Challenge Grant Spotlight: East Palo Alto


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. 

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East Palo Alto Considers Funding Community Land Trusts

The East Palo Alto Challenge Grant has three main goals: (1) establish a sustainable funding source for housing preservation; (2) launch a preservation model centered on a Community Land Trust (CLT) to acquire, rehabilitate, and redevelop properties; and (3) design and support the passage of local preservation ordinance.  

Community Outreach and Education

Despite the many unforeseeable hurdles in 2020, we began the first year of the Challenge Grant strong by gathering support from sixty-five percent of East Palo Alto voters and a unanimous City Council for a hotel tax that would raise funds for affordable housing acquisition, redevelopment and rehabilitation. Although the measure narrowly fell short of two-thirds threshold needed to pass, the community greatly benefitted from learning about the importance of community land trusts (CLTs) and the role they can play in affordable housing preservation, especially when there are sustainable funding sources available. While the future is uncertain, we hope the measure is reintroduced in next year’s election. 

Last year, we were also able to raise $500,000 from philanthropic supporters in pre-development and operating support for a CLT pilot project. This funding is geared toward bolstering PAHALI (Preserving Affordable Housing Assets Longterm, Inc) community land trust’s capacity and ability to launch a pilot preservation project. East Palo Alto’s PAHALI community land trust is an existing community resource with the knowledge and experience necessary to support the work of housing acquisition and rehabilitation.  

As a Challenge Grant partner, PAHALI works closely with the City of East Palo Alto EPACANDO (East Palo Alto Community Alliance and Neighborhood Development Organization), CLSEPA (Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto), YUCA (Youth United for Community Action), and the Partnership for the Bay’s Future Fellow. Each partner brings unique experience and expertise in the areas of policy design, economic development, housing rights, community land trusts, community engagement, and project management.  

A Focus on Preservation in 2021

This year we expect to encounter many of the same challenges we encountered in 2020, including finding new strategies to effectively engage the community in a time of strong digital divide, and continuing to address residents’ desire for strong anti-displacement measures as tenants are unable to make their rents and homeowners are unable to pay their mortgages due to the impacts of COVID-19.

East Palo Alto continues to house a large portion of the region’s essential workers, who risk exposure in their front-line jobs. The pandemic’s impact on East Palo Alto residents has highlighted the importance of the affordable housing preservation strategies outlined in the Challenge Grant.

We are encouraged by the growing network of local and regional partners, and technical assistance providers specializing in housing preservation, and expect to see even more support and momentum this year. As a direct result of the Challenge Grant, East Palo Alto now has a robust affordable housing preservation working group that will continue to tackle the many challenges ahead.

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