Addressing Our Housing Crisis Will Take Us All
Op-Ed by Warren Slocum, Pres. of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors from the 4th District
On Dec. 2, 2016, Facebook announced its plan to invest $20 million to address the need to increase the supply of affordable housing and the related issues of displacement, particularly in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and communities within a 15-mile radius of their campus.
This is exactly the kind of leadership that we in local government seek: Leaders who are willing to take stock and commit resources, time and talent to help solve the problem — creatively and collaboratively.
No single sector-government, business, labor or residents — can solve our housing crisis alone. It will take a serious commitment from everyone.
I was privileged this past year to co-chair the San Mateo County Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force, a 54-member group of elected, community, business and labor leaders which took a hard look at the imbalance of jobs and housing units on the Peninsula. What we learned is that between 2010 and 2014, San Mateo County added 54,600 new jobs but only added 2,200 new housing units. Those of us on the task force knew the problem was growing, but the numbers were stunning nonetheless.
We also learned that the majority of our workers, literally 62 percent of them, live elsewhere and commute to work every day. And the phenomenal job growth that the county experienced between 2010 and 2014 didn’t stop. It continues today.
The Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force developed a toolbox of potential strategies and policies that cities, the county, businesses, nonprofits and community members could adopt to promote and create a home for all. One strategy was the placement of Measure K on the November 2016 ballot to extend the existing half-cent Measure A sales tax for another 20 years to fund local needs with local dollars. Thankfully, the voters of San Mateo County resoundingly approved this measure understanding that we in government would make investments in housing, transportation, infrastructure and people — with a focus on collective improvement. Launching the Home for All Initiative this past fall continues this communitywide collaborative work. The momentum of the task force is now channeled into the Home For All initiative, providing a toolkit of strategies and implementation assistance where possible.
Our Board of Supervisors has allocated more than $60 million in Measure A (now Measure K) tax dollars for housing projects recognizing the urgency of the situation. More will be allocated in the coming year. Similarly, we created the Housing Preservation Fund to make dollars more quickly available to developers to purchase and preserve affordable rental housing. The recent $5.9 million loan to MidPen Housing for a 55-unit apartment building in Redwood City came from this fund. We also passed a housing impact fee committing half of the fees to HEART, or the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust, to launch affordable housing projects. A Housing Innovation Fund was seeded to research and pilot creative housing solutions, like tiny homes and a universal template for second units.
Even so, the county can’t solve the housing crisis alone. Nor can we ignore our other safety net responsibilities. That’s why Facebook’s news was so heartening.
Facebook calls San Mateo County home. It is rolling up its sleeves to do what it takes to make things better not just for their own business, but for the greater community.
Facebook, a member of Home For All, is tackling these issues in a regional way, cutting across jurisdictions and through the boundaries between government, nonprofit and private sectors. My hope is that Facebook’s headline-making news will encourage other companies to follow suit. Join Home for All and work on housing and transportation solutions.
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