Affordable Housing Gurus Take Aim At California Crisis
After three years as CEO of homelessness-prevention nonprofit Hamilton Families, Moss officially launched All Home in late January, and a two-phase approach by its Regional Impact Council to prescribe anti-homelessness measures for the region is already underway.
The Bay Area nonprofit is focused on homelessness prevention and crafting housing solutions for the hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents earning less than 30% of area median income. Before the pandemic, its analysis showed about 740,000 fit into that category, around 40% of whom are employed and with scarce housing options, according to Moss.
“You have this whole community of folks who are really struggling in the Bay Area not because of behavioral health issues, necessarily, but because of very clear economic imbalances in our economy and in our housing market,” she said. “We know that we have under-produced housing at all income levels, but we've done a really terrible job of producing deeply affordable housing.”
All Home's Regional Impact Council has some overlap with the Committee to House the Bay Area, or CASA, whose advocacy resulted in several successful state housing bills and also the ambitious but ill-fated SB 50 authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who represents the state's 11th District. Regional Impact Council leaders include Ken Kirkey, one of the architects of CASA, and also Working Partnerships USA CEO Derecka Mehrens, a CASA member. Moss has also has been involved in CASA.
The key for All Home's Regional Impact Council, whose leadership also includes commercial real estate figures like Greystar Senior Development Director Jonathan Fearn, is that its approach is regional, Bay Area Council Vice President of Public Policy Adrian Covert said.
“That's one of the things that's important about All Home: that they're bringing a regional focus to this,” Covert said. “No other metro region in the United States is divided by as many continuums of care as the Bay Area. We’ve got nine, one for every county, and most metro regions around the country have like two or three. That can kind of hide the ball as to the true scale of our homelessness problem.”
The scale of the Bay Area's homelessness problem was growing even before the coronavirus pandemic. The most recent point-in-time count showed that about 35,000 homeless people were living in the Bay Area as of last January, representing a 24% increase from 2017.
The major cause, Moss and Covert said, is the region's inability to produce housing at all incomes, which is most severe when it comes to housing output for households at 30% and below area median income. For a four-person household in S.F., that level of AMI comes out to $38.45K this year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
While the Regional Impact Council will propose ways to house the region's thousands of homeless people and permanent solutions to the crisis, Moss and All Home are also looking at ways the private sector can address the need for deeply affordable housing both through changes to their business models and legislative incentives.
The government programs that do exist often reward developers of housing affordable at up to 80% AMI, which is important but also neglects the dire need for housing at lower income levels, Moss said.
“It doesn’t leave a lot of resources for that other deeply affordable housing that people need," Moss said. “We don’t have a way to really meet that market gap with our financing tools that we have in place right now."
Covert said the Regional Housing Needs Allocation set targets for as low as 50% AMI, leaving production levels of more deeply affordable housing worse and also much less known despite the need. California as a whole has only 23 homes available and affordable for every 100 extremely low-income households, the largest shortfall in the nation, Covert said.
On top of production, preservation of deeply affordable housing is a crucial ingredient to homelessness prevention, and one that is cheaper and faster than building new units in the Bay Area, Moss said. San Francisco, for instance, has recently begun earmarking more affordable housing funds to preservation in the form of programs like the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, or COPA, as it continues to struggle with new housing production.
Preservation has taken on even more importance amid the coronavirus pandemic as more affordable units are potentially lost to the speculative market, Moss said.
“I think that’s a huge threat in this moment," she said. "As people are unable to pay their rents and as landlords and property owners are unable to pay their mortgages, we’re losing an opportunity to keep those housing units in the community for extremely low-income people."
In San Francisco, a proposal by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston to double the city's real estate transfer tax for deals $10M and higher may address the risk of hundreds of units turning unaffordable. The tax hike wouldn't apply to sales of property to the city or nonprofit housing providers, and revenues from sales that aren't exempt would go to a rent relief program and as aid to smaller residential landlords impacted by the pandemic.
In the more stable economic period of 2012 and 2017, the Bay Area lost about 5,000 extremely low-income housing units to the market, Covert said.
“The rapid nature of people actually falling into homelessness is so scary because you just can’t keep up," Moss said.