By Kevin Zwick
CEO, United Way Bay Area
Gabby Nunez is a single mother and resident at the newly constructed Wilton Court community who experienced homelessness after leaving an abusive relationship. When Gabby talks about her experience, she talks about how moving into Wilton Court and having safe, affordable housing has changed her life. Wilton Court was built by local affordable housing developers, Alta Housing. This story isn’t rare–affordable housing is being built across the Bay Area, and stories like Gabby’s are being repeated. Tens of thousands of families are being housed in newly constructed, affordable housing resulting from local bond measures and funding.
For Affordable Housing Month, I wanted to take the time to focus on some of the success that we’re seeing across the Bay Area in the development of affordable housing. The funding from Measure A, Measure A1, and Measure K, among other local referendums in the Bay Area, is powering the affordable housing boom we’re seeing right now! “Poverty is a policy choice.” – that’s a mantra you may have seen and heard us reference. These measures are strong examples of what it looks like to make a different choice and make policy choices that begin dismantling the root causes of poverty. And your choices on the ballot help create these moments.
Over the last several years, the Bay Area has made significant strides toward making more affordable housing available. Since 2016, four Bay Area counties, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Mateo, have passed bond or other funding measures to support affordable housing, raising nearly $2 billion in total. The narratives that nothing is working or that nothing is being done to address the demand are false.
What is true is that thanks to voter-passed initiatives, like Measure E in San Jose which committed financial expenditures to build affordable homes specifically in underinvested communities – thanks to these types of measures, buildings are going up and affordable housing is increasing at a faster rate than ever before, and demand for that housing continues to outpace the supply. But that is not the same as starting from zero. We have movement on this front, which is why It is essential that we continue to prioritize this as a key issue and work to create more local measures to boost affordable housing efforts and prevent individuals and families from ever experiencing homelessness.
Our collective political action is paying off, but we cannot afford to become complacent. We need to double down on our efforts, building on the momentum started in 2016 to keep this ball in motion and meet the scale of this growing problem.
We know that local affordable housing measures take time to go from passage to ground-breaking to grand openings, but we also know they are effective, helping to move us forward in our pursuit of housing justice. We’re right in the middle of that impact and now is the time to do more to keep that momentum going. Here are some ideas on how to do that:
Housing insecurity is one of the main factors driving poverty in the Bay Area today. Whether our neighbors are facing housing/rent burdens, housing insecurity or homelessness – fundamentally we’re talking about an experience in which individuals and families are forced to choose between the cost of housing or paying for basic needs like food, clothing, and childcare. And many are forced to leave our region entirely so they can find affordable housing.
Coming out of college, I got my start running a local food distribution center in the East Bay for Project Open Hand, an organization that worked on food and nutrition programs for people with HIV and AIDS, that served Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. I saw first-hand how destabilizing it was for vulnerable individuals to have their housing taken away and how it affects their health in profound ways. I have been in the nonprofit sector ever since. For the last 20 years, I have worked in affordable housing and have been able to see the regional impact inequitable housing policies have had on the Bay Area.
At UWBA, our mission is to keep residents in the Bay Area and create an environment where they can thrive. Housing Justice, ensuring individuals and families have affordable options for housing is at the core of that mission. It’s an area where we see the impact of historical racism embedded in the system itself, from segregation and redlining to voting rules and regulations that were designed as additional barriers to the passage of policies that would benefit those who have historically suffered the most marginalization and are today the most impacted. The way we change racist policies is by passing antiracist policies. When it comes to affordable housing, it’s passing bond measures as a part of our push to make the housing system more inclusive and begin to repair the damage created by the past.
So, while there is much work to be done to tackle the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area, May–Affordable Housing Month–is a great time to celebrate the progress that we have made. Affordable housing units are being built, and they are changing lives like Gabby’s and so many others. There’s more we can do, and we hope that you’ll add your voice to ours as we fight together for more affordable housing, and an equitable Bay Area where everyone has the opportunities and resources to thrive.