It's pretty hard to miss the fact that the Bay Area is having a housing crisis.
Employers are losing workers to other states or other parts of California, workers are accepting longer and longer commutes, and young people are either ganging together to rent bedrooms (or shared bedrooms) in single-family homes or moving in with their parents.
Home prices and rents are skyrocketing, the homeless population is growing and many families who had been living on the edge are finding themselves edged out of the Bay Area altogether.
San Mateo County is attempting to fight back, and on multiple fronts:
● On June 28, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new fund that will provide loans to those willing to purchase existing affordable multi-family rental housing with the promise to keep existing tenants and retain affordable rents for at least 30 years. The supervisors had earlier budgeted $10 million for the fund.
● The supervisors also heard a report June 28 from a task force made up of a diverse group of government, business and community representatives from throughout the county that has been meeting for the past nine months to find ways to close the gap between new jobs and new housing in the county.
● On June 29, county officials met with representatives of local apartment building owners to work toward a cooperative solution to another problem: many of those who have federal Section 8 vouchers to subsidize their rent can't find landlords who will take their vouchers.
● The supervisors also talked about how to fund the housing initiatives. At their July 12 meeting, the supervisors are expected to consider possible funding measures that could be put on the November ballot, including a housing bond measure or an extension of the county's existing sales tax.
● Another measure that the county figures will contribute $1.2 million a year toward affordable housing is a newly passed affordable housing impact fee that will apply to most new construction in San Mateo County starting July 7.
"Housing has really reached a crisis level not only in our county but in the entire Bay Area," said Supervisor Don Horsley at the June 28 Board of Supervisors meeting. Between 2010 and 2014, 55,000 new jobs were created in the county but only 2,000 new housing units were built, meaning there were 26 new jobs for every new unit, he said.
Last year the county helped MidPen Housing acquire and preserve nine units of housing in Pacifica and helped HIP Housing purchase a 16-unit building in San Mateo. This year, a report from Ken Cole, head of the county's housing department, said the county hopes to help save between 40 and 100 affordable units with the newly approved program.
"It's an important first step," Mr. Cole said. "This does prevent displacement."
The fund was one of the ideas that came out of the Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force that the county put together last year.
The task force's 55 members include representatives of every San Mateo County town and city, business organizations and employers, housing developers (for-profit and nonprofit), community organizations providing housing services, community advocates and legal aid organizations, labor organizations, the community college district and the county office of education.
The group has been meeting since November and came up with a plan that includes a "Home for All - San Mateo County" website with a "housing toolkit" with ideas for local government, the public and businesses, and information on adding second housing units to single-family homes.
Every council and board participating in the task force will be asked to approve a resolution committing to working on housing and on the task force's action plan. The plan envisions all the county's cities and towns cooperating to provide more housing, including lobbying Sacramento for legislation allowing cities to pool their affordable housing funds in joint projects.
Communities that don't have impact fees charging new development to pay toward affordable housing will be encouraged to adopt them.
The task force also recommended working to diffuse any community opposition to new affordable housing projects by setting up community meetings even before proposals go to local bodies for approval.
"There's a lot of good that could come from this," said Supervisor Dave Pine. He advocated housing being built on public land, including land owned by school districts as well as cities.
"I know we can't solve this problem alone, and it's going to be incremental in nature," board president Warren Slocum said.
"We've all heard horror stories about teachers" living in cars or classrooms, he said. "I'd really like to see us take some bold action ... in regards to teacher and employee housing."
Mr. Slocum said he'd also like to see more county funding of legal programs that represent tenants who are losing their housing.
"I totally agree we need to continue to keep people in their homes," Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said.
Under the Section 8 housing voucher program, the federal government pays part of the rent for very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. When county officials learned that nearly 400 San Mateo County households with Section 8 housing vouchers don't use them because they can't find a landlord willing to participate in the program, the officials vowed to do something about it.
On June 29 owners or property managers representing an estimated 5,600 units of San Mateo County rental housing met to talk about the problem. The county asked those who weren't already in the Section 8 program to take at least one tenant with a voucher, and those already participating to add one more Section 8 tenant.
Mr. Horsley said the county's goal was within four months to recruit enough landlords to participate in the Section 8 program that all the vouchers would be used.
Paying for it
The supervisors acknowledge that their $10 million investment in preserving affordable housing "is a drop in the bucket" when it comes to solving the county's housing problems.
But on the heels of the news that two major housing bond measures will be the November ballot -- $950 million in Santa Clara County and $580 million in Alameda County -- and San Francisco's passage of a $310 million housing bond measure last year, the supervisors say the time may be right to ask taxpayers for funds for housing in San Mateo County.
The supervisors don't have much time to meet the Aug. 12 deadline for getting a measure on the November ballot. A ballot measure option will probably be on the supervisors' agenda when they meet July 12.
"I definitely am leaning toward the bond," Supervisor Slocum said. Stories about county residents facing evictions "are just heart-wrenching," he said. "If we were to do a bond measure, that would, in fact, be transformative. There are so many people out there who are hurting."
Many of those in the audience at the June 28 meeting agreed.
Christin Evans, one of the owners of Kepler's Books, said that her business is losing employees who no longer can afford to live in the area. "I know our bookstore's not alone," she said. "We're all experiencing it."
Ms. Evans told about one employee whose entire family had been evicted after his mother died.
Leora Tanjuatco said that she and others who are in their 30s are finding their fundamental life choices, such as whether or not to have children, impacted by the price of housing. "Please approve funding for affordable housing," she said.
East Palo Alto City Councilman Carlos Romero urged the supervisors to support a $500 million bond measure for housing. "Come forward with part of a solution so folks are not displaced, so tenants can remain," he said.