A coalition of businesses, philanthropies, housing advocates and community and faith leaders announced Thursday afternoon an ambitious plan to invest $540 million over the next 18 years to preserve and build affordable housing and advocate for policies to protect and construct it in the Bay Area.
The coalition, which is being called "The Partnership for the Bay's Future," plans to raise and invest $500 million in affordable housing and $40 million to support policymaking aimed at boosting affordable housing and helping stem the wave of people being priced out of the Bay Area. It has so far raised about $260 million for the investment fund and $20 million for the policy fund. The group will focus its efforts in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
The fund was announced at an event that included a panel discussion on the Bay Area housing problem at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, which was followed by a press conference.
Among the funders are the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the San Francisco Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Facebook, Genentech, Kaiser Permanente, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
The investment fund will be managed by LISC, a national community development financial institution that has been working for about 40 years in the Bay Area. Its first action was to create a revolving line of credit for the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation to support six community development projects over the next five years.
Another priority will be to support and encourage faith communities to use their land to develop affordable housing. Pastor Paul Bains, who is the co-founder of Project WeHOPE, a homeless shelter based in East Palo Alto, pointed out that, after governments and schools, churches are some of the largest landholders in the area.
According to a press statement, the policy fund, which will be headed by the San Francisco Foundation, will focus on strengthening low-income tenant protections as well as preserving and expanding housing. The partnership plans to fund "challenge" grants – housing protection and preservation initiatives - and "breakthrough" grants, aimed at giving technical help to jurisdictions that want to develop affordable housing at scale.
Some of the policies will align with the CASA Compact, a regional set of housing-related policies recently established by a partnership convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).
State Assemblyman David Chiu, who represents eastern San Francisco, said at the press conference that California has put dramatically less funding into housing since the state's redevelopment agency dissolved in 2012, generating a loss of about $1.7 billion a year. New California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a budget that would put $1.7 billion into housing the next fiscal year.
Newsom, in a press statement, praised the multi-sector, public-private approach to addressing the shortage of affordable housing, saying that it "will help move our state forward on one of the biggest issues we face."
So how did this all come about?
"It took the threat of a lawsuit," Jennifer Martinez said during a panel discussion on housing following Thursday's press conference. Martinez is the chief strategy officer for PICO California, a community organizing network, and was formerly part of Faith in Action.
She later told The Almanac that the preliminary talks for what would lead to the formation of the "Bay's Future" initiative began when a nonprofit coalition, Envision Transform Build - East Palo Alto, of which Faith in Action was a part, approached Facebook just after the city of Menlo Park approved a development proposal by the company to build two new office buildings and a hotel, in November 2016. During the time leading up to the development's approval, the group took steps that would have paved the way for a lawsuit, such as pointing out problems with the project's environmental impact analysis.
Construction on the first of those two buildings was completed in September.
In December 2016, the group successfully negotiated an $18.5 million contribution from Facebook dedicated to funding anti-displacement efforts, with $10 million of that designated for East Palo Alto. Later, in August 2017, Facebook announced it would be working with LISC and that it aimed to generate $75 million for affordable housing efforts in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.
From there, Martinez said, others in the region began to imagine: "What if we could do a private-public approach to this?"
How to solve the housing crisis?
Local housing policy experts also expressed their opinions about the Bay Area housing problem in a panel discussion moderated by KQED's housing reporter Erica Aguilar. It featured Dr. Priscilla Chan, co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Pastor Paul Bains, co-founder of Project WeHOPE, a homeless shelter in East Palo Alto; Jennifer Martinez, chief strategy officer of PICO California; Fred Blackwell, Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation; and Janet Chiang, president of Kaiser Permanente.
Blackwell is also a co-chair of CASA, the Committee to House the Bay Area. That committee, which convened leaders throughout the Bay Area to develop a housing policy, recently approved a "compact" laying out 10 policy recommendations aimed at addressing the shortage of affordable housing in the Bay Area and the displacement of vulnerable communities.
Among the proposed polices are to: establish a just cause eviction policy and a rent cap; provide emergency rent help and access to legal counsel to people at risk of being displaced from Bay Area communities; eliminate onerous regulations for secondary backyard homes; require a "minimum" amount of zoning for housing near transit; speed the process by which housing gets approved; unlock public land for affordable housing development; and find methods and an organizational structure for funding and executing all of the above ideas.
Beyond the CASA Compact, though, other ideas were raised.
One suggestion, which The Bay's Future plans to support, is to encourage faith communities to use their land to develop affordable housing. Pastor Paul Bains, who is the co-founder of Project WeHOPE, a homeless shelter based in East Palo Alto, pointed out that, after governments and schools, churches are some of the largest landholders in the area.
The housing crisis has both racial roots and racial impacts, the panelists argued.
Of note, Blackwell emphasized that solving the housing crisis requires government support and financial support from the public through tax reform. "Our system of taxation contributes to the concentration of wealth in this country," he said.
Reforming Proposition 13, taxing corporations or changing the incentives by which cities have come to favor kinds of development that generate tax revenue (such as commercial buildings and hotels) over those that drain it (like housing) may be worth considering.
One audience member asked about the possibility of a contribution like the one Microsoft recently announced: $500 million to address housing problems in Seattle. Chan responded that "nobody here runs a tech company." She added that she believes tech companies are more open to talking about housing and wanting to address the problem than in years past.
Many Bay Area communities, Blackwell argued, also bear some blame for accumulating jobs while resisting housing construction "with absolutely no consequence. … If I had a magic wand, I'd change that dynamic," he said.