May 24, 2016

San Jose Mercury News: A policy road map to affordable housing in Santa Clara County


SV@Home’s Policy Breakfast and Policy Roadmap debut, which kicked off Santa Clara County’s Affordable Housing Week 2016, was recently featured in the San Jose Mercury News.

See the original story at the San Jose Mercury News.

A policy road map to affordable housing in Santa Clara County

by Richard Scheinin

MOUNTAIN VIEW — What’s there to do, besides weep?

Housing costs have pushed low- and middle-income earners to the brink in Silicon Valley. Businesses struggle to recruit workers because few can afford to move here. More than a third of the Bay Area’s population hopes to leave because housing costs and traffic are so out of control, according to a recent poll.

Any suggestions?

“It’s time to change the focus from problems to solutions,” Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, told about 200 affordable housing advocates who gathered Friday at the Microsoft Conference Center. They attended a policy breakfast sponsored by SV@Home, a housing advocacy group in Santa Clara County whose members include nonprofit and for-profit developers, bankers and homeless advocates, academics and elected officials.

Kicking off the county’s Affordable Housing Week 2016, nonprofit SV@Home, founded last year, released a “Policy Roadmap” for making inroads into what seems like an intractable problem.

The report outlines a set of strategies for bringing some relief to the housing situation.

One would target publicly owned land to create more affordable homes — a relatively economical alternative to developing on private land in, say, Palo Alto where an acre costs $12 million and up, according to the report.

Another is to develop new funding streams to replace the annual $60 million in affordable housing funds that were lost to the county in 2011 when Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved state redevelopment agencies to help contend with California’s budget deficit. Repeatedly mentioned at Friday’s meeting was a proposal — under discussion by the county’s board of supervisors — to put a $750 million bond measure on the November ballot to fund affordable housing initiatives.

“It’s time to change the conversation around housing,” said Leslye Corsiglia, SV@Home’s executive director, as well as former head of San Jose’s Department of Housing. In the South Bay — where housing debates spin independently in 15 cities and at the county level — her group is the first, she said, “that’s worked around housing advocacy 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The intention is to create an effective regional coalition out of disparate local voices.

“So how do we get this engine started again?” asked former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, who moderated a discussion among a panel of housing experts. Now the chair of SV@Home’s leadership board, he noted that about 11,000 affordable homes were built in San Jose during his two terms as mayor, from 1999-2006 — and then came the recession.

Matt Regan, senior vice president of public policy at the Bay Area Council, suggested streamlining permitting processes to encourage homeowners to create second units. Citing Vancouver, British Columbia, where 35 percent of single family homes have such “granny units,” he said that if 10 percent of Bay Area homeowners were to receive such permits, then “150,000 units of housing can come on stream immediately.”

Bold moves are needed to address the region’s challenges: Santa Clara County added 64,000 new jobs in 2015, but built only 5,000 new units. The cascading demand for housing drives prices up — and pushes longtime residents away. It was Regan’s organization that did the recent poll showing that more than a third of Bay Area residents are thinking of fleeing.

The panelists covered well-known strategies, including ones requiring developers to set aside a given share of new construction for people with low and moderate incomes. And they floated some rarely heard ones, including penalizing local jurisdictions that refuse to approve affordable housing — taking away their zoning control over housing and giving it to a regional body.

More than once, the panelists struck a note of optimism, saying that public opinion has finally shifted, bringing solutions within reach: “The housing crisis has reached a point where it’s no longer somebody else’s problem,” said Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation.

Concern over inflated housing costs has “emerged as a values issue,” added Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California.

But then there was a dose of reality, too, offered by Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association).

“This is going to be really hard,” he said. “Anything that’s easy, we’ve already done it.”