25 Jan

Private Dollars Needed to Bolster County Housing Bond

The following op/ed was written for the San Jose Mercury News by Housing Trust CEO Kevin Zwick

Thanks to the supermajority of voters who recognized that our region’s affordable housing crisis needed a game-changing strategy, the County of Santa Clara will soon have the first of $950 million in Measure A resources to build or preserve up to 5,000 affordable rental homes and to help moderate income families – as many as 1,000 in the first 10 years – become first-time homebuyers.

This is a stunning accomplishment that all of us who worked so hard to support Measure A should continue to celebrate. But now our real work begins in leveraging how these funds can have maximum impact.

It is estimated that SantaClara County needs more than $250 million a year for new affordable housing to meet the needs of extremely low and low income residents. Measure A will not get us all the way there, so at the top of the 2017 to-do list should be serious consideration of ways to supplement these taxpayer funds with investments by the private sector.

It is not easy, but it can be done.

Over the past 16 years the Housing Trust has raised and deployed $144 million, allowing our borrowers to leverage $2.1 billion in other funding, all to create affordable housing. Two thirds of the Housing Trust’s capital has been raised from theprivate sector, demonstrating that corporate and financial leaders are also concerned about the region’s housing crisis and willing to engage in solutions.

The second action item is to create a workable model of sustainable home ownership for first-time buyers. The bulk of Measure A funds will be dedicated for those most in need – homeless individuals and families, seniors, veterans, those with special needs and the working poor – but it also includes $50 million to help moderate-income families ($84,900-128,500 for a household of four) become first-time homeowners.

For many, the biggest obstacleto home ownership is having enough money saved for the down payment and closing costs. When cities were flush with redevelopment funds for affordable housing, many had programs to help their residents bridge this gap for moderate-income buyers. Those are gone and need to be replaced.

But first-time homebuyers have needs beyond cash in hand to close the deal. They need someone looking out for their best interests so that they don’t find themselves committed to a financial obligation they cannot sustain.

Anxious new homebuyers who are stretching financially to buy a home need education, counselingand loan products that provide them with consumer protection.

Many in our community responded to the call to action to get Measure A on the ballot and approved. Our job is not done, but just getting started.

I can promise that the Housing Trust will be raising its hand to help maximize the impact of Measure A, and I encourage all of our public, private and community partners to do the same. Let’s put our Silicon Valley ingenuity to its best use – helping thousands of our fellow residents have a place to live they can afford.