Asserting housing isn’t getting built fast enough with funds raised by the Measure A housing bond, an independent oversight committee is urging Santa Clara County to find ways to speed things up.
The Measure A bond, passed in 2016, so far has generated $421 million for new projects. In March, the county allocated $137 million of the funds. However, of that amount, only $128 million had been spent as of the end of June.
The aim of the bond was to raise nearly $1 billion to create 4,800 housing units in the county. These would include a mix of permanent and temporary housing to support low- and middle-income families and individuals. To date, a little over 200 units have been built and leased.
The oversight committee, made up of 10 Santa Clara County residents, was created with the passage of Measure A and established by the Board of Supervisors. The aim of the committee is to hold the county accountable in how it spends the funds and ensure housing is built in a timely manner.
Committee member Glenn Hendricks queried county staff on whether the focus of the committee and county should be on obtaining funding, or actually building housing.
“That’s the main problem. On a macro level, doing a good job of allocating money but it doesn’t get spent very fast,” Hendricks said.
“If people aren’t getting into homes, what is the point?” he said.
County staff blame the slow progress on a mix of factors, including difficulty securing matching state funds, inspection delays and the pandemic shutdown.
The housing bond also meant to set aside funds for the county’s first-time homebuyer assistance program, Empower Homeowners. The program aims to help low- and middle-income earners with money for a down payment on a house.
About $25 million is dedicated to the Empower program. While there were more than 400 applications for assistance in the first half of 2020, the county only approved 16 of them for just more than $1 million.
Committee member Leonard Siegel expressed concern the program’s guidelines would restrict development to limited parts of the county. Empower caps the purchase price of the home to $800,000.
“Here in Mountain View, you can’t buy a dog house for $800,000,” Siegel said.
Office of Supportive Housing Acting Director Consuelo Hernandez said her office has been working on solutions for these problems since March. The office will soon bring on two more project managers specifically to work with developers to increase the speed of projects, she said.
Hernandez said early delays equate to bigger delays later on. A one-month delay in getting land entitlements — approval for development plans — could result in a six-month delay later in the project.
Construction inspection delays also hobbled projects, even before the pandemic shutdown. In one case, the developer wasn’t ready for the scheduled inspection, causing a three-week delay to schedule a new inspection.
Hernandez also said there has been a significant delay between when supervisors allocate Measure A funding and when developers secure other financing, including tax credits and tax-exempt bonds from the state.
“We probably have a little bit of advocacy work to do (at the state level),” Hernandez said.
Finally, COVID-19 has caused setbacks both by interrupting the building material supply chain as well as limiting the amount of construction workers on a site at any given time.