The Upcoming Expiration of Two Critical Local Affordable Housing Measures Spurs Additional Efforts to Continue Addressing the Challenge
June 2, 2023
While most regions are enduring a housing crisis, there’s agreement across the board that the Bay Area’s need is particularly acute, given that the area has some of the nation’s highest housing prices. Every year the National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes a report, Out of Reach, which documents the significant gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing across the United States. Bay Area counties routinely have some of the highest gaps, along with a comparatively high percentage of those who are severely cost burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their income on rent.
The Starling (Alameda County) is one of our projects that received funding from Measure A-1
To help address the issue, affordable housing proponents rejoiced at the passing of two key measures – Measure A in Santa Clara County and Measure A1 in Alameda County. Their impact was great, funding more than 100 affordable housing projects combined. Eden Housing benefited tremendously from these measures, receiving more than $55 million for 13 life-changing projects.
Although the results have been impressive, advocates recognize there is still much vital work to be done as these measures expire. That has spurred the two counties to join efforts to support a regional bond.
We recently sat down with three thought leaders and affordable housing champions in the region – Consuelo Hernandez, Director, Office of Supportive Housing at County of Santa Clara; Michelle Starratt, Housing Director of Alameda County; and Kate Hartley, Section Director, Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) – to discuss the issue and what it will mean to our local affordable housing environment. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity)
1) Tell us about the scope of the housing challenge in your county and the efforts to address the affordable housing crisis, and why these initiatives are so important to your county/organization:
Consuelo: Santa Clara County is one of the most expensive areas in California, where a household needs to earn approximately $57 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30% of its income on housing. Over 50,000 low-income renters lack access to an affordable home in Santa Clara County. In 2021, we also learned through a report published by the California Housing Partnership that approximately 74% of households in Santa Clara County are severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing. That’s in comparison to moderate-income households, which are only allocating 1% of their income to rent. The other current reality in our county is that for every household we help through our supportive housing system, 1.7 people are becoming homeless.
That disparity both in the wage gap and in access to housing is one of the primary reasons it’s imperative to continue to build more affordable housing. And the open market is not going to build that housing, which is why initiatives like Measure A have been such a critical resource for us.
Michelle: The crisis really begins with the significant increase in the cost of real estate over the past few years, spurred by a number of economic factors that have created a huge discrepancy between who can afford to live here and who can’t. In 2020, Alameda County Continuum of Care produced the groundbreaking “Centering Racial Equity in Homeless System Design” report, which indicated that people become homeless for economic reasons. Despite the dramatic increase in housing costs, we have not seen a dramatic increase in pay rates for lower-income-level positions. From daycare providers to those who work in grocery stores, restaurants and salons – the people doing the day-to-day work that’s needed to keep our society moving – we don’t pay those workers enough to live here. In Alameda County, we need over 50,000 housing units affordable to low-income households, and at least half should be made available to those with extremely low incomes in order to stem the tide of increasing homelessness.
In addition, we’re not producing enough housing. If you look at the history of housing and how it was developed in California, we’ve been at a significantly lower number of units produced year over year in the last 20 years. So, while our population is growing, the number of housing units aren’t increasing, creating a supply-and-demand problem. We need to meet the demand, while also recognizing we need to have housing that is affordable to the folks who need to live where they work.
Kate: BAHFA is a new regional agency that serves the nine-county Bay Area, which was created by state legislation in 2019 (AB 1487, Chiu) to address the fact that a county-by-county and city-by-city approach to affordable housing isn’t as effective as a collaborative, comprehensive, region-wide approach.
According to the state’s most recent (6th cycle) Regional Housing Needs Analysis (RHNA), we need to produce approximately 180,000 new affordable homes in California by 2031; yet, historical production rates are significantly below the pace required to meet this obligation. Between 2015 and 2021, the region permitted only 35% of the affordable homes needed, but the region’s homeless point-in-time count went up by about 10% between 2019 and 2022. In addition, according to 2019 data from the Terner Center, there are approximately 575,000 people in the Bay Area who are at risk of homelessness. While our counties have made some headway thanks to Measure A and A1, a lot more needs to be done.
2) Why were the County Measures A and A1 critical towards addressing the ongoing affordable housing crisis?
Consuelo: In Santa Clara County we started with about 300 units of supportive housing in 2015. Six years into the $950 million Measure A affordable housing bond, we have funded 50 developments, which will result in over 5,000 affordable housing units. And of those affordable housing units, about 50% of them are for people who were previously homeless, whether for a month or chronically homeless.
Prior to building this affordable housing, we used a scattered site model, where we were competing for market-rate housing and providing housing choice vouchers or a rental subsidy. The intention was that after one “graduated” from the program, they would be able to sustain the rent on their own. But the reality is that most people aren’t able to afford our high market rents. The impact of building more affordable housing is that people can actually transition in place and stay in their affordable apartment in our county instead of living elsewhere and driving hours to work. Since 2015, we’ve expanded all of our programs exponentially, and this year alone we are on target to house over 1,000 people who were previously homeless in a permanent supportive housing unit.
Michelle: In Alameda County, we have 14 cities and nine former redevelopment agencies. Annually, what our redevelopment agencies put into their housing programs equaled about $58 million a year and was the main local funding source for affordable housing, but that program ended in 2011. Measure A1, a $580 million bond that passed in 2016, bridged the gap in local funding and continued the production of affordable housing that was in jeopardy due to the loss of redevelopment and cuts to federal housing programs, allowing us to continue building affordable housing.
Our county currently has 53 projects in the pipeline – either completed, in construction or in pre-development – with over 3,800 units. It previously took 30 years for Alameda County to reach 100 completed affordable housing projects in our portfolio using limited federal and state resources. Thanks to Measure A1, in six years we funded the development of another 53 projects. Considering that three of those years were during the pandemic and we had significant staffing shortages, our team did an amazing job to move Measure A1 forward so that the community, our development partners and our service partners had quick access to the needed resources.
Kate: Any additional funding is tremendously helpful in addressing the region’s housing crisis. Measures A and A1 produced very good results for Santa Clara and Alameda counties. With that said, bringing equivalent levels of resources to all nine Bay Area counties is the logical next step given the fact that Bay Area residents don’t restrict their lives to one particular county.
Our organization was charged with overseeing a potential housing bond that is slated for the November 2024 election, which, if passed, could exponentially increasing funding available for affordable housing.
3) What’s next in terms of regional bonds and how can affordable housing advocates get involved?
Consuelo: The implementation of Santa Clara County Measure A has demonstrated that the need is there, as we are seeing 25 to 50 applicants per apartment. Currently we only have about $110 million left in the housing bond that has not been allocated to a specific housing development, and once that runs out, we won’t have money for our pipeline.
We urge advocates to help us with our narrative – to educate others in the community about why we need more affordable housing so they will stay engaged and supportive when housing comes to their community.
Our partnership in support of the regional bond is important because if you only have one county building affordable housing, it skews the balance of who is hosting it all. Working together we can develop joint affordable housing goals and benefit from each other’s learnings.
Michelle: Our Measure A1 funds for rental development have all been allocated to affordable housing projects. We are pleased that we exceeded our goals, but the funds are now expended. Being part of the regional bond is important so that we work collaboratively and continue to make this important impact. Here in Alameda County, we are beginning a planning process for how we would spend the dollars and allocate the resources if the voters pass the measure.
We are excited for people to get involved and engaged. We will host public meetings over the summer to take feedback on the Measure A1 program and make recommendations for expenditure for the proposed regional bond.
4) Is your county/organization involved in any other affordable housing initiatives?
Consuelo: In October 2021, Santa Clara County, Destination Home, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, the city of San Jose and several of our service providers came together to launch the Heading Home campaign, which aims to eliminate family homelessness by 2025. Approximately 600 new families become homeless every year, which can have a significant impact on children and their development.
The campaign has four initiatives: homelessness prevention; expanding temporary housing options for families as soon as they become homeless and helping them divert and quickly resolve their homelessness through housing problem solving; building more affordable housing; and providing the critical services that families need when they are in crisis.
Michelle: We worked closely with the County’s Office of Homeless Care and Coordination, the cities in our County and the Continuum of Care to launch the Home Together Plan the County’s plan to end homelessness. The plan details specific stargegies and actions steps needed to end homelessness in Alameda County. Key to our goal is the production of an additional 5,000 units affordable to homeless households.
Kate: BAHFA is running multiple pilot programs to advance the 3Ps (production, preservation and tenant protections) and is also working to bring more collective action to the Bay Area’s affordable housing work.
While much work has been accomplished, there is more to be done. To stay apprised of the next steps with the regional bond, stay tuned to the BAHFA website.