Eden Updates, Policy Updates

Q&A with Amie Fishman, Executive Director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH)

April 1, 2024

Amie Fishman has dedicated her entire career toward affordable housing. She has led NPH since 2015, spearheading its expansion into innovative electoral strategies, public campaigns and industry-strengthening initiatives.

Her leadership efforts have resulted in substantial gains for Bay Area affordable housing, securing over $2 billion from county measures in 2016 and $6 billion from statewide and local measures in 2018. Fishman’s strategic partnerships and advocacy in Sacramento have led to significant regional and state victories, including the Historic Housing Package of 2017 and the 2019 3Ps legislative package, promoting Production, Preservation and Tenant Protections.

Previously, she served as Executive Director of East Bay Housing Organizations and as Director of Supportive Housing at Mission Housing Development Corporation. She serves on numerous boards, including as a Director of Housing California, SV@Home and All Home, and is on the advisory board of the Partnership for the Bay’s Future.

We had the pleasure of discussing with Fishman the key strategies and initiatives implemented, challenges and opportunities in our industry, and what’s next for NPH.

Thanks for joining us, Amie! Can you tell us about the key strategies and initiatives you’ve implemented at the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) to advocate for affordable housing and educate key stakeholders regarding the need for such housing solutions?

I became Executive Director at NPH in 2015 with a mandate to explore the viability of  a regional electoral strategy to generate significant new resources for affordable housing. This was shortly after the state had dissolved Redevelopment Funds, drastically limiting state investments in affordable housing at a time when our communities were still suffering from a deep recession and housing market crash. We knew that Californians absolutely needed more affordable housing at that time, and that it was up to us to figure out solutions.

Starting in 2015 and 2016, NPH launched this new regional electoral strategy, bringing the question right to voters at the ballot. And voters, in no uncertain terms, turned up for affordable housing. With super majority support and strong coalition campaigns, we won affordable housing ballot measures in San Francisco, Santa Clara County, Alameda County, and San Mateo County. Those measures secured well over 2 billion dollars of new resources for affordable housing, resulting in tens of thousands of new affordable homes for our most vulnerable community members.

And we were able to continue to build from there, leveraging the clear demonstration of voter support at the ballot in 2015 and 2016 into a historic housing package at the Legislature in 2017. In 2018, we went back to voters across the state and in several Bay Area communities and secured their support for statewide affordable housing and homelessness bonds. In 2019, we went back to the Legislature and collectively won another historic housing package based on the Bay Area CASA Compact. These laws updated zoning, strengthened public land policies, protected tenants, created new partnerships including the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, and found innovative ways to make it easier and faster to build affordable housing and provide supportive services.

We shifted the conversation, demonstrated momentum and power, and changed the realm of what’s possible. Our powerful multi-stakeholder coalitions brought meaningful solutions forward, building public support and political will, and partnering with decision makers to identify equitable and sustainable pathways forward. NPH’s membership was critical to anchoring these initiatives and providing the leadership and expertise to make this happen.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you are currently seeing in the industry?

We’ve worked with lawmakers to find solutions that make it easier and faster to build affordable housing, but our region and state still hasn’t scaled our resources to match the pipeline of what is possible by our non-profit affordable housing developer members and needed by our community members.

We’ve come together before, and we can do it again. We have a real opportunity to make transformative change by empowering local communities with the tools they need to fund affordable housing locally.

This past legislative session, our campaign helped pass ACA 1, a Constitutional Amendment to be placed on the November 2024 state ballot to lower the voter threshold for local affordable housing bond measures. Currently, the State Constitution requires 66.7% – that’s 2/3 — of voters to say ‘yes’ to local housing bonds at the ballot in order to secure passage. It’s an undemocratic and harmful barrier that empowers a small, unrepresentative anti-housing minority to block the ability of their communities to meet their housing needs.

The passage of ACA 1 is a great first step. Now we need to amend ACA 1 to ensure that the measure that goes before statewide voters is strong and effective. This change would be transformative, giving voters in local communities across the state more power to pass local affordable housing bonds that meet the unique needs of their communities – with strict accountability and oversight requirements to ensure the dollars are spent effectively. That would translate into hundreds of thousands more affordable homes, lifting up millions of Californians over their lifetime.

At the same time, we are co-leading the Bay Area Housing for All Coalition which is working to advance a nine-county $10-20B affordable housing bond measure on the same November 2024 ballot. We are partnering with the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) as they work to develop and place the region-wide measure on the ballot. If successful, we will take advantage of the lower voter threshold, and this measure will deliver a historic influx of resources for affordable housing and homelessness solutions and advance racial and economic equity in the region.

Tell us more about the regional partnerships and legislative policy advocacy efforts led by NPH, such as the Historic Housing Package of 2017, the CASA compact, and the 2019 3Ps legislative package of 10 state and regional bills. How do these initiatives contribute to advancing affordable housing goals?

Every decade, local municipalities go through a Housing Elements process to address current housing problems, invest in our communities, and create better housing solutions for all. Now, the state has increased accountability for cities and counties to meet their Regional Allocated Housing Needs Assessment – the formula that shows how many and at what income levels affordable homes are needed. But we had to match that accountability with tools to help make it possible. The partnerships and advocacy accomplishments have paved a path to do so.

All of these efforts you reference, and we discussed earlier have been critical stepping stones. And others that came after it – like SB 4, the Affordable Housing on Faith and Higher Education Lands Act (or, as we like to call it, “Keeping the Faith in Housing Solutions”) which we just passed in 2023. SB 4 unlocked over 171,000 acres owned by religious organizations and nonprofit colleges for the construction of affordable housing. That potentially developable land is five times the size of Oakland — and a huge opportunity to create badly needed affordable homes.

All of these partnerships, campaigns, bills, and efforts have made it easier and faster to build affordable homes. Which means that affordable housing developers are positioned to help local municipalities secure those homes – and meet those RHNA goals – for our community members. Now, we need to build on those accomplishments to scale the resources to match those possibilities.

Like they say: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” NPH and our members have been able to secure these wins, make progress, and build momentum for milestone reform by growing and deepening our partnerships in coalition.

With over 30 years of affordable housing experience informing your leadership, what is your vision for the future of NPH?

There have been decades of discussion in affordable housing – are we an industry or a movement? My vision is that we are both:

As part of an industry, NPH members have deep technical knowledge, practitioner expertise, and hold community assets in the billions of dollars. They take housing off the speculative market for community-serving affordable housing in perpetuity. They are institutional anchors in communities providing housing and services for those with the lowest incomes and highest needs, and communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the lack of safe, quality affordable housing.

And NPH members are part of a movement of people who have dedicated their lives to creating strong and vibrant communities, to achieving racial and economic justice, and to righting the wrongs of the past discriminatory, exclusionary and racist housing policies that form the unjust bedrock of our current systems.

NPH with our members can galvanize the hundreds of Board members, tens of thousands of staff who work at our member organizations, and hundreds of thousands of residents who live in affordable housing. And each organization, each Board and staff member and each resident has networks of thousands more. NPH as an industry and as a movement can lead with power and an activated base, can bring resources and expertise about what works, and a track record of success. We can join forces with other industries and movements to win the system change we need to unlock billions of dollars our communities need, and we can win the funding at the scale we need to impact communities.