by Emily Foley, Assistant Planner
History and need
Affordable housing is a major issue in the Bay Area. Silicon Valley and San Francisco are among the most expensive places in the U.S. to live, and the East Bay is not far behind. It is crucial for California governments at all levels – local, county, and state – to address the housing crisis. Alameda County estimates they have 8,000 to 9,000 homeless individuals; additionally many more are living in housing more expensive than they can afford.
In November 2016, residents of Alameda County voted to adopt an Affordable Housing Bond designed to fund affordable housing projects within Alameda County. It received 73% of the popular vote. The funds from the bond are dedicated to both homeownership assistance programs and the development of new affordable rental housing.
The bond is a general obligation bond. This is a common way for cities and counties to gather funds for a large project. Bonds are sold to investors, with the expectation that they will be paid back with interest in a set number of years. The county, in this case, will pay back the investors with funds generated by increased property taxes.
For this bond, the total $580 million will be issued over eight years, with the first issuance expected in March 2018. The estimated increase to property taxes, or cost to taxpayers, is $48 to 56 per homeowner per year.
Allocation and sources
This program is different from other programs in the area because it will assist with both homeownership and rental housing. There are three homeownership programs. One is down payment assistance:
- $50 million will be allocated to assist middle-income residents making down payments on homes in Alameda County.
- $25 million will be allocated towards the development of low-income housing, long-term affordability projects, and assisting first-time homebuyers. The third program is for housing preservation loans.
- $45 million will be loaned to seniors, people with disabilities, and others at less than 80% annual median income (AMI) to perform necessary maintenance and install accessibility improvements such as ramps and handrails so that they may remain in their homes.
There are also two programs for rental assistance: $425 million will be allocated to rental housing development, and the final $35 million is for a “rental innovation and opportunity fund”. The rental innovation and opportunity fund is designed to maintain and renovate existing affordable housing, and prevent the displacement of people currently living in affordable units.
The rental housing development funds will be allocated by population per city, and allocated throughout the unincorporated county by poverty level. The county will receive $200 million, with 44% going to the North County area. The cities will receive $250 million, with Oakland, Fremont, and Hayward receiving over $108 million of that. Individual projects must meet a number of criteria in order to receive this funding. At least 20% of the units must be for below 20% AMI, and the majority of the units must be affordable for 30-60% AMI. In Alameda County, 30-60% AMI means a household income of $29,200 to $58,400. The units must remain affordable for a minimum of 55 years. Additionally, projects that support a target population, such as veterans, people with disabilities, or youth aging out of foster care, will be prioritized to receive funding. This funding is meant to be used to supplement other sources such as state and federal subsidies.
Updates from the Board of Supervisors
As of September 19, 2017, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors is establishing the implementation of this program. There will be associated costs to the city of this bond program, such as hiring the necessary personnel to administer the program. As of July 17, 2017, the County Board of Supervisors has put out an RFQ for program administrators.
According to the June 9, 2017 estimated schedule, the Cities will begin their bidding for base funding in October of this year. Once they have reached an agreement with the County, each city will have the discretion to administer funds to individual projects within their jurisdiction.
The Alameda County Affordable Housing Bond is an exciting proposition. It is a great example for California counties and cities to see that voters see the need for assistance for both renters and homeowners need assistance. It also shows how cities and counties can work together. Especially in the Bay Area, many people selling their homes are leaving because they are displaced by the high housing (and overall living) costs. The Bay Area Council reported in March 2017 that 40% of Bay Area residents want to move to a different region in the next few years. The lower paying, but absolutely crucial service and profession employees such as teachers, firefighters, hairdressers, and more are finding it harder and harder to live near where they work, and a shocking number are simply giving up. Whether it’s to retire, or raise a family, or simply afford to stay in a profession they’ve been in their entire career, long-time residents and more recent transplants alike are deciding they Bay Area is too expensive for them. This is unsustainable, and it is important that other counties follow Alameda’s lead. In the 2016 election, Santa Clara County also approved Measure A which dedicated $950 million dollars to affordable housing. It will be important to watch how this funding is allocated as well.