It’s football season in America, and here in San Jose, while we punt the political pigskin of housing this year, some people are fumbling the ball when it comes to understanding what really works to create meaningful change for so many in our community.
So in a Hail Mary pass, I’m going to give it one try to make the case that building affordable homes should be at the top of all of our agendas.
I’m doing this because I’m sick and tired of hearing about how deeply affordable housing is somehow a bad investment. Yes, it costs money, it takes time, it requires patience to get to scale. But many of these issues are of our own making, with multiple funding sources required for every project, complicated approval processes and land use constraints dragging out for years, and hostile neighbors that turn every new development into a fight. All of this drives up expenses and derails great opportunities, leaving us short of the line to gain more often than not.
But that doesn’t mean a disabled adult or a senior or a working mom shouldn’t have a place to live. And for the most part, the market alone here isn’t going to take care of those folks ever, no matter how many high-rise apartments you build. There is a level of deep poverty that will always be found in Silicon Valley for a number of socioeconomic factors far outside of the individual’s control, and if we don’t intentionally make places for these people where they don’t have to pay 50% or more of their income each month, more people will end up on the streets.
So, together, let’s take a quick look at the most important ballot measure we’ve passed in decades to address this issue: Measure A, the 2016 affordable housing bond. I’ve talked about Measure A before, but sometimes you have to run the same play more than once to get over the goal line.
Let’s start with the money angle, since that seems to be the top tackling dummy for so many. As opposed to waste, Measure A was built to leverage other funding sources and bring more investment back to our community. Having this local source allowed nonprofit developers to go out and track down hundreds of millions of dollars from state and federal sources, while also bringing in private money from big tech companies and philanthropy to get projects off the ground. As a result, while only providing a local subsidy of about $100,000, Measure A leveraged funds outside the county at a 5:1 ratio. It also included the smart provision that all of the land would be owned by local government partners, ensuring that the housing would remain affordable and rent-restricted in perpetuity for the people living there.
But Measure A also created policy, recognizing the heightened need for extremely low-income housing in our community. With thousands of unhoused residents, and many more just one paycheck away from catastrophe, you need to create housing with rents low enough to get tenants out of crisis and, in some cases, provide them with the support they need to survive. Measure A set deep affordability targets for all of the housing to be built, resulting in an ecosystem change that has led to thousands of homes funded specifically for those in greatest need.
Take a look for yourself at the vast spread across Santa Clara County of senior, veteran, supportive and family developments open, being constructed, or are in the pipeline to see how much that very focused policy decision has improved the landscape for our residents.
And once you look at that map, it brings up another great point: Measure A was designed to encourage collaboration and partnership with local jurisdictions. While the creators set framework to make progress against key goals, they also retained flexibility to help meet local community needs, letting cities help influence types of projects in their city. That’s why we’ve seen new housing not just in San Jose, but in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy over the past few years. Cities are even entering into collaborative housing plans with Santa Clara County, working together to leverage resources and land to make more affordable housing happen.
There’s a thousand more technical details, facts and figures I could throw at you, but I’m done playing from behind. With the clock ticking, we know the right calls to make and we know who can make the plays to score big. Let’s all take a page from the successful Measure A playbook and see how we can keep this drive alive for now and the future.
San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Impact 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.
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