification, to integration activities in order to facilitate the resident getting involved in community engagement, community building, and educational workshops.

Cindy Wu, Executive Director of LISC Bay Area is thrilled to see 1171 Sonora Court be one of the earlier projects to close out of the CHF. “This project is confirming the hypothesis we had when we started—that we would be able to find development partners that would create deeply affordable properties with creativity if we had a fund that would allow them to act with flexibility and speed,” says Wu. “All the players were able to act fast enough to allow MidPen to acquire the land and move the project forward while securing this extraordinary ELI commitment up front. It will be a tremendous addition to the Santa Clara community.” 

Help Make Housing Solution Breakthroughs for the Bay Area 

As we start to emerge from the pandemic, low-income renters are facing perilous financial circumstances. At the same time, California is experiencing a housing shortage and affordability emergency, leading to more and more people facing housing insecurity. Today we have an important opportunity to reimagine our housing system to support economic inclusion and shared prosperity. Housing can and should be a building block for a better world post-COVID. 

According to a study from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, 62% of affordable housing tenants who missed a rent payment in April 2020 had not caught up by December 2020. California recently extended the state’s eviction moratorium until September in order to stem the displacement of low-income residents, but this is a stopgap measure that doesn’t address the root of the problem.  

The consequences of rental arrears are exacerbated by the state’s insufficient supply of housing. The state has been unable to keep up with population growth since the 1980’s, and California will need to build 180,000 homes per year through 2025 to meet demand according to a recent survey by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Currently, 80,000 homes are built each year. When housing supply does not meet demand, prices increase, and communities suffer. 

Solutions must be equity-centered 

A recent report revealed that for every 100 households in California that earn an extremely low income, only 24 affordable rental units are available. Concurrently, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx households are far more likely to be paid poverty-level wages than white households, which has profoundly contributed to the fact that more than two-thirds of Californians with unaffordable housing costs are Black, Indigenous or People of Color. 

There simply isn’t nearly enough affordable housing in California. According to the California Housing Partnership, 1.97 million of the 5.89 million renter households in California 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.

And once the pandemic started taking its toll on the economy, Black and Latinx renters were far more likely to fall behind on rent than their white counterparts. Black households have been hardest hit by the pandemic: more than 1 in 3 Black households missed a rent payment between April and December of 2020.   

Guided by racial equity, we must work together to pass tenant protection and affordable housing policies, as well as aggressively invest in the preservation and production of affordable housing, to prevent a rise in evictions, homelessness, and housing insecurity. 

Advancing people-powered housing policy 

At the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, we developed the Policy Fund to move tangible solutions to protect tenants and to produce and preserve affordable housing through the process of government at the local level. The world around us is changing rapidly, presenting us with the most complex set of issues facing our region in more than a generation. This is a moment when we can advance equitable policies and solutions that are truly transformative for our communities – for today, and for the next generation of Bay Area residents. 

The Policy Fund model strengthens local teams to pursue ambitious policy goals, while bridging people across the region and building momentum and synergy. We help connect local changemakers so that their efforts can be amplified across the region.  

The Challenge Grants is the Policy Fund’s inaugural program, supporting tenant protections and affordable housing preservation. During a year of unprecedented challenges, the cohort has made remarkable progress in equitable and community-driven housing policy. With $3.5 million in grant funding, collaboration with over 50 community organizations, and seven dynamic fellows dedicated to this work in local government offices, Challenge Grant teams have drafted and proposed model policies, engaged thousands of local residents, and shown the power of collaboration across sectors and regions.  

Launch of the Breakthrough Grants program 

Building on the success of the Challenge Grants, the Policy Fund is launching the Breakthrough Grants for Housing Production and Preservation (“Breakthrough Grants”). This program will 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 program is open to government entities in the Bay Area who apply in partnership with a community organization. The Policy Fund will select a cohort that proposes the most high-impact, yet realistically achievable plans to be a part of the Breakthrough Grants. Each Breakthrough Grant team will receive a support package valued at $500,000, including a Breakthrough Grant fellow who will work for the government partner, two years of grant funding for the community partner, and tailored cohort supports.  

Applications are due July 30, 2021 and awards will be announced in the Fall. Be a part of the solution for a more equitable Bay Area and apply today at baysfuture.org/breakthrough-grants   

Challenge Grant convening showcases community-driven policy

Hi all! My name is Chris Norman, and I recently joined Partnership for the Bay’s Future as the Oakland Challenge Grant Fellow. It is an honor to join a cohort of seven equity-minded fellows, as well as numerous municipal, community, and philanthropic partners, in a journey to expand housing accessibility in the Bay Area.

My goal is to ensure Oaklanders of all backgrounds can practice autonomy in their housing choices which I believe is a key foundation for wellness. For us to realize this goal, we must ensure sufficient production of deeply affordable housing, protection of at-risk tenants, and preservation our existing affordable stock. As the Oakland Challenge Grant Fellow, I will work with the City of Oakland and a coalition of community partners, the Bay Area 4 All (BA4A) Housing Preservation Table, to advance protection and preservation strategies that will bring us closer to that goal.

This work is deeply personal to me. As a queer Black and Mexican American individual, and as someone born and raised in the Bay Area (San Francisco’s Mission District, specifically), the inaccessibility of stable housing is constitutive of my family’s story. Members of my personal community have struggled with being unsheltered, being evicted from government-subsidized homes, and being forced to move to the region’s exurbs to find affordable housing. These challenges are why I do this work: I want to help create a Bay Area that actively makes space for and supports its residents who are low-income and/or Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color (BIPOC).

I am excited to imagine and co-create alongside my new colleagues, and already had an opportunity to do so at the recent Challenge Grant convening in May. The convening, which occurs quarterly, brings our larger cross-sector network together and learn about the efforts happening in each jurisdiction. Participants are also invited to join in learning sessions and engage with new frameworks through which to do our work.

May’s convening featured three goals: 1) to share progress and challenges in moving protection and preservation policies, 2) to build a common language/framework to support racial equity in housing policies (such as targeted universalism), and 3) to explore reimagining community-driven policymaking.

In the morning session two of my colleagues, Karen Camacho, the East Palo Alto (EPA) Challenge Grant Fellow and Lauren Bigelow, the Palo Alto Challenge Grant Fellow, provided case studies of their efforts-to-date.

Karen highlighted the EPA team’s work around launching a preservation model to acquire, rehabilitate, and redevelop properties; establishing a sustainable funding source for housing preservation, and pursuing a policy to protect local renters and keep them in-place.

Lauren’s presentation focused on renter protections in Palo Alto, a city with one of the highest numbers of affordable housing units in Santa Clara county. Lauren’s presentation demonstrated a need for policy change: 89% of rental housing units in Palo Alto with residents who earn $20,000-$30,000 per year are cost burdened compared to 17% of rental units where residents make $75,000 or more. This disparity clearly demonstrates the need to protect our community’s most vulnerable residents, as they are more likely to face hardship if housing becomes unstable.

In the afternoon session we were joined by Professor john a. powell, Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute in the University of California at Berkeley. Professor powell offered targeted universalism as framework to the group, describing it as more than just eliminating disparities: Targeted universalism seeks to improve outcomes in culturally adept ways for all groups and allows us to create a new reality that eliminates threats (be they health, economic stability, etc.) all together.

Together with our cohort, john situated targeted universalism in the housing policy context. We discussed issues of gentrification and concentrated poverty, and we explored what it would mean to create full neighborhoods with sufficient amenities, regardless of demographic. Such an endeavor would include reevaluating and potentially altering the historically exclusionary structures in place today, such as single-family zoning (which accounts for 85% of all residential zoning in the Bay Area). This perspective provided participants with new common language and theory to approach their collective work.

The initiatives supported by the Challenge Grant will not be easily completed given the magnitude of our wicked problems. While policy change remains a primary goal, we are also interested in exploring the process shifts that must occur as key steps towards larger policy “wins.” Such shifts include deeper and formal integration of community voice in public decision-making and evaluation processes, as well as changes in how departments approach their work to be more inclusive of racial equity goals. Year two of the Challenge Grant evaluation process will focus more on these questions, especially as each jurisdiction continues to define what success looks like for their specific communities and contexts. I am ready to help define and shape what the future of housing looks like in Oakland and the larger Bay Area.

San Jose gets to work on its Anti-Displacement Strategy

Last September, the San José City Council adopted a 10-part Citywide Residential Anti- Displacement Strategy to address displacement in the City. The Strategy includes three high-priority recommendations, two of which are directly related to the San José Challenge Grant: establishing tenant preferences for affordable housing and exploring a Community Opportunity to Purchase program to give non-profits the right of first offer when properties go up for sale. Council also directed staff to “jumpstart this work with the first three recommendations of the Strategy and convene a working group to further develop the details of the proposed policies and programs.” 

After six months of planning and preparation, the San José Challenge Grant Team has begun the process of directly engaging the community on three priorities: 1) co-creating the Community Opportunity to Purchase (COPA) program, 2) moving enabling legislation to support tenant preferences, and 3) supporting the growth of the South Bay Community Land Trust, our local community land trust. 

COPA outreach: Moving away from “Decide, Announce, Defend”

Beginning with the first SOMOS Mayfair hosted event in late March 2021, San José Challenge Grant partners have adopted a “dual-track” community engagement approach. 

On one track, hosted and developed by SOMOS Mayfair, grassroots community members are invited to learn more about the potential of the COPA policy and help to make it a reality through organizing and advocacy. The SOMOS Mayfair-led process is meant to create a community vision for COPA that will inform the City’s policy. This enables SOMOS Mayfair to help garner community support for COPA and to participate in shaping the policy through the City-led process. 

On the other track, managed by the City and run through a facilitator, stakeholders with expertise in housing, development, real estate, policy are convened to help craft the City’s policy with input from community members at larger advisory meetings. The City-led process is meant to move away from a “decide-announce-defend” model of decision-making that many cities use, where decision makers decide on the policy first, announce it to the public, and defend what has already been decided. 

By bringing together a diverse and representative group of people who have expertise in housing policy alongside a larger community forum for the general public to participate, we will co-create a policy that works for all stakeholders and focuses on the needs of our most impacted populations. 

SB 649: Using tenant preferences to prevent displacement 

Recent studies have shown the effect of displacement on our families, our seniors, and our low-income workers. Displaced children experience more absences, lower school completion rates, and increased educational delays or behavioral problems. The emotional toll of displacement and living with the threat of displacement is significant, affecting mental wellbeing, sense of belonging, and community cohesion. 

Along with the financial and health impacts of this crisis, displacement is detrimental to our environmental and climate goals. In coastal cities like San José, increasing housing costs and the lack of accessible affordable housing are forcing families to commute long distances, some over 4 hours daily, to work. This out-migration in search of affordable housing puts more cars on the road, increases congestion and greenhouse gases, and reduces the time parents are able to care for children or elderly parents. Other families are simply choosing to leave the state entirely as evidenced by recent Census data pointing to anemic state population growth and relocation data showing massive movement to lower-cost states like Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. 

Local tenant preferences have been shown to be an effective tool to help create neighborhood and community stability and stop displacement in communities most at risk. By prioritizing specific groups of potential tenants who are most at risk of displacement, tenant preferences can limit displacement, reduce harm of families and seniors, drastically shorten commute times and decrease vehicle miles traveled.

But preferences – such as for Anti-Displacement and Neighborhood residents – require the population to be explicitly acknowledged by the state or federal government. Without this acknowledgement, there can be legal uncertainty for affordable housing developers and lenders who want to use tenant preferences in conjunction with federal tax credits and tax-exempt bonds for affordable housing. The state legislature could address this uncertainty by making an explicit finding that 1) State funding could be used on projects that use these kinds of preferences, and 2) these local ordinances are consistent with state and federal fair housing law if they support a pattern of local policies and programs that foster diversity and housing choice.

In coordination with the City of San José’s Housing Department, SOMOS Mayfair and the Bay Area Housing Action Coalition, Senator David Cortese (D-San José) introduced SB 649 in February. The bill would create a State policy that supports housing for populations facing displacement, aligning tenant preferences with federal tax code requirements and thereby qualifying affordable housing projects that use tenant preferences for tax credit or bond financing. The bill passed the California State Senate in mid-May with a vote of 37-0. It will now go to the State Assembly and hopefully to the Governor’s desk in summer or fall 2021. 

In addition, to use the preferences on State-funded developments, City staff are researching, analyzing, and creating findings to satisfy the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s requirements. 

Pilot Demonstration Project: Growing Land Trust Capacity

In November 2020, The South Bay Community Land Trust, in a partnership with SOMOS Mayfair and the City of San José’s Housing Department, received a grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to support the development of a Pilot Preservation Demonstration Project. The pilot project will help the South Bay Community Land Trust build the necessary capacity to grow and do future projects in San José. 

The core group (SB CLT, SOMOS Mayfair, and the Housing Department) is collaborating with the Land Trust to help move this project forward, including community outreach, identifying funding, and developing a feasibility plan. With the support of SOMOS Mayfair, which has deep roots in some of the most impacted areas in the City, the Land Trust will mobilize support for these models of preservation. In addition, the City’s Housing Department is exploring funding sources to help support preservation projects in San José. 

SBCLT, with participation from the PBF partners, has worked to build capacity by hiring a land trust consultant to assist with the pilot preservation demonstration project. They have held community education forums and hosted a pilot project stakeholders kickoff event attended by affordable housing developers, community organizations, policy experts, and potential funding partners.

Path Forward

In the next phase of work, the San José Challenge Grant Team will continue its COPA community outreach efforts. Our current goal is to develop a draft policy framework by fall 2020 and have the policy adopted by early 2022 with implementation starting in early 2022. Our team will also work for the passage of SB 649 and after the State’s approval, request City Council’s approval for a tenant preference ordinance that reduces displacement risk. 

By the end of the year, we are hopefully standing in front of the South Bay Community Land Trust’s pilot demonstration project, with project partners, current and future residents, and the sense that this is just the first of many. 

San Francisco Was Shaped by Racist Housing Laws. Will a Fix Be Racist Too?

At the nonprofit San Francisco Foundation, which focuses on housing and economic equity, senior director Khanh Russo supports zoning reform but says it must go hand-in-hand with economic reforms. If poor and working people can’t own homes, basic housing inequity will remain. “Generational wealth is passed through property,” Russo tells The Frisc. “When communities are excluded” from homeownership, “it impacts their ability to build wealth.”


 

In June of 2020, San Francisco evicted a senior citizen from atop Telegraph Hill — the 63-year-old Christopher Columbus statue — in response to decades of complaints that the monument celebrated colonialism and white supremacy.

Yet the city has left other racist legacies in place, not on pedestals but woven into rules that govern how and where housing can be built in our neighborhoods. Toppling Columbus required a crane, but reforming racially motivated 20th-century rules, enacted in response to nonwhites moving in, will be a heavier lift, because there’s little agreement what antiracist development laws should look like.

While Minneapolis and Portland have done away with rules that only allow one single family house per lot, and Berkeley recently voted to do so (but hasn’t actually crafted new rules), San Francisco has been resistant, even as California’s housing hawks — led by state Senator Scott Weiner, who represents the city — have chased their white whale, pardon the term, of single-family zoning.

According to a much-cited UC Berkeley study last year, some 82 percent of residential lots in the Bay Area are exclusively zoned for single-family homes. That figure is much lower in San Francisco per the Planning Department, at only about 37 percent for what’s known as RH-1. Another 16 percent are zoned at the slightly denser RH-2, which still puts vast tracts of neighborhoods like the Portola and the Sunset at the lowest densities, and not at a particularly efficient use of buildable land in our compact city.

Equity equals inclusion

Racist exclusion was common before World War II. Berkeley was the birthplace of single-family zoning, natch, way back in 1916. Even after the U.S. passed antidiscrimination laws in the 1960s, cities still crafted land-use rules to make housing more scarce and exclusive, keeping out mixed uses and pricing out low-income and working people.

Today most Bay Area cities remain segregated by race and class, on account of what kind of housing gets built where. “In my former work about urban planning and public meetings, there was no hiding how people really felt about affordable housing” — which is to say, how they felt about the kinds of people they assumed would come live near them, says Jamila Henderson, a former analyst for Boston city planners and now an associate at the Oakland nonprofit think tank PolicyLink.

While Berkeley’s city council voted unanimously to strike down single-family zoning citywide, San Francisco is moving much more cautiously. So far, the city’s boldest proposal isn’t very bold at all. Sup. Rafael Mandelman wants to upgrade residential lots for up to four units, but only on corners and within a half-mile of major transit lines.

“Our approach is to do this in a way that is broadly distributed across the city, such as on corner lots generally, rather than targeting increased housing development into certain neighborhoods,” Mandelman says in a statement to The Frisc. “This is a change that we would expect to see play out over the next 50 years, not the next five years.”

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Even so, backlash came swiftly. Board of Supervisors president Shamann Walton, whose district includes the Bayview, argued that Mandelman’s proposal could further destabilize the city’s shrinking Black population, and that developers would target areas like his district to buy up cheap properties and turn them into pricey multiunit buildings. “I guess people really don’t want Black people and other communities of color in this city,” he told the SF Chronicle in February.

Ghosts of the Fillmore

Walton’s objection speaks to another part of our racist development history that continues to haunt San Francisco: so-called urban renewal, when the Black community of the Fillmore was gutted by city planners.

“There’s a tendency to … forget that people’s fears are real,” says Todd David, director of the YIMBY-leaning group Housing Action Coalition. “We need to engage with people on this issue. Nobody likes to be dictated to.”

Walton did not respond to requests for comment, but other critics of the new rezoning push also see ominous examples in recent history. Margaretta Lin, director of the Oakland housing initiative Just Cities, says that without protections like eviction moratoriums and rental assistance for existing tenants, “developers are going to focus on neighborhoods where they can make a quick buck. We know that’ll happen because it’s what happened after the subprime mortgage crisis.”

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And until cities like San Francisco can recover from the pandemic — a crisis that has laid bare systemic inequities in the economy, housing, and healthcare — rezoning isn’t a priority, says Vanessa Carter, a data analyst at the USC Equity Research Institute. “The major concern right now, particularly through the pandemic, is just keeping people in their homes,” she tells The Frisc. “Single-family zoning is not the thing organizers are triaging.”

At the nonprofit San Francisco Foundation, which focuses on housing and economic equity, senior director Khanh Russo supports zoning reform but says it must go hand-in-hand with economic reforms. If poor and working people can’t own homes, basic housing inequity will remain. “Generational wealth is passed through property,” Russo tells The Frisc. “When communities are excluded” from homeownership, “it impacts their ability to build wealth.”

Continue to the full article HERE.

San Jose explores policy allowing nonprofits to purchase affordable housing 

The City of San Jose is exploring a Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), which is one of its Challenge Grant priorities. COPA is part of San Jose’s citywide anti-displacement strategy, which was approved last year and supported by the Challenge Grant team. Check out the article below from the San Jose Spotlight describing this work and highlighting team members in local government and community. —  Aboubacar “Asn” Ndiaye, San Jose Challenge Grant Fellow 

San Jose explores policy allowing nonprofits to purchase affordable housing 

Lloyd Alaban, San Jose Spotlight 

MARCH 31, 2021 

San Jose could soon allow nonprofits to purchase apartment complexes before developers or landlords — a bold idea already adopted in cities like San Francisco and Washington. 

The movement to adopt the policy, called the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act or COPA, began earlier this year during tenant rights workshops hosted by East San Jose nonprofit SOMOS Mayfair. The idea allows qualified nonprofits the first right to purchase a housing property up for sale before anyone else, which could ensure tenants will not be displaced. Once a qualifying property goes on the market and another buyer makes an offer, nonprofits under COPA will have the right to match the offer. 

The city identified a COPA policy as one of its strategies in an anti-displacement plan presented to lawmakers Tuesday. 

“Displacement is truly one of the biggest threats that we have facing our city here in the near future,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez. “I know a lot of people feel it’s inevitable with growth, but it’s not.” 

Similar laws exist in San Francisco and Washington, with varying regulations on how much affordable housing must be provided at each property and how long it takes to purchase a property. San Francisco’s law, passed in 2019, has allowed nonprofits such as community land trusts—founded by community members who acquire and manage land—to purchase properties and prevent low-income tenants from being displaced. 

This could be critical for the South Bay Community Land Trust, the first of its kind in Silicon Valley, which launched in 2019 with a goal of acquiring land and preserving it for affordable housing. But the trust has had trouble identifying plots of land, especially amid the pandemic, even after trying to convince the Santa Clara Valley Water District to donate some of its public land for low-income housing. 

In Washington, which has earmarked $10 million annually for its program, properties must have at least five units for nonprofits to purchase, while San Francisco requires three. The lack of density and multi-unit buildings in San Jose compared to other big cities might be a problem, advocates say. 

“There are a lot of duplexes that exist,” said Gabriel Hernandez, the program coordinator at SOMOS Mayfair. 

SOMOS Mayfair held a workshop with residents earlier this month advocating for a COPA ordinance and plans on holding another late next month. The organization believes the policy would help the many low-income individuals in Latino-heavy East San Jose with high rent. “What we’re doing is having that discussion with the community to see what people think.” 

The group has lobbied the city to draft a COPA ordinance, including potential incentives for property owners to sell to nonprofits, such as tax breaks. They also want to include other properties, such as mobile home parks, in the plan. 

“We’re pleased that the city is pursuing a range of creative tools to respond to these dimensions of our current crisis,” said Mathew Reed, a policy advisor at Silicon Valley at Home, a local affordable housing nonprofit. 

San Jose’s housing department has not yet discussed in detail what a COPA law would look like, or what properties would be eligible under a potential law. The city, however, is set to begin discussing a COPA law early next month through an anti-displacement working group, which includes members of several local community groups. City officials Tuesday flirted with the idea of looking for smaller multifamily buildings for nonprofits to purchase. 

“We’re open to learning from other examples,” said Kristen Clements, a policy manager at the city’s housing department. 

Considering a COPA ordinance is part of the city’s four recommendations to prevent displacement, which include keeping tenants housed during the COVID-19 pandemic through eviction moratoriums, creating a “preference” program for tenants, that sets aside a portion of affordable apartments for low-income applicants who live in high-displacement neighborhoods, and requiring the city’s housing commission to have at least one person who is either currently or formerly homeless. 

The City Council unanimously approved the anti-displacement workplan Tuesday. 

Contact Lloyd Alaban at lloyd@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter. 

Read the original article here.