A statewide ballot measure to set up a $4 billion bond to support affordable housing for veterans and low-income residents appears, so far, to have only fans.
Supporters of Proposition 1, the Veterans and Affordable Housing Act, had contributed a collective $2.1 million to the campaign by mid-month, while no opponent funding or committees had been identified as of July 16, according to the California Secretary of State website.
To date, the biggest donor to the campaign is the Palo Alto-based Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, with a contribution of $250,000 to the fundraising committee Affordable Housing Now. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a limited liability corporation funded with the personal shares of Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his spouse, Dr. Priscilla Chan.
The proposition is also gathering support among area elected officials and organizations, and has been endorsed by Menlo Park City Council member Kirsten Keith, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President Dave Pine, Assemblyman Marc Berman, the town of Portola Valley and the cities of Redwood City, San Mateo and Mountain View.
Listed endorsers of the proposition also include a number of housing agencies that operate locally, such as Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley, EAH Housing, and MidPen Housing Corporation, among many others.
Keith cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which show that there are around 40,000 homeless veterans in the United States – more than 11,000 of whom live in California. She noted that the state has seen a 17 percent rise in homeless veterans since 2016.
"All of our veterans should have a home," she said in a written statement. "It is the least that we may do for them. Please vote in favor of Prop 1 this November so that we may build more housing in Menlo Park, and across the State, for our beloved veterans."
Pine told The Almanac that San Mateo County may be eligible to benefit from the measure's funding on multiple fronts. He hopes the county can apply to the farmworker housing grant program to aid the Coastside's farm labor community and the local housing trust grant program, which "may create opportunities to leverage funding provided by HEART (Housing Endowment and Regional Trust) of San Mateo County."
The county has invested about $100 million in affordable housing over the last six years, which is expected to yield about 1,800 affordable housing units, he said. But some estimates say the county needs about 25,000 more affordable housing units.
"More state and federal funds are required to leverage the investments in affordable housing that we are making at the local level," he said.
Jan Lindenthal, chief real estate development officer at MidPen Housing, a nonprofit housing developer, said that her organization recently completed 66 new affordable housing units in Sunnyvale and now must hold a crushing lottery to decide who will live there. MidPen received over 3,500 applications in two weeks.
"We're endorsing Proposition 1 because the only way we are really going to move the needle on this housing crisis is if every sector of government from the federal, local and and state level is prioritizing investment in affordable housing," she said in a written statement. "This public investment is critical for us to leverage private capital. The last time a state affordable housing bond came before the voters was in 2006. Prop. 1 is long overdue."
The measure, called the Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018, would create a $4 billion general obligation bond to fund affordable housing and promote veteran homeownership.
According to a report by the League of California Cities, the measure would provide:
● $1.5 billion to a multifamily housing program to build, rehabilitate, and preserve permanent and transitional rental homes for lower-income households.
● $1 billion to the CalVet Home Loan program, which helps eligible veterans get home loans with below-market interest rates and few or no down payment requirements.
● $300 million to a farmworker housing grant fund to build, rehabilitate and acquire housing for agriculture workers.
● $300 million to an infill incentive grant program to promote infill developments (projects in areas considered already "built out") by helping to fund infrastructure rehabilitation and improvement to enable more housing density.
● $300 million to a local housing trust fund matching grant program, to finance affordable housing with matching grants, dollar-for-dollar, for local housing trusts.
● $300 million to the CalHome Program to provide grants to public agencies and nonprofit developers that help low- and very low-income households buy or keep their homes; to provide loans for people in co-ops and other mutual housing situations to acquire property; and to offer direct loan forgiveness for projects with multiple ownership units.
● $150 million to a transit-oriented development program to give low-interest loans to develop housing and provide mortgage help to buy homes at higher-density developments near transit stations that have affordable units. Cities, counties and transit agencies would be eligible for grants for needed infrastructure improvements to allow such developments.
● $150 million to a "self-help housing fund" to help low- and moderate-income families get grants to build their own homes.
The programs would be administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development with the exception of the CalVet Home Loan Program, which would be administered by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. Supporters say the measure is expected to create 137,000 jobs and pump $23.4 billion into California's economy.
According to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, its donation of $250,000 is just the latest in a series of contributions toward affordable housing on a local, state and national level.
It also isn't the first ballot measure the organization has thrown its weight behind: In 2016, it supported local sales tax extension measures in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties that dedicated further funding toward affordable housing.
Locally, it has provided funding to nonprofits that help people with housing such as Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and Project WeHope and through its community fund program, giving grants to the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, Habitat for Humanity-Greater San Francisco, Rebuilding Together Peninsula and New Creation Home Ministries.
It also donated $5 million to Landed to create a down payment fund to help teachers in the Ravenswood City, Redwood City and Sequoia Union High School districts buy homes. In addition, according to the organization, it contributed funds to help the city of East Palo Alto secure new water allocations to enable affordable housing construction.
The Facebook question
There's a complex irony at play, because while the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a separate entity from Facebook, the Initiative is funded with the Chan-Zuckerberg family's Facebook shares – and Facebook's rapid expansion in Menlo Park has been a major, albeit by no means exclusive, culprit in drawing far more workers to the area than can live nearby, given the existing housing supply.
The company reported it had a total of 27,742 employees at the end of the first quarter this year, up 48 percent year-over-year. Roughly 60 percent of those employees work out of Facebook's headquarter offices in Menlo Park, vice president of global facilities and real estate John Tenanes recently told the Menlo Park Planning Commission.
And the company shows no signs of slowing its employee growth. It continues to expand its office space square footage, most recently by securing office space in Fremont from Perry Arrillaga, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed with The Almanac. Tenanes told the Planning Commission in February that the company plans to have 35,000 employees in the area within 10 years.
And Facebook employees tend to be very well-paid – employees' median salary in 2017 was $240,430, according to a company statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in April – meaning they can better afford to pay a premium to live close by than many other local workers, should they choose.
Facebook, the company – separate from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – has made its own contributions to local housing: Spurred by advocacy from nonprofits in East Palo Alto, it created and contributed $18.5 million toward a housing fund with the city of East Palo Alto. The company also plans to build 1,500 housing units – 225 of which are proposed to be for rent at below market rate – as part of its proposed 60-acre "Willow Village" redevelopment project currently under review by the city of Menlo Park.
But that hasn't kept local renters, especially in eastern Menlo Park, from drawing connections between the company's growth in town and escalating rent costs. Sometimes, those connections are more explicit than others. Menlo Gate LLC, which recently purchased some apartments in Belle Haven, referred to Facebook 15 times in its online materials meant to attract investors.
According to a public Facebook post by Sandra Zamora, a member of the Redwood Landing Tenant Union and a resident of an apartment recently purchased by the group, she and her neighbors are facing rent increases and are at risk of losing their homes.
As originally reported in The Guardian, she recently wrote on Facebook in a message to Mark Zuckerberg that she and other residents in eastern Menlo Park "have been extremely affected by the expansion of Facebook in the area."
She claimed that many families in eastern Menlo Park work two or three jobs to keep up with basic needs, and that under new ownership at her apartment building, many other families have already been displaced.
Neither Zamora nor Menlo Gate LLC responded to requests for comment.