In what is being hailed as a chance to end regional homelessness, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon unanimously approved placing a $950 million affordable-housing bond measure on the November ballot.
With the action, supervisors presented the proposed bond measure as the centerpiece of a larger strategy to generate about $3 billion, mostly through federal and state grants, that would go toward constructing subsidized housing throughout the South Bay.
If voters approve the measure in November, the bond would represent the largest commitment to date for addressing the county's longstanding housing crisis.
"We've been doing this incrementally for a long time, and I think we've come to a conclusion that (that strategy) won't get it done," Supervisor Joe Simitian said. "In fact what it takes is the willingness and commitment to devote resources to solve the problem."
Discussed by county leaders for months, the affordable-housing bond is being presented as the most surefire remedy for the South Bay's mounting housing costs and large homeless population.
As evidence of the problem, a 2015 survey found that Santa Clara County had more than 6,500 homeless people, making it the fourth largest homeless population in the nation. Those seeking formal help are likely to find themselves at the back of the line of an overwhelmed social-service network.
Officials from the county Housing Authority explained that it has a waitlist of more than 800 people with Section 8 vouchers for subsidized housing, as well as more than 17,000 families waiting for the chance to get a voucher.
At the Tuesday meeting, several speakers identified themselves as residents of the streets despite being employed and striving for a stable life. One speaker, Miguel Vargas, explained that he has a job but is unable to secure housing, and instead he's lived out of his car for more than a year.
"I work full time, but with my medical condition, I've got bills," he said. "We need this (bond); we need the help; we need to get people off the streets."
The supervisors originally were aiming to put a $750 million bond before voters in November, but they decided that voters showed an appetite for something larger. The most recent countywide poll conducted by the firm EMC Research showed significant support for a $950 million measure, giving it a promising chance for success. According to the survey, roughly 68 percent of voters would support the measure, while about 4 percent of voters indicated they were leaning toward support.
Since it is a general obligation bond, the measure would need a two-thirds majority to pass.
If voters approve the measure, Santa Clara County would issue the bond in three phases, each providing about $316 million for housing projects. The first bond issuance would be scheduled for September 2017, with the next phases coming in 2021 and 2025.
The mechanism for repaying the bond would be a $12.66 surcharge added on residential and commercial properties for every $100,000 of assessed value. The bond is expected to be fully paid off by 2055.
Cities and nonprofits seeking bond funding would enter a competitive process with priority given to proposals that demonstrate "project readiness" and are able to leverage other grant programs. Ninety percent of the funding would go toward projects specifically geared to serving the homeless population and those subsisting on less than 30 percent of the area median income, which is $23,450 for a single person or $33,500 for a four-person household.
The remaining 10 percent of funding from bond revenue would go toward developing housing units for those classified as low income. That would include those earning up to 50 percent of the area median income, which is $39,100 for a single person or $55,800 for a four-person household.
Some speakers and advocacy groups urged the supervisors to devote more of that funding pool to so-called workforce housing needed for employed people not earning enough to afford current housing prices. Speaking for the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, government affairs director Vince Rocha said the county could provide critical money needed to bridge the down-payment hurdle for potential home buyers.
"All segments need assistance, including the homeless but also the average worker who needs to save up and buy a home," he said.
Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the bond money was targeted to address the neediest and most vulnerable segment of the population. She described the housing funds as a "compromise" that would bring more funding to also benefit moderate-income households.
"I 100 percent believe this is a game-changing opportunity," she said.