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Michele Beasley

San Mateo County says YES to more affordable homes

When local redevelopment agencies (RDAs) were dissolved by the state last year, millions of dollars that would have gone towards the creation of desperately needed affordable homes throughout California were lost. RDAs were funded by incremental property tax earnings in redevelopment areas, 20% of which was required to go towards creating affordable homes. With the dissolution of RDAs, one of our best tools for providing homes that everyday working people can afford was suddenly gone.

To make matters worse, cities were required to transfer uncommitted affordable housing funds to their county —these funds would be redistributed to specific agencies, including school districts, the County itself, and cities to be used however they desired. In response, a diverse coalition of advocates sprung to action and began pleading its case as to why these unrestricted dollars must go towards building more affordable homes.


Win in San Mateo County

This past Tuesday, April 9, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to allocate 100% of the unrestricted County General Funds—received as part of the one-time distribution of liquidated housing funds—to building affordable homes; the funds total $13.4 million.

San Mateo County is just the latest jurisdiction to make such a bold move in favor of affordable homes, following in the footsteps of the cities of Foster City and San Mateo. In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, Foster City Mayor Pam Frisella stated:

“The City is doing its part to address affordable housing. We have a 20% affordable housing inclusionary requirement for any new development. We have 162 new affordable housing units coming online in the next 2 years… but most importantly, this City Council is ‘walking the talk’ and has taken action… to dedicate 100% of the one-time redistributed funds we will receive from our former redevelopment agency to a newly created affordable housing fund.”

San Mateo County and its cities are the only jurisdictions in the Bay Area to take such proactive stances on the reallocation of funds formerly meant for RDAs. For this they should be applauded.


The Need for Affordability

The need is great—San Mateo County is consistently ranked as the least affordable county in the country. Rents jumped by more than 18% in the last two years. While the minimum wage is $8 an hour, one-bedroom apartments are renting for over $1,800 a month. This is out of reach for many people in our community: seniors on fixed incomes, returning veterans, recent college graduates, and families working multiple jobs.

To put the need into perspective, over 2,500 families applied for one of only 60 apartments in a new affordable housing complex going up in San Mateo. Our economy and quality of life are dependent on ensuring that all members of our community can afford to live here. Otherwise, people are forced to move further from their jobs in search of homes or overcrowd into smaller units. The ripple effect of these circumstances can be felt throughout San Mateo County, from children struggling in school to freeways being clogged with traffic.


The Coalition

The Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County spearheaded the effort to seek ‘boomerang funds’ from the cities and the county. They pulled together a diverse coalition of advocates that includes Peninsula Interfaith Action, Sustainable San Mateo County, the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, Building Trades Unions, and Greenbelt Alliance.

For months, the coalition has been meeting with city staff and elected officials, describing the need and providing a solution. This relentless pursuit is paying off and demonstrates the power of coalitions. San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier expressed praise for all the community-based organizations that came out to speak about the importance of affordable homes from different perspectives. Not a single word of opposition was expressed.

Thanks again to the cities of Foster City and San Mateo and San Mateo County. They demonstrated real leadership and made real progress on the important issue of the affordability of homes.


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