Bay Area mayors, advocates urge Congress to invest in housing

By Tran Nguyen

By Tran Nguyen

San Jose Spotlight

Local lawmakers and housing advocates are calling on Congress to invest in more housing to help end homelessness and housing insecurity in the Bay Area.

A coalition of more than 20 city officials, nonprofits and philanthropy organizations sent a letter to the region’s congressional delegation Tuesday. It urges federal lawmakers to address the ongoing housing shortage by expanrding the housing voucher program, investing in affordable housing and strengthening the low-income housing tax credit.

“We’re at the heart of the housing crisis here in the Bay Area,” SV@Home Executive Director Leslye Corsiglia told San Jose Spotlight. “We can’t solve this alone at the local, regional or even state level. We need the federal government to get involved.”

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, as well as mayors London Breed of San Francisco and Libby Schaaf of Oakland, also co-signed the letter.

The call to action from the coalition came after a regional task force identified affordable housing as a critical priority for Bay Area cities recovering from the pandemic.

The Bay Area has faced “an acute shortage of affordable housing” that has only worsened over the pandemic and disproportionately impacted communities of color, the letter reads.

In San Jose, the city struggles to reach its 2023 housing goal of building 10,000 new affordable units, despite approving a record number of homes last year.

San Jose ranks as one of the most expensive places to live, and renters in the area pay the second-highest rent in the country. The average rent for a two-bedroom home is around $3,051 a month, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

According to the coalition, tens of thousands of people across the Bay Area are now homeless, with 137,500 households facing eviction as the state eviction moratorium is set to expire in September.

“A small change in employment or health issue can put people on the streets,” Corsiglia said.

The letter urges Congress to pass three bills to ensure housing security for millions of people.

The Ending Homelessness Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), would make housing vouchers a federal entitlement, similar to Social Security and food stamps, by making funding for the vouchers a mandate in the federal budget that can’t be cut. This means, by 2030, every household that qualifies for housing assistance can receive it.

Right now, four out of five households that qualify for housing assistance receive it, according to the bill. The Santa Clara County Housing Authority also has a long waitlist it hasn’t been able to cut down in years, Corsiglia said.

The bill would boost the availability of federal rental aid vouchers over the next eight years, help fund 410,000 new housing units across the nation and lift 9 million people out of poverty.

The local coalition is also calling for support of bills that would directly help fund affordable housing projects, including Waters’ Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2021 and the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2021 introduced by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) in April.

“Many years ago, the federal government was very involved in addressing housing needs,” Corsiglia said. “Now, there’s very little direct federal money that goes into developing affordable housing.”

Waters’ bill, which argues that housing is infrastructure like roads and bridges, would provide more than $600 billion to build affordable housing across the nation. It will also help fund regional efforts, such as the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, to help cities and counties meet housing requirements.

Walorski’s bill, which has received bipartisan support, would expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, a crucial tool for creating affordable housing, by increasing the amount of credits across the nation by 50 percent. The bill estimates it will help build more than 2 million new affordable homes across the country in the next 10 years, including 330,000 in California.

“Advancing these priorities will spur desperately needed affordable housing production and ensure all residents have access to a safe, affordable place to call home,” the letter reads.

The three bills are expected to be included in an ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package that would expand social safety nets. The U.S. Senate kicked off debate on the package Tuesday.

Liccardo was not immediately available for comment.

This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight.

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