Housing Trust marks year of milestones after creating landmark housing fund model
Kevin Zwick, CEO of the Housing Trust Silicon Valley speaks during the nonprofit's fundraiser and event to release the annual report in Oct. 2019 Image credit: Janice Bitters

    The Housing Trust Silicon Valley in recent years has become a model for other organizations trying to tackle the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, and 2019 was a record year for the San Jose nonprofit.

    During its 2019 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the Housing Trust loaned more than $73.4 million to multifamily developers trying build low-income housing around the Bay Area, according to the organization’s recently released annual report. That included its largest-ever multifamily loan: $15.85 million to San Jose-based First Community Housing for 300 new affordable homes in fast-growing downtown San Jose.

    Loans like that are significant, not just for low-income renters, but people in the business community, said Craig Robinson, head of corporate responsibility at Silicon Valley Bank and a member of the Housing Trust’s board.

    “Silicon Valley Bank could not finance affordable housing without the work of the Housing Trust Silicon Valley financing pre-development and land acquisition,” he said this week during a fundraiser and annual report release event for the Housing Trust. “They’re like the oil that greases the affordable housing machine.”

    The First Community Housing loan made headlines in the South Bay city for several reasons. First, the contribution would help a nonprofit developer buy up pricy and highly sought-after land in order to push forward hundreds of badly needed low-income homes. The timing was also apt as San Jose braces for major commercial growth from the likes of Google, Adobe and several ambitious developers.

    But the announcement was also a proof-point for the San Jose-based nonprofit.

    A breakdown of the numbers behind the TECH fund since its launch in March 2017. Courtesy of Housing Trust Silicon Valley annual report

    Part of that major loan came from a still fairly new and innovative fund, known as the TECH Fund, which targets major Bay Area companies to contribute money that they’ll get back later to create new housing today.

    Companies like Cisco Systems, LinkedIn, NetApp and more have jumped on board since it was launched in 2017.

    The fund started with a goal of reaching $50 million and creating or preserving 10,000 homes in the region. In July, the Housing Trust Silicon Valley’s TECH fund hit $112 million when Google contributed $50 million to the nonprofit, a part of its recent $1 billion housing pledge in the Bay Area.

    Javier Gonzales, government affairs and public policy manager for Google, said as San Jose native, he wants other San Joseans to “have an opportunity to call San Jose home still.”

    “We are very excited,” he said. “We did that (contribution) in July and by August the first project was receiving funding from the $50 million.”

    The Housing Trust’s TECH Fund success hasn’t gone unnoticed. Microsoft modeled its own effort to spur affordable housing in Seattle after the little San Jose-based nonprofit’s TECH Fund, mentioning the organization by name in news reports.

    More locally, Stanford University also toyed around with creating a similar type of housing fund in Palo Alto last year as it attempts to win lawmakers over to expand its sprawling campus.

    Meanwhile, the Housing Trust Silicon Valley’s multifamily loan fund soared to more than $150 million in the past year — a record high for the organization, though the fund has been growing consistently for years.

    The First Community Housing loan was one of 13 loans during the group’s 2019 fiscal year. The funding helped move along 1,905 new residential units in Bay Area cities, including Santa Clara, Sonoma, Fremont, Santa Rosa, Mountain View and Sunnyvale. But about half of the nonprofit’s contributions over the past year went to five San Jose projects with more than 930 homes between them.

    And while the TECH Fund and the multifamily loans, which come from a variety of loan pools and programs, have helped place the Housing Trust in the spotlight, the organization also has multiple other efforts underway.

    Those efforts include a partnership with the county to provide loan programs for first-time homebuyers. The group also gave more than $317,000 in grants to 357 people in the past year who were seeking a way out of homelessness and needed security deposit money. The Housing Trust holds educational seminars on how to build an Accessory Dwelling Unit, or little backyard home, for homeowners in the region.

    Kevin Zwick, chief executive officer of the Housing Trust, beamed as he numbered the group’s successes over the past year during the annual fundraising event last week.

    “We’ve had our most impactful year yet of lending,” he said. “But behind those numbers are stories of real people.”

    Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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