Local Strategies to Protect Tenants and Prevent Homelessness in Bay Area


We know that Cities and nonprofit partners are in the process of designing and implementing rental assistance programs as we respond to the devastation caused by the pandemic.

In support of those efforts, All Home and Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII) co-wrote: Local Strategies to Protect Tenants and Prevent Homelessness in Bay Area COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Programs (ERAPs), sponsored by the Partnership for the Bay’s Future. The goal of this tool is to support local government partners, non-profit service providers and community advocates in their program design and determining the program details of their rental assistance efforts.

We hope this is helpful resource for you.

Find the working paper here.

Challenge Grant Spotlight: Redwood City

Photo from Climate Magazine

The Challenge Grants bring local changemakers together to work on housing policies that protect tenants and preserve existing affordable housing. In the face of the challenges of COVID and virtual work, the Challenge Grant cohort has been incredibly adaptive and resilient, finding new ways to advance housing justice policies. Together, this community of practice is laying the groundwork for equitable housing policy throughout the Bay Area, starting at the local level.  

We’ve learned a lot from the first year of this program and are spotlighting some of the incredible work happening across the Bay Area. This post is part of an ongoing series that will share some of the highs and lows of what we are learning along the way, as well as what we’re getting ready for in 2021. 

To hear more about this work and receive information on future grant opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here

Progress through Inclusive Collaboration in Redwood City 

Brandon Harrell

Redwood City’s Challenge Grant team has made incredible progress in implementing tenant protection policies and creating a preservation strategy that will leverage local and regional partnerships. Part of the City’s success can be attributed to its emphasis on collaboration, process, and inclusion.

The core team—which includes Redwood City staff, myself, and our community partner Legal Aid Society of San Mateo Countykicked off 2020 with a series of power mapping and long-term strategy sessions which included identifying key stakeholders and clearly defining their two areas of emphasis: tenant protections and multi-family housing preservation.

Preservation and Protection Strategies 

The Challenge Grant team has worked to broaden their leadership table and center community voice. As part of this effort, the team partnered with the City’s Housing & Human Concerns Committee (HHCC) which is comprised of City Council-appointed community members. The HHCC has formed two ad hoc subcommittees to help guide the tenant protection policies and housing preservation work. This ensures that community voice is a consistent focus.

The Redwood City team is currently working with the subcommittees to shape the long-term policy goals of Redwood City as well as crafting authentic community engagement strategies that are adapted to the COVID-19 contextThe subcommittees have shared insightful research on Redwood City’s housing stock, provided feedback on digital resources for tenants and landlord collaborated with me on community survey content, and made critical recommendations to our overall strategy. 

The Challenge Grant work has also included tenant protection policy implementation and providing additional resources to aid tenants in the time of COVID-19. For example, when I first arrived in Redwood City, we faced the daunting reality that, due to employee turnover and capacity constraints, the tenant protection ordinances that had been adopted the year prior were never fully implemented. On top of that, many landlords and tenants were calling our office with questions about our tenant protection ordinances – noting that our website was less than helpful in understanding the policies.  

In an effort to make our housing policies more accessible and improve Redwood City’s overall communication to tenants and landlords, during the time of COVID-19, I worked closely with the City’s communication team to redesign the City’s housing webpages to be user-centered. The foundational elements of the user-centered redesign were to create an accessible web interface that is both easily navigable and translated into Spanish 

Bringing Additional Community Partners to the Table 

The Redwood City Challenge Grant team has also engaged with additional community partners. This year, the team will be partnering with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC) and Faith In Action to help facilitate and deepen the City’s relationship with tenants and landlords.  

As a San Mateo County serving nonprofit, PCRC has earned a reputation for empowering individuals to build relationship, trust and mutually agreeable outcomes through some of the most difficult conversations facing the Bay Area and the world. PCRC has been a long-time partner with the City and most recently led the community through a series of conversations on policing, governmental accountability, and equitybuilding community trust along the way.  

Faith In Action, a network of congregations and community leaders, are long time tenant rights advocates and have been engaging Redwood City’s tenants for a number of years. 

Continuing to Center Community Voice in 2021 

It is through developing and deepening these inter-institutional relationships that Redwood City’s Challenge Grant team envisions developing sustainable, effective housing policiesensuring that the voices of tenants and landlords are the foundation of the City’s housing policies. We look forward to seeing how these complex projects equitably influence the housing landscape for Redwood City. 

Relationships Drive Progress and Knowledge Sharing Among Challenge Grant Cohort

Last month, the Challenge Grant cohort of housing justice champions from across the Bay Area came together to discuss their policy efforts in tenant protection and affordable housing preservation. This convening comes at the end of almost a year of working toward policy goals during an unprecedented time.

When we started this work, no one could have imagined we would launch this experimental policy collaboration between government, nonprofit leaders, and community while fighting the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism. Even in the most favorable circumstances, passing equitable policies is the result of months and often years of organizing and hard work. These wins require building robust networks of strong relationships, knowledge sharing, and cross-sector support. The Challenge Grant convenings have provided space to do just that.

As the Challenge Grant cohort looks toward the second year of collaboration, coming together presented an opportunity to take stock of progress, troubleshoot common issues, and plan for continuing the momentum of year one. In this fourth convening, we celebrated the progress of two of our Challenge Grant sites: San Jose and Alameda County.

Working to Prevent COVID and Displacement in San Jose

The San Jose team shared some major milestones from the year, including passing their anti-displacement strategy, which was supported by Challenge Grant Fellow Aboubacar “Asn” Ndiaye and community partner SOMOS Mayfair. Other important milestones from the year included winning a grant for a pilot preservation program, creating a community engagement plan, and mobilizing for emergency response during COVID-19.

“We started this in the middle of a plague,” said Asn. “Our response was focused on: how do you start a program in the middle of an emergency?” Early responses to the pandemic included direct aid and rental cash support. Asn expressed hope that the experience, “while difficult and traumatic, will help bind our organizations to work toward long term structural changes.”

One of the San Jose team’s observations was that state legislation will be helpful for a successful Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) policy. Unlike specific groups such as the elderly or teachers, people who are in jeopardy of being displaced are not currently recognized by California as a population eligible for certain types of state housing funds. If state legislation recognized those at risk of being displaced as eligible for these kinds of funds, that would allow for more local action, including prioritizing these residents’ applications to affordable apartments through new local tenant preferences.

One of the City’s priorities for 2021 will be to plan for the transition from meeting urgent community needs due to COVID-19 to creating an equitable community recovery plan that focuses on enhanced employment pathways with housing and supportive services for lower-income residents. The plan will fold in equity analysis and feedback from the community on their needs.

Centering Community Voice in Alameda County

The Alameda County team also reflected on overcoming difficulties, especially the challenges involved in trying to pass equitable housing policies that benefit the county’s diverse unincorporated areas. As a bright spot, the team pointed to successes in using community knowledge and expertise to guide the way.

Leo Esclamado from Resources for Community Development (RCD) said, “Our tenants live in constant fear not to shake the boat, so we came together in a small-but-mighty, very powerful Eden Renter’s Union to say what the community needed—and this was our gold standard.”

Similarly, Challenge Grant Fellow Charles Harris shared, “I wasn’t coming in and teaching anyone about solutions or telling them what they should do, but rather listening to hear about the solutions they already have.”

Alameda County’s partnership with RCD has been significant in moving forward important work in the unincorporated area, such as developing a three-part community-driven strategy to help renters. The strategy includes a proactive rental inspection program to enforce health and safety standards for rental units, rent stabilization measures, and a just cause protection expansion.

Two of the year’s big accomplishments have been the creation of a steering committee focused on moving forward preservation strategies for the unincorporated area and the creation of a policy matrix that lists existing policies and protections, as well as where gaps exist and how those gaps could be filled. Charles is working on a report to summarize this matrix and related conversations.

Throughout the work, the Alameda County team continues to center equity metrics to measure their success. “It’s not how much it costs, but how much does it cost to not do it?” said Leo.

Coming together and looking ahead

The convening not only showcased the excellent work of two Challenge Grant teams, but also demonstrated the strength of the relationships that have developed over the past year and the power of collaboration. The presentations sparked a lot of engagement from the cohort, including many questions and observations about facing similar issues, as well as sharing support and resources from their different communities.

No one strategy or jurisdiction will solve the housing crisis on its own. It’s clear we’ll need the collective wisdom of government and community leadership. We know that it takes a vibrant network of diverse, dedicated folks to create meaningful policy change. As we look toward the second year of this program, the Challenge Grant cohort is poised to build on a foundation of powerful and enduring relationships. The team is eager to continue to adapt and meet the moment to advance protection and preservation policies.

“It’s motivating to me to be in these spaces,” said Matt Gustafson from SOMOS Mayfair. “So much of this work is relational.”

Partnership Featured in Shelterforce – Moving from the Inequitable Housing System We Have to the Housing System We Need

America’s housing system was never just built to create housing. It was designed to maintain racially and economically segregated neighborhoods and it rests on a long legacy of inequity, specifically anti-Black racism. In this sense, our housing system isn’t really broken. Its weakness in this moment—in the pandemic—just shows that it’s working as designed. COVID-19 is holding up the mirror, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to begin the uncomfortable process of examining, owning, dismantling, and rebuilding the inequitable system that got us here.

Through decades of housing policies and practices that have literally divided us—such as redlining and the Federal Housing Administration’s 1938 Underwriting Manual, which allowed loan denial based on race—we’ve intentionally created entire communities that are more vulnerable to crisis than others. Black Americans are still the least likely group to own homes and build generational wealth, and therefore have fewer economic protections (the homeownership gap is actually wider today than it was in the 1960s when housing discrimination was overtly legal). People of color are still overrepresented in our homeless populations and our incarcerated populations, and those most impacted by the lack of affordable housing, jobs, and quality healthcare.

When you look at where and who this pandemic is hitting hardest, it’s clear that race, place, job type, and income matter. It’s hard not to see housing—and its long threadline through history—as inextricably linked to this moment.

Housing policy helped get us here, and now housing may be another collateral consequence of the pandemic and its economic fallout. While December’s COVID relief bill provides some relief for renters and short-term protection from eviction, it does little to address the long-standing inequalities that got us here. It’s a temporary bandage. We need to leverage these short-term legislative wins as a jumping-off point to transform our housing system as a whole.

This moment now demands far more than our best intentions—it demands a concerted effort to do things differently to meet communities’ real needs—from mom-and-pop landlords and small-business owners, to renters, to families facing eviction—in urban centers and rural communities alike. A new housing justice playbook provides some important recommendations for the federal government. Our ability to align the wide range of stakeholders necessary to move this agenda must start by galvanizing support around three basic propositions.

First, we have to protect those at risk of losing their homes—and extend both the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums beyond the new deadline. Our economic recovery after this pandemic will be a slow, uphill battle—which means that countless families will be at risk of losing their housing for years to come. Unless the federal government acts to extend both the federal moratorium on eviction and cash or mortgage assistance further, we could see mass homelessness and increased poverty—both of which could affect generations of Americans. Congress must produce a longer-term relief package that pulls families back from the brink. This is the first step and the absolute minimum.

Next, local lawmakers must act to permanently preserve housing for cost-burdened tenants and provide new pathways for ownership. Today, over 100 million Americans are experiencing extreme housing and economic insecurity. That means they live in households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level; households where families work long hours simply to cover rent and food, and where one health scare or missed paycheck means financial ruin. Lawmakers have a responsibility to everyone—and that means advancing solutions to preserve affordability with equity at the core.

Change starts with understanding. Policymakers can start by using PolicyLink’s National Equity Atlas to measure the state of equity in their jurisdictions, including levels of housing burden on different communities. They can also leverage data to help advance proven solutions, like creating an anti-displacement tax fund, as Milwaukee did. Or California, which implemented “just cause” ordinances to protect vulnerable tenants. Community Land Trusts first created to protect Black farmers during the civil rights era—are also important models for creating housing access, stability, and community ownership.

Third, and critically, we need to produce more housing, especially affordable housing, where we are short 7 million homes based on current needs. We need all hands on deck to accomplish this: the public, private, and nonprofit sectors acting in alignment; community-based organizations and residents sitting at the decision-making table; businesses—small and large—working in concert.

The Partnership for the Bay’s Future, for example, is a $500 million public-private effort to preserve and produce 8,000 homes in the next five to ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and protect tenants in as many as 175,000 households in the next five years. These kinds of partnerships are crucial, because truly solving the housing crisis will require more than just tax funds or city ordinances. We need to reimagine, together, what our housing system should do and create systems that allow us to fully incorporate our values of equity and inclusion. And we need to flip the narrative. Housing isn’t a sidecar issue—it is the most fundamental necessity we have as humans and it is a core American value.

Read the full article here. 



Foundations Are Making an Epic Push to Tackle Housing Affordability in the Bay Area

The high cost of housing in the Bay Area has become an indelible characteristic of one of the country’s most vibrant and diverse regions.

In October, the median purchase price for an existing, single-family home in the Bay Area was $1.1 million, nearly 20% higher than just a year prior, and far out of reach for most of the region’s residents. Prior to the pandemic, the median cost of a rental, the housing option for half of the region’s households, had reached a whopping $3,700/month.

While recent headlines suggest a mass exodus of “software engineers, CEOs and venture capitalists” fleeing the Bay for a more affordable place to live and work, low- and medium-income residents most affected by rising costs and exclusionary housing policies have far fewer choices.

The Partnership for the Bay’s Future, an initiative that launched in 2019 to grapple with the high cost of housing in the region, expresses the core problem this way: Two full-time, minimum wage workers who make a total of around $65,000 per year can only afford to live in 5% of the Bay Area’s neighborhoods. Carrying this forward to 2040, they say, would mean another 1.3 million Bay Area residents would face some form of housing instability.

The partnership is perhaps the most ambitious housing initiative ever undertaken by philanthropy. It has come together with support from an assortment of funders, including two community foundations (San Francisco Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation), several national stalwarts of housing (the Ford Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)), three large corporations (Facebook, Genentech, Kaiser Permanente), the most prominent LLC funder in the country (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative), and three foundations not ordinarily connected to housing (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Stupski Foundation).

A daunting challenge

One significant reason for the Bay Area’s housing predicament is that housing development has simply not kept up with demand. From 2011-2015, the region added only about one housing unit for every eight jobs created.

But lackluster housing growth is not the only concern. Decades of zoning policies, mortgage lending practices and neighborhood covenants have explicitly or implicitly excluded Black people and other people of color, creating segregated neighborhoods and cities, and systematically denying opportunity to many of the region’s residents.

To tackle these issues, the partnership raised $500 million to “protect, preserve and produce” affordable housing in five counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa. The partnership’s goal is to “protect” 175,000 households over the next five years and preserve and produce another 8,000 affordable homes within the next decade.

“Protection,” in the partnership’s parlance, refers to “renters and displaced families who need stable housing and relief from rising and unsustainable rents,” while “preservation” focuses on keeping existing affordable homes in the community; “production” zeroes in on building new homes, guided by principles of “racial equity, belonging and affordability.”

“By coming together as funders, policymakers, advocates and service providers, we can change the story about housing in the Bay Area from one of exclusion to one of community, connection, and transformation,” says Khanh Russo, who directs the partnership. “The partnerships is really about working together across sectors to make sure everyone, whether Black, brown, Asian, or white, has a stable, affordable place that they can call home.”

What makes the partnership unique is not just the amount it’s raised, nor the diverse nature of funding partners, but its two-pronged approach, which focuses on both housing policy and investment. Russo says the partnership spent a year talking with community partners to identify critical gaps that could accelerate equitable and affordable housing for all.

The partnership is targeting local and state-level policy changes that protect renters and promote and accelerate affordable housing, working closely with the public agencies to enact needed reform. At the same time, it’s investing in affordable housing development and preservation, providing flexible funding that allows the partnership to unlock more funding for affordable housing.

Connecting the dots

The San Francisco Foundation provides the “backbone” support for the partnership, including the staffing, grantmaking and fundraising. In coordination with key partners, the foundation also guides the overall strategy, including managing the partnership’s policy and community engagement efforts. This includes overseeing the grantmaking program to advance racial equity and affordable housing policy in local governments and convening corporate, advocacy, research, development and service provider leaders to collaborate on developing and implementing affordable housing strategies at the regional and state levels. (SFF is also leading several other related housing efforts: Hope SF, Keep Oakland Housed and Bay Area Community Impact).

The Partnership for the Bay’s initiative Future Family Bay, administered by LISC, serves as the chief investment arm for the partnership’s development and preservation work, offering different financial products to mission-aligned developers and nonprofits. Interest rates on low-cost loans range from 4 to 5% for as much as $7.5 million each, as determined by area median income.

Different funds have been created for different housing-related needs. For example, one fund focuses on providing revolving lines of credit meant for small- to mid-sized development corporations. Another provides mixed-income “mezzanine” loans to support housing that blends market rate and affordable rental units to support the so-called “missing middle,” individuals who earn too much to qualify for government support but too little to afford market-rate units.

There are also very low-rate loans for supportive housing, intended mostly for persons experiencing homelessness. These include preservation loans, which focus on keeping low-income housing and HUD-funded affordable homes in the community, and affordability stabilization loans, which are provided to mission-aligned affordable housing developers to purchase properties before they are snatched up by speculative investors; low-interest loans for nonprofits and community-based groups fund affordable housing to serve their clients.

In 2019, the partnership awarded its first round of grants to local government entities and community organizations working to advance policy solutions to protect renters and preserve existing affordable housing. Grantees submitted coordinated applications between the local government and the community organization proposing a joint project they would work on together. The policies they are working on are an innovative collection of approaches to the region’s housing problems that center on racial equity and communities of color, including new systems to provide renters and communities with the right to purchase affordable homes before they are sold to outside investors, ensure county-wide protections for renters, and establish new approaches to building community wealth.

Key partners

As part of the Challenge Grant award, each grantee jurisdiction was matched with a mid-career fellow who is helping to provide needed capacity and expertise to accelerate solutions. The fellows also work with the grantee community organizations to ensure community involvement in the policy process.

“The fellows are an opportunity for us to really partner with cities to ensure they have the resources they need to draft policy, reach out to partners, and look at housing development issues through a racial equity lens,” Russo says. These resources are really critical, especially for local elected officials who might see the need for more affordable housing in the communities they represent but might be publicly unwilling to come forward due to NIMBYism, or who might waver in face of criticism. In addition, the fellows program is creating a sort of brain trust of all of these cities, who are experimenting and trying new tools, which allows the partnership to quickly identify what strategies are working and help to lift those up.

One recent policy win from the grantee cohort is San Jose’s new Anti-displacement Strategy.

“All Californians deserve a place they can call home, where they feel a sense of belonging in their community, and where they can build a better future for themselves and their families regardless of their race or zip code. The Partnership for the Bay’s Future enables Bay Area communities to help residents live in homes they can afford through its focus on local policy change and investment in building and preserving affordable homes, says San Francisco Foundation CEO Fred Blackwell.

With the financial stress wrought by the COVID pandemic pushing more households to the brink of homelessness, the need for complementary efforts that preserve, protect and produce affordable housing, like the partnership’s, are more important than ever. And, as more policy wins emerge from that work, we also hope to see more funders taking direct policy actions – like fellowships and funding for racial-equity-focused organizations and grassroots housing advocates.