Bay Area cities win $5 million to draft new housing policies


A Bay Area-wide coalition of tech leaders, officials and philanthropists on Wednesday announced another $5 million in grants to help local cities develop new pro-affordable housing policies.

The Partnership for the Bay’s Future kicked off in 2019 with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the San Francisco Foundation, Facebook, Genentech and others as a way to raise money for housing development and local housing-focused ordinances. The group made public a new round of awards Wednesday focused on everything from converting vacant land into housing and backing developers of color to giving tenants a chance to buy their homes when landlords sell.

The new funding will provide more than $500,000 each to 11 Bay Area jurisdictions, from Antioch to San Jose.

“We’re really looking at how are we getting more housing built, and how are we keeping the affordable housing that we have affordable,” said Aysha Pamukcu, policy fund initiative officer for the Partnership, “and we’re using local policy solutions to get there.”

The effort has two parts. A fund of more than $500 million invests in affordable housing developments, while a smaller fund — which has raised $27 million so far — helps cities and counties design policies that promote affordable housing and prevent tenants from being displaced.

In 2020, the smaller fund awarded seven policy grants to local cities and counties. But two years later, those recipients have yet to pass any new ordinances as a result of those grants — highlighting how difficult it can be to change housing policy.

Berkeley, East Palo Alto, San Jose and Oakland, for example, used the grant to develop “opportunity to purchase acts” that would give tenants and affordable housing nonprofits first-dibs on buying certain residential properties. None of those ordinances have been approved yet, though some may be close. East Palo Alto’s City Council debated the measure Tuesday evening, but ended up voting to revisit the issue March 1. San Jose’s measure is poised to come before City Council later that month.

These things take time, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, Pamukcu said. In that context, the progress cities have made with the legislation is “really impressive,” she said.

“I think we’ll continue to see a lot of forward momentum on OPA across the region in the next couple months and well into 2022,” she said. “I think that’s going to be a key housing policy theme.”

San Jose and East Palo Alto will continue working on their opportunity to purchase acts with the new grants. Mountain View and South San Francisco also intend to use this year’s grants to explore OPA policies.

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