The future of affordable housing, part III: Investing in the future and exploring new solutions

The future of affordable housing Part III: Investing in the future and exploring new solutions

Part III 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 MagazineRead Part I here and Part II here.

In May, Sunnyvale community leaders celebrated the opening of the 66-unit Edwina Benner Plaza, which includes housing for some families transitioning from homelessness.

This is just one example of the results of SVCF’s housing grantmaking strategy, which focuses on three key areas: protecting renters at risk of, or who are experiencing, unjust evictions and displacements; preserving access to existing affordable housing and increasing the production of new affordable housing; and implementing technology and research in innovative ways to scale up impact, particularly for underserved populations.

Since 2007, SVCF’s grantmaking strategies focused on housing and transit — now called “Increasing Access to Affordable Housing Opportunities” and “Increasing Access to Public Transit” — have made about $8 million in grants to dozens of local and regional organizations that advance housing opportunities for extremely low-, low- and middle-income residents.

In 2018, SVCF awarded 13 grantees, including a grant to the Housing Leadership Council (HLC) of San Mateo County, an organization that works with communities to produce and preserve high-quality, affordable housing.

Edwina Benner Plaza in Sunnyvale is one of the new developments championed by the HLC, which has successfully advocated for the creation of hundreds of new units in recent years.

SVCF is also turning its sights to new housing models as a potential solution. In February, the organization convened partners to discuss shared-equity housing, a home ownership model that provides permanently affordable, owner-occupied homes for low- and moderate-income families.

Ideally, this model also provides some form of collective governance, such as a board, that can give tenants a seat at the table in the community decision-making process. The shared-equity housing model makes it easier for those of modest means to attain homeownership and build wealth and agency in their communities, and is part of a larger conversation surrounding the need for both large- and small-scale solutions to Silicon Valley’s housing challenges.

“Even though the goal is to make sure affordable housing connects with low-income communities and communities of color, it’s done mostly through regulation approaches and multifamily rental models,” says Vinita Goyal, SVCF housing and transportation program officer. “These rental products have their own vulnerabilities because they rely on subsidies that can expire and perpetuate a cycle of instability for renters. Shared-equity housing models, on the other hand, allow for permanent affordable homes and are centered on democratic principles. The ultimate goal is to give people the opportunity to own a home and be actively engaged in the community.”

The goal of the February gathering was to explore the impacts of shared-equity housing models across the region and the specific lessons that could be replicated in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Attendees learned about the Oakland Community Land Trust (CLT) — a nonprofit that creates and oversees resident-controlled housing on community-owned land for low-income residents — as well as local efforts including Pahali, which is based in East Palo Alto, and the South Bay Community Land Trust in San Jose.

“One takeaway was the understanding that what is really needed to make these shared-equity housing models work is an ecosystem of public subsidies, low cost financing and advocacy,” Goyal says. “That approach seems to be working with the Oakland CLT.”

Learn more about SVCF's affordable housing grantmaking strategy here.