By Nadine Ono.
It is no secret that the Bay Area is an expensive place to live. According to a report issued earlier this year, San Jose and San Francisco came in sixth and seventh respectively as the most unaffordable cities in the world, even surpassing the New York metro area.
This is not good news for middle- and low- income earners who live in the Bay Area, which includes Alameda County. And, it seems the news for them is getting worse as Alameda County ranks as the fastest growing county in the state. This has caused the average rent in the East Bay to increase by 26 percent over the past two years.
The growth can be attributed several things including the gentrification of Oakland (making it the west coast version of Brooklyn) and the fact that San Francisco renters are moving to Alameda County in search of lower rental rates. County leaders are taking steps to alleviate the problem and provide more funds for affordable housing.
“To reach the households least able to afford housing in a market such as ours, we do need significantly more subsidy financing than has been available since the dissolution of redevelopment agencies,” said Linda Gardner, director of Alameda County Housing and Community Development. One of the last projects developed with redevelopment funds is Ashland Place, which opened last month and provides 85 units of much needed affordable housing.
Gardner explained the county has been working on policies to make up for the lost redevelopment funds. To develop more affordable housing units, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a one-time allocation of $9.8 million in residual tax receipts, known as swept ‘boomerang’ funds from the former redevelopment agencies.
And in December 2015, the Supervisors adopted a policy to allocate a minimum of $5 million annually beginning in 2016 for affordable housing and homeless programs, with a maximum of $7.5 million annually. The annual amount will be evaluated in five years.
The county is also considering other sources of funding for affordable housing, added Gardner.
“Alameda County is currently participating in a multi-jurisdictional nexus study and feasibility study for consideration of possible impact fees in the unincorporated county,” said Gardner. “Many cities in the county have impact fees already and others are participating in the multi-jurisdictional study. We expect to have that report in the late spring and then will do a staff analysis before presenting it to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.”
And later this year, Alameda County residents will be able to vote to fund affordable housing.
“We are currently in the process of developing a proposed general obligation measure for housing for possible placement on the November 2016 ballot countywide,” said Gardner. “The program and amount of the bond are currently under development.”
The work Alameda County leaders are doing shows how local governments can take the lead in providing affordable housing to its residents. To dramatically increase the supply and reduce the cost of affordable and market-rate housing, California will need to support and highlight innovative local efforts.
That’s one of the priorities in the California Economic Summit 2016 Roadmap to Shared Prosperity: creating one million housing units over the next decade.
The housing action plan includes exploring how to expand the use of local financing options, such as housing trust funds and “boomerang funds” from former redevelopment agencies, as with Alameda County’s case. The Summit will also help regions take advantage of impact investing opportunities.
Additionally, the Summit housing plan calls for identifying new statewide resources for housing, including dedicating one-time revenues to affordable housing, while continuing to advocate for ongoing state support.