Housing Equity in the Bay Area in the Wake of COVID-19

 In Great News

On May 15, GCC’s Funder Network came together for a learning session that focused on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for equitable housing policy and investments. The virtual event had more than 30 participants and featured guest speakers Debra Ballinger of Monument Impact and Carol Galante of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

Main Themes – “the 3Ps” of Housing Policy

Protection: cities that resisted tenant protections for years quickly passed emergency ordinances due to COVID-19, but no current plans to extend them long-term

  • Tenants will be in very difficult position when local moratoria expire, could see a wave of evictions and increased homelessness 
  • Lack of data on rent (non-)payment for smaller properties and landlords – policymakers may not see the big picture if they only look at larger multi-family housing, shows the need for a statewide rental registry 

Preservation: cities, funders, and nonprofits are increasingly interested in supportive policies like TOPA/COPA and alternative ownership strategies like CLTs  

  • Need to set up a robust acquisition infrastructure to not repeat mistakes of last housing crash – a lot of affordable housing and wealth was lost (esp. for communities of color)
  • Counterpoint: there’s not enough public or philanthropic money to purchase distressed assets at scale – upstream interventions perhaps more helpful to keep people housed 

Production: local budget deficits and an uncertain real estate market pose major challenges to affordable housing production, but opens the door for “outside the box” solutions

  • Some streamlining, electronic plan reviews have made production faster, especially for affordable housing   
  • Affordable housing owners and developers will be hurt by tenants’ inability to pay and reduction in local/state subsidies, especially when existing bond dollars are exhausted
  • Increased interest and activity in new sources of housing: converting hotels and motels, building on faith orgs’ land, modular housing  

Opportunities for Funders – Brainstorm

During the second half of the event, we asked participants to time travel a few years and pretend it was 2025. In small groups, we reflected on major achievements, strategies, and challenges to achieve housing equity. Common themes across the groups included the importance of narrative shift (towards the idea of housing as a fundamental right) and the need for funders to be bold and support long-term movement-building in communities of color.

Key achievements by 2025 included:

  • Used public land and land belonging to faith-based organizations to develop affordable housing
  • Passed schools and Communities First
  • Preserved naturally-occurring affordable housing
  • Implemented more efficient and inclusive community planning processes
  • More activists of color elected to key decision-making positions around housing and development
  • Increased the focus on community ownership of land and housing
  • Passed massive rent relief so that tenants could avoid eviction during COVID-19 and subsequent economic downturn
  • Built up a successful regional housing finance agency (BAHFA)
  • “Housing as a human right” became a framework for policy decisions
  • Coordinated funding strategies and revenue streams from public and philanthropic sources

We got there by:

  • Converting hotels, motels, and offices to long-term housing, and prioritized acquisition/rehab of smaller buildings, modular housing, and ADU construction
  • Passing TOPA/COPA policies, enforcing public lands policies, and reforming CEQA to serve its initial purpose
  • Philanthropy listening to communities and funding long-term, grassroots housing organizing, with strong racial justice lens
  • Connecting with unlikely partners in workforce development and tech, among others
  • Uniting around a narrative that housing is a base for healthy, thriving communities — both essential infrastructure and a fundamental right
  • A strong inside/outside strategy, including convincing funders to provide (c)(4) funding

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