Santa Clara County approves $950 million housing bond for November ballot

Bulk of bond would aid homeless, lowest-income populations

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.

Email Mark Noack at

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6 people like this
Posted by Too many tax measures to pass
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2016 at 11:49 am

There will be too many tax measures on the November ballot for any of them to get two-thirds support. The wasteful, unaccountable VTA already placed its money grab on that ballot.

8 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2016 at 12:27 pm

casey is a registered user.

Is this how the county will fund the eminent domain of Buena Vista?

2 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Buena Vista is already funded, and in my opinion, is the best way to spend money earmarked for affordable housing, by preventing displacement of longtime residents threatened with the loss of their homes because of market and development pressures.

What worries me after what we've gone through in this town is that developers seem to have figured out how to use affordable housing for their own development interests, in ways that woukd otherwise be illegal, for goid reason. Both the developers and affordable housing advocates feel like they don't have to care about anything but what they want. I fear this funding will be used like a bludgeon, and in the end, will not do enough for affordable housing. The inevitable and growing and inevitable backlash could hurt affordable housing for years to come. I would personally prefer to see public money go into helping to defray the costs of ownership, so that poor people can invest and make something from their property, too, amd eventually get iff of public assistance, and the public investment also gets repaid/goes on to help others. Let people find housing that is their own and integrate into their communities rather than feeling like they are in projects.

The bigger picture is that if we (royal we) do nothing to respond to the bigger trend of urbanization worldwide in this century, we will be making unliveable cities from which people will eventually flee, only after quality if life gets worse and worse. Geography researchers point out that the modern trend of people moving into cities all over the world and emptying less urban areas is kind of unprecedented. People want to services and jobs. Our country, unlike so many smaller countries around the world, has so much potential to respond by investing in creating more, desirable urban centers.

If a few cities being impacted by overdevelopment got together and put out an RFP to smaller municipalities with the potential to be magnets, offering development dollars for civic amenities in exchange for development rights, coupled with incentives for some companies to move, the increase in the number of desirable places/options, would take the pressure off. That ultimately provides far better conditions for good low-income housing, among much else. It would be a positive and proactive response to the urbanization trend, rather than this reactionary one.

Not long ago, I would never have said no to any ask like this. But now I will vote No, because I fear with good reason that it's just a giveaway to big developers and a cudgel for advocates who see any opposition for things like children's safety as nimbyism, and aren't afraid to steamroll over even the most reasonable disagreement.

Like this comment
Posted by senior citizen
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Will there be an exemption for seniors? We are having trouble making ends meet. Our taxes keep going up, and at some point we will not be able to stay in our home.

Like this comment
Posted by to senior
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2016 at 4:25 pm

Bond measures always have senior exemptions; otherwise they'd never pass.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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