Having worked with and in the public sector for most of my career, I know that there are many facets in government that remain a mystery to most people on the outside.
Whether it’s the nuances of land use authority, the purpose of a board resolution, or simply the role of the many commissions and committees that are spread throughout the systems, the vast complexities and inner-workings of any given bureaucracy can be hard to understand, let alone assess for effectiveness.
That’s one of the reasons why bodies like the Civil Grand Jury are so important.
Present in all 58 of California’s counties, the Civil Grand Jury is made up of a group of local residents who take an oath to serve as grand jurors. These people come from every corner of our community and are united by the common goal to give back to the place where they live over a one-year term of service. During this term, they focus on specific aspects of certain government entities or initiatives, evaluating the work and making recommendations for improvement. They have nothing to gain personally from this work, acting as a truly independent representative of county residents in promoting government accountability.
So, when the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury released its report this year on the progress of the 2016 Measure A Affordable Housing Bond, its findings showed an unbiased view of a true and meaningful success by Santa Clara County and its affordable housing partners.
The report – entitled “Measure A earns an A: Good Management and Oversight Supports Progress” – focuses on the efforts of the county to fulfil the lofty goals approved by local voters over five years ago. Those goals included the creation of 4,800 new homes, with the vast majority of the units dedicated to formerly homeless people and households earning less than 30% of the area median income.
With this unprecedented funding opportunity, the county’s Office of Supportive Housing (OSH) was charged with the monumental responsibility of devising a way to partner with local affordable housing developers, nonprofit service organizations and a host of other government entities to create homes for veterans, seniors, disabled individuals, foster youth, vulnerable families and many others desperately in need of permanent housing.
Today, as the Grand Jury’s report so loudly extols, the county is on track to meet its goals. As of January, OSH has committed $546 million to 35 affordable developments consisting of over 3,700 apartments in seven cities across the county. And through good management and sound oversight, it is clear that the goals of the affordable housing bond – and the commitment to the voters – will be met.
Many detractors will still be quick to point out that only a few hundred of these are fully built and in operation right now.
While that’s true, it is also the reality of housing development in California, not a function of whether or not the bond is working. The process to acquire and entitle land can take years thanks to a complicated set of hurdles present in both local and state regulations, while financing of affordable housing requires developers to seek a multitude of sources to cobble together the resources needed to move projects forward.
There have been great efforts over the past few years to streamline the approval process and get more funds faster for the housing needed, but much work is still needed to really move the needle.
With this in mind, as we go into the new year, we should celebrate this tremendous progress, but also look to our elected leaders to ask what more can we do to move this successful effort forward. Like the grand jurors who gave so much of their time to reach their conclusions, it’s up to all of us to get behind this work and push for even more now.
San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Operating Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at [email protected] or follow @rbramson on Twitter.