Community project gives voice to housing concerns

When Damien Frank went home shopping in 2005, his needs were simple: a modest house where he and his wife could raise their three children and where he could be near the Redwood City-based job he loves.

The Franks, who were willing to pay up to $650,000, were quickly outbid on every San Mateo County home they eyed. The family settled in Sunnyvale, where Damien Frank commutes 45 minutes to and from his job as a financial services manager for the San Mateo County Department of Public Works.

“I want to spend my career working for the county, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my career commuting, because the traffic is only going to get worse,” he said.

With San Mateo County’s median single-family home price of $880,000, the Franks’ story has been told millions of times, by thousands of families, commuters and midlevel employees, affordable housing advocates say.

An effort called Threshold 2008 is getting under way this month to get the voices of ordinary people heard in the county’s housing decisions.

The views at public meetings about housing often consist of builders facing off with neighbors who don’t want development in their backyards, said Christopher Mohr, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County. The goal of Threshold 2008 is to find out which housing solutions residents and commuters need, want and are willing to support. It is a perspective, Mohr says, that has been sorely missing from the public discussion.

The civic engagement campaign will kick off March 15 and March 16 with a face-to-face survey of 400 residents. In April, Threshold 2008 will hold a series of online discussions, engaging up to 1,000 San Mateo County residents and workers. In May, project coordinators will train 50 people to bring the housing dialogue to their cities.

The project is made up of representatives from government, housing nonprofits, environmental organizations, education and transit agencies. It is funded by various foundations including The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Threshold 2008 is the next phase of an effort started by the Housing Nacho, a group of citizens concerned about the county’s housing crisis, in 2003.

tbarak@examiner.com

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