Can Santa Clara County keep $1 billion housing promise?
AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson.

    An audit released this week suggests Santa Clara County might not be able to make good on using $1 billion in public funds to build the homes promised when voters passed Measure A in 2016.

    The premise of Measure A has always been that the nearly $1 billion bond would be used within a decade to quickly build thousands of homes — 4,800, to be exact — of desperately needed affordable housing.

    An audit presented Thursday by the accounting firm MGO said that the Measure A program “has not been effective in accomplishing its mission” to provide affordable housing. Auditors wrote that the slow rate of construction and delivery of projects has made projects vulnerable to price increases, ultimately threatening the county’s ability to provide housing for those most in need.

    Meanwhile, the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, responsible for overseeing Measure A housing, pushed back and said that it would, in fact, be able to deliver all the housing the county had promised on its original timeline.

    As of Thursday, 214 units were completed of the projected 4,800 to be built by June 30, 2028.

    There are three main reasons why projects are behind schedule: delayed land-use permits, construction delays and setbacks in obtaining all necessary funding.

    Consuelo Hernandez, director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, said she’s been candid with everyone, including county supervisors, about how difficult building housing is.

    “It takes five years from the time you identify a site for development to the time you can open the doors,” Hernandez said. “Five years on a good day. I realize we share the same concerns as you do about speed and progress.”

    Hernandez and others from the county housing department were not as willing to admit defeat. While the delays might affect the timeliness of housing becoming available, officials said the program could still reach its goals.

    Hernandez pointed out that half of her employees, which usually oversee Measure A projects, were deployed as disaster service workers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “If 4,800 units in 10 years was the objective, it’s very clear to me that we will not meet that objective,” said Sunnyvale Vice Mayor Glenn Hendricks, who sits on the bond’s oversight committee.

    “Am I wrong in being worried about this?” Hendricks asked the committee Thursday.

    County Assessor Larry Stone, who chairs the committee, put things in perspective.

    “I don’t think you’re wrong to be worried about it, but these are impediments that we’ve discussed over several meetings, even before COVID,” Stone said. As Santa Clara County’s tax assessor, Stone said, he sees the same kinds of general construction delays as with the Measure A projects.

    “We’re all frustrated the schedule of completions is not meeting our objective, but I understand the reasons for it,” Stone said.

    Hernandez said that her office is actively working on solutions to the delays. Right now, officials are negotiating on three properties the county already owns to turn those into more Measure A housing. Repurposing land already owned by the county would cut out some of the red tape that comes when buying a new property and starting from scratch.

    “While the projects are delayed, from the commitment perspective we are on track to have those units constructed or under construction within 10 years,” Hernandez said.

    Hernandez said her office will soon approach supervisors with proposals on housing development plans with several cities in the county.

    Nearly 68% of voters in 2016 approved Measure A, a landmark $950 million affordable housing bond.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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