When does $135 million feel like a drop in the bucket? When this figure is tied to anything having to do with financing affordable housing in the Bay Area, then it is simply a drop in the bucket. Notably, this figure also happens to be the exact dollar amount in bonding authority made possible by the generosity Berkeley’s voters demonstrated through their overwhelming approval of Measure O on last November’s ballot. To wit, one need not look further than pages 40-42 of the agenda for last month’s Measure O Committee, which is the committee charged with recommending to the City Council how these funds should be spent. It includes more than $37 million in requests among four affordable projects proposed in the first round of applications. This is nearly three times the total amount we have available to recommend for this first bonding issuance, and over a quarter of the total amount in the bond, with many more worthy projects on the horizon. To be clear, Measure O is a game changer for Berkeley’s ability to finance a number of much-needed affordable housing projects. But, as the numbers show, even a game-changing measure can only go so far if our city is the only one playing.
This is why a regional approach encompassing the entirety of the nine-county Bay Area is so important to tackling the acute housing affordability crisis that the entire Bay Area faces. AB 1487, which overwhelmingly passed in both houses of the state Legislature and is now on the Governor’s desk, is a critical piece of legislation that will begin to tackle the enormity of this challenge. According to the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, “Through AB 1487, the Bay Area can join together to find Bay Area-specific solutions to our region’s housing affordability needs. New regional funding and programs will strengthen our region with more affordable homes and protections for longtime residents to ensure all Bay Area residents, no matter their color or income, have a safe, stable, affordable place to call home.” Specifically, AB 1487 would create a new consortium, dubbed the Housing Alliance for the Bay Area, that would begin the process of crafting the kind of regional housing infrastructure necessary to tackle regional housing challenges. The consortium would develop new programs and funding in support of regional strategies that use effective practices and put into effect the “three p’s” of affordable housing. This includes the production of new affordable housing, protection of sitting tenants and preservation of “natural occurring” affordable housing, such as in rent-controlled buildings.
If signed, AB 1487 will, for the first time in the Bay Area’s history, authorize the funding of a regional ballot measure to fund programs that have the potential to focus on each of these “three p’s.” This is a critical policy solution, as for far too long individual cities and counties have been trying to raise funding for housing in a piecemeal way. While counties like San Francisco and Alameda and cities like Berkeley and Emeryville have been ahead of the pack in raising funds for affordable housing, other jurisdictions have been resistant to doing so. A regional authority with a single set of rules and resources that are commonly understood and accessible is a much-needed innovation that will go a long way toward ensuring that every part of the Bay Area can deliver its fair share of below-market rate housing. This is especially crucial now because of a shortage of labor, a severe jobs-to-housing imbalance and the economics of affordable housing financing. It can cost as much as $750,000 to produce a single unit of lower-income housing in the Bay Area.
Of course, as proponents of the bill acknowledge, signing it is only the first step. It is also important to ensure that there is regional equity in the distribution of the funding and to minimize the barriers involved in gaining access to capital and operating funds to ensure the bill’s success. Yet what is important right now is that the bill is signed. Please join me in calling on Gov. Newsom to support AB 1487 in deed as well as in word. You can do so by leaving a comment at https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail/ . Together let’s ensure that, with the stroke of a pen, we can be a part of embracing a giant leap for our community as well as take a bold step in the direction of a Berkeley and Bay Area we can all call home.
Igor Tregub is the vice chair of the Berkeley Measure O Bond Oversight Committee and a member of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board and Zoning Adjustments Board.