Affordable housing is scarce for low-income individuals and families in San Mateo County. U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2017 show a median annual household income in the county of $105,667, while the California Association of Realtors says that the median price of a home in the third quarter of 2018 was $1.6 million, requiring an annual salary of at least $341,300 to afford the mortgage payments.
In December, the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County published a report indicating that the county has "dramatically increased its ability to build affordable homes" thanks, in part, to Measure K, according to the council's executive director, Evelyn Stivers.
In the fall of 2016, county officials lobbied the public to vote for Measure K to extend by 20 years a half-cent sales tax first approved by voters in 2012 as Measure A. The pitch wasn't only about affordable housing, but that was a principal talking point. Measure K's other priorities included improving public transit, combating human trafficking, addressing sea level rise and maintaining safe schools and neighborhoods.
Because Measure K revenue is not earmarked for a particular use, the measure needed a simple majority to pass rather than the two-thirds majority required for most tax initiatives. Voters approved it with a 70 percent majority, surpassing the 66 percent majority for Measure A four years earlier. The revenue from the extended tax at that point became known as Measure K funds.
In the run-up to the 2016 election, county Supervisor Don Horsley noted that between 2010 and 2014, the county saw an increase of 55,000 new jobs but only 2,000 new housing units, a ratio of 28 jobs for each new home. "You can walk up and down just about any main street in this county and you will see 'help wanted' ads for our service industry," he said. "That is why we are asking voters to join with us and help provide resources to address the housing crisis. ... Delaying dealing with it only makes the problem worse."
The half-cent sales tax had boosted county revenues by $413 million as of the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year on June 30, 2018, of which $251.2 million had been spent. How much of that has gone to affordable housing?
Beyond Measure K
In a recent speech on the state of the county, Supervisor Dave Pine said the county has spent $115 million on affordable housing since 2013. About $68.7 million of that is Measure K revenue, which is one source of revenue for the county's Affordable Housing Fund. The fund also includes money from county and federal agencies and state money formerly allocated to redevelopment agencies.
Using money from this fund, the county typically contributes 10 percent to 15 percent of the financing for an affordable housing project, Monali S. Sheth, a deputy attorney in the county counsel's office, said in response to a Public Records Act request by The Almanac.
The rest of the financing comes from sources outside the Affordable Housing Fund, including cities, the state, the federal housing authority and banks and tax credits, which are typically the largest contributors, Sheth said. "The county strives to leverage its public dollars as best (as) possible to attract investment from all sorts of different sources," she said.
The county works with outside organizations to acquire, preserve, design and build housing. Its list of partners includes MidPen Housing, located in Foster City; HIP Housing, a home-sharing nonprofit based in San Mateo; the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing; and the nonprofit Bridge Housing of San Francisco.
The $115 million the county has allocated so far has financed about 1,880 units of affordable housing, Sheth said. Of 456 new units completed, 32 of them used Measure K funding, she said.
Among those affordable housing projects to have received county subsidies between January 2013 and October 2018 are two completed affordable housing developments in Menlo Park: 90 apartments for seniors at the Sequoia Belle Haven development, and 60 units of veteran housing at the Willow Veterans Housing development.
The county has also provided funding to support pre-development work to build 27 affordable units at 1283 Willow Road and to redevelop and expand the low-cost apartments at 1345 Willow Road to a total of 140 units, according to the housing leadership council's report.
The report's authors argue that investments of county funds dramatically boost the amount of funding that can be leveraged from state and federal sources. Looking forward, the county should plan to take advantage of the $4 billion for affordable and veteran housing to come from the passage of Proposition 1 and to seek funds from the state's cap-and-trade program, the report recommends.
A Measure K financing round announced in July – the sixth round since 2013 – provides money for 580 new units, most of which are still in the project planning stage, Sheth said. The sixth-round funding will also preserve 87 existing units, Sheth said.
Measure K budget
In a September revision to the 2018-19 county budget, County Manager John Maltbie reported total allocations of $194.6 million in Measure K funds in seven categories of spending: public safety ($56 million), housing and homelessness ($54.2 million), health and mental health ($11.9 million), youth and education ($15.3 million), parks and the environment ($18.6 million), older adults and veterans ($3.2 million), community projects ($27.2 million) and miscellaneous spending ($8.1 million).
[http:www.is.gd/SeptRevise Click here to access the budget, or [http:www.is.gd/housing468 here to access the report.
Kate Bradshaw contributed to this report.