Building For the Future
By Evelyn Stivers Posted on April 22, 2007
The supply of affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area is expected to increase in the next five years because of an innovative inclusionary-housing campaign led by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH). Just as impressive, the campaign has created new leaders, new relationships and newly energized activists who can continue the fight for affordable housing throughout Bay Area cities.
Since the launch of the Inclusionary Housing Initiative, five jurisdictions, including some of the region’s priciest, have adopted inclusionary-housing policies, while another six have significantly strengthened existing inclusionary ordinances. Together, these inclusionary-housing policies are expected to add 5,330 new affordable housing units by 2012. “We are proud of this campaign because it is helping to build decent housing for working families, while also building local organizing capacity among housing advocates,” says NPH executive director, Dianne Spaulding.
NPH is a 750-member organization that promotes affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. The campaign was inspired by an NPH report that analyzed the effect of inclusionary-housing policies on California’s affordable housing crisis.
The report noted that when city councils or boards of supervisors adopt inclusionary-housing ordinances, they require developers to set aside a percentage of new units for low- and moderate-income households. In return, developers often receive compensation in the form of density bonuses, zoning variances and/or expedited permits that reduce construction costs. Although often opposed by for-profit developers that see the obligation as an undue burden, inclusionary-housing policies are effective. Jurisdictions can tailor programs to meet their needs and match their development climates, according to the NPH report, “Inclusionary Housing: 30 Years of Innovation.” Just as significantly, the policies allow cash-strapped cities to add affordable units without relying on their own funds.
After the report’s publication in 2003, NPH staff members were inundated with calls from local, regional and statewide affordable housing activists. They all wanted to know one thing: How could they get their elected officials to approve an inclusionary-housing program or to strengthen an existing policy?
NPH capitalized on the opportunity to build a regional network of housing activists-and to build local capacity in diverse communities. They approached nine funders, comprised of private, community and family foundations, which together pledged nearly $1 million for the three-year campaign. But there were still significant challenges to overcome. Each of the 109 cities and nine counties that make up the Bay Area has its own regulations, community culture, political environment and local players. Was it feasible for one regional organization to simultaneously manage the many local campaigns this project would entail? Not likely. To make the campaign more effective, NPH chose to focus on the 20 locations where partner organizations could head local campaigns.
NPH offered leadership, technical assistance and training and coordination of regional partners. NPH also provided grants for staffing and organizing. In all, NPH spent nearly $600,000 of the campaign’s $900,000 budget on capacity-building grants to partner organizations-a model used successfully by NPH in previous campaigns.
NPH used five criteria to select the 20 jurisdictions for the campaign. The first criterion was rapid growth, because if cities that are producing a lot of market-rate homes have inclusionary-housing ordinances, they will also produce a proportional number of affordable homes. NPH also looked at the presence of partner groups in potential locations with local leaders interested in taking on the issue and also if there was an organizational need to build capacity for future campaigns. Fourth was the political climate of the jurisdiction-whether city staff and elected officials considered the issue of affordable housing a priority. Finally, NPH looked for a diverse group of cities, including urban core cities such as Oakland and San Francisco, fast-growing suburbs such as Antioch and slower-growth, affluent communities in Marin County.
After settling on the locations, including San Francisco, Oakland, Vallejo, Contra Costa County and San Leandro, NPH identified partners who could lead individual campaigns, beginning with NPH members who were actively working in the chosen communities. The mix of partners-from traditional housing activists to faith-based groups to environmental organizations-underscored the breadth of support for inclusionary zoning in the Bay Area.
“We were interested in being part of this effort immediately,” says Tom Steinbach, executive director of Greenbelt Alliance, which helped turn out hundreds of people to meetings, leading to pivotal inclusionary-housing wins. “We knew that we had to work hand-in-hand with many partners to achieve our mutual goals.” With field offices, local organizers and members throughout the Bay Area, Greenbelt Alliance was a major partner in campaigns in Sonoma, Solano and Contra Costa counties, among others. NPH’s other partners included East Bay Housing Organizations in Oakland, Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo, San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, Housing Advocacy Group of Sonoma County and Marin Housing Council.
Faith-based groups such as Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, Peninsula Interfaith Action, Congregations Organizing for Renewal and Oakland Community Organizations also played an important role in many of the most intractable jurisdictions, placing a high priority on inclusionary housing. In each jurisdiction, partners worked together to broaden the base of support for inclusionary housing through policy platforms, creative outreach and demonstrations. These strategies won new and improved inclusionary-housing ordinances throughout the region.
To support local organizers, NPH developed a tool kit tailored for local campaigns, including sample media pieces, petition templates, campaign planning guides and important policy elements to consider. The tool kit was valuable because it allowed organizations to spend more resources building support for inclusionary housing rather than on writing or research. Variations of NPH’s sample letter to the editor, revised by residents to address local issues, have appeared in at least five newspapers in the Bay Area.
Additionally, NPH trained local organizers and advocates on policy issues, outreach strategies and media tactics. In a particularly effective partnership, NPH staff worked with housing experts at the League of California Cities’ Institute for Local Government to help conduct more than 200 training events. Some training sessions focused on regional issues and were held in formal classroom settings; others were small working meetings focused on specific, local issues. NPH instructed groups on campaign planning and strategizing and brought in experts to discuss policy issues and to coach groups on media and outreach techniques.
Contra Costa County: Local Success
Once home to ranches and orchards, Contra Costa County is a fast-growing, mostly suburban area east of San Francisco. Unfortunately, a large share of the new housing is too expensive for low-income families. (Of the 11,500 homes built between 1988 and 1998 only 259 were affordable to families earning less than $32,000.) Greenbelt Alliance, which has a long track record working to improve land-use practices in Contra Costa, headed the campaign, and was joined by local faith-based groups, the League of Women Voters and East Bay Housing Organizations. Each group brought with it unique skills and areas of expertise as well as ties to different communities within the large county. Using materials in NPH’s tool kit, the coalition collected postcards, trained residents, generated media coverage and pressured decision-makers. The work paid off: In October 2006, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors passed an inclusionary-housing ordinance that requires 15 percent of housing units in new developments to be affordable. As a result, more families in Contra Costa will find homes they can afford, and local partners have a ready-made coalition that can work together on future issues throughout the county.
Local Success, Regional Outcomes
An unexpected win from the campaign came in the form of new relationships built with for-profit developers, who at the outset were hostile to the Inclusionary Housing Initiative. “We were out there running into them at every city council meeting and we said, ‘Maybe we ought to get in a room together to see if we can find some common ground,’ ” says Spaulding. A series of conversations transpired between NPH and the Home Builders Association of Northern California, which culminated in a groundbreaking, jointly released policy statement and set of recommendations reflecting their mutual support of key inclusionary-housing principles.
The real success of the Inclusionary Housing Initiative has been the increased dialog and the change in the political field toward affordable housing in the Bay Area. Will this be a sufficient effort to end NIMBY opposition to affordable housing? Perhaps not, but the campaign has brought about tangible results in on-the-ground policies, increased local capacity and broadened support for affordable housing. Along the way, it has produced new leaders in many communities and new relationships between organizations that might not otherwise have worked together. These powerful partnerships will have a lasting effect in moving an affordable-housing agenda throughout the Bay Area.
Evelyn Stivers was formerly the program coordinator for the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California.