The future of affordable housing Part I: Impacting change through public policy

Photo by Marla Aufmuth

Part I of a series looking at how SVCF, our donors and partners are creating solutions to Silicon Valley’s housing and homelessness crisis. This story originally appeared in the 2019 SVCF Magazine. Read Part II here

John Duckworth couldn’t believe his luck when he moved into his new home in San Jose’s Alum Rock neighborhood eight years ago. After a lifetime spent struggling with homelessness, he was finally the resident of a clean and affordable Section 8 apartment with 13 windows and a “beautiful view overlooking the foothills.”

“This is the nicest place I’ve ever lived,” says Duckworth, a 65-year-old former meth addict and alcoholic who celebrated his 11th year of sobriety in May. “I’d never wanted anything more in my life. It’s real quiet, and there are no gunshots or broken glass, no graffiti or anything like that.”

Duckworth is well aware that he’s one of the lucky ones. He was able to find housing he could afford on a small income, enabling him to stay close to his disabled brother, who is nearby in assisted living. He doesn’t own a car, but is close to the bus and light rail, making it possible to travel to his various jobs, one of which is at the Recovery Café, a center serving people who have suffered from addiction, homelessness and mental health issues.

But as everyone in the Bay Area knows, as job growth continues to boom in Silicon Valley, the region has failed to create enough new housing to keep up with demand — let alone keep prices reasonable for extremely low-, lowand middle-income people. Housing success stories like Duckworth’s are far too rare, and so the Bay Area has one of the largest homeless populations in the country.

“The housing imbalance stresses families, eats away at communities’ quality of life, and makes it tough for companies to retain their local employees,” says Manuel J. Santamaría, Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s vice president of community impact. “The challenge that Silicon Valley faces is how to accommodate growth in a sustainable and equitable manner while trying to keep uniqueness and diversity in our neighborhoods and region.”

SVCF is committed to finding bold, collaborative solutions to the housing and homelessness crises, which were decades in the making. Through public advocacy, grantmaking, strategic partnerships and research, SVCF is working to build vibrant communities and opportunities for all in Silicon Valley.

Public Policy: Impacting Change Through Legislation

For nearly a decade, SVCF has been working to improve public policies that affect homelessness and affordable housing through research, advocacy and getting the right players together to address the problems.

One of the ways this effort is bearing fruit is through SVCF’s multiyear research project — in partnership with UC Berkeley Law School and Columbia University — to conduct a comparative analysis of land entitlement processes in 16 Silicon Valley jurisdictions. This means taking a closer look at the legal process of obtaining approvals from city government agencies for the rights to develop properties — a process that goes mostly unseen by the public.

“These processes are where most of the housing production stumbles. They are hard to regulate and legislate unless there’s more transparency,” says Gina Dalma, SVCF’s special advisor to the CEO and vice president of government relations.
“We’re using this study to engage legislators and ensure that the legislation they craft to streamline housing protection is incredibly well-researched and fact-based.”

To put this research into action, SVCF’s research partners recently attended a meeting with staffers from the California State Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, the Senate Housing Committee and the governor’s office to share their findings and discuss ideas around affordable housing legislation.

“If there’s ever been an opportunity to solve our housing crisis, it’s now,” Dalma says, “when the people who are drafting legislation are engaging with

SVCF is also taking up the issue of the growing number of RVs parked on city streets, as local officials struggle to create policies that address both civic and safety concerns, as well as the needs of those who depend on RVs for housing.

In May, in partnership with District 24 Assemblymember Marc Berman and East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier, SVCF brought together Silicon Valley mayors and city council members in the hopes of finding an equitable solution.

“These are working families with children who go to schools in our communities, who work in our communities, and they can’t afford to live here,” Dalma says. “These are our neighbors and assets to our communities, and we need to find safe and sustainable places for them and their families.”

Learn more about SVCF's affordable housing grantmaking strategy here