After experiencing homelessness three times in the several years prior, Leonora Martinez purchased a house from East Palo Alto's PAHALI community land trust ("Preserving Affordable Housing Assets Longterm, Inc.") in 2011. Martinez, her husband and their six children finally had a place they could confidently call home.
In the years after she purchased the home, Martinez and her family have experienced their fair share of turbulent times. First, Martinez lost her husband to an unexpected illness. Later, her teenage son was involved in a serious bike accident, requiring Martinez to become his full-time caregiver.
While these devastating events might have flung the family into turmoil and resulted in displacement and homelessness, the home they'd purchased from PAHALI community land trust provided them with a sense of stability and a place of refuge during those difficult times.
The community land trust model employed by PAHALI — which means the trust owns the land while the family owns the actual structure — has kept their home affordable even as so much else has changed for the Martinez family. And Measure V can help create more affordable housing opportunities for families like the Martinez family.
Measure V is a modest 2% increase on East Palo Alto's transient occupancy tax ("TOT"), which is currently 12% and has not been raised since it was passed in 1998. The tax is paid by out-of-town guests staying in East Palo Alto hotels and short-term rentals of 30 days or less.
The city estimates that, if passed, Measure V would raise nearly $400,000 a year dedicated specifically to affordable housing acquisition, redevelopment and rehabilitation. In this new era of economic uncertainty wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Measure V can help provide security for vulnerable community members who are concerned about their homes and their place in East Palo Alto.
East Palo Alto is no stranger to the potentially devastating effects of economic pressure. During the Great Recession, many East Palo Alto residents were dispossessed of the largest source of their wealth — their homes — via foreclosure and were forced out of the community. East Palo Alto lost longtime families and small businesses, destabilizing the community. In 2009, 419 homes were lost in East Palo Alto due to foreclosures, and another 434 were lost between 2012 and 2017.
In years following the Great Recession, the second-wave tech boom has fueled cut-throat speculation, intensifying pressure on the local housing market. As a result, we have seen rising rents, accelerating gentrification and further mass displacement of longtime residents. Between 2011 and 2016, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased 60% countywide. In this context, 324 eviction notices for non-payment of rent were issued in East Palo Alto in a two-year period from 2012 to 2014.
Over the past year at several community meetings and study sessions, the City Council carefully considered this ordinance and how the revenue from Measure V should be spent. The members landed on affordable housing acquisition, redevelopment and rehabilitation because there are countless benefits associated with the preservation of housing.
Several recent reports, including Enterprise's "Preserving Affordability, Preventing Displacement," and Karen Chapple and Y-PLAN's "Investment and Disinvestment as Neighbors: A Study of Baseline Housing Conditions in the Bay Area Peninsula," have noted both individual and community benefits of acquisition and rehabilitation of older, lower-cost homes (including single-family and multifamily units).
For our community at-large, housing preservation advances racial and economic equity, increases civic engagement and investment, and contributes to permanent affordability and community stabilization. For individuals and families, preserving affordable housing increases emotional and physical well-being, bolsters autonomy and empowerment, and stabilizes the familial unit.
These studies and others also have touted the importance of collaboration between city governments, local community land trusts and nonprofit developers as a vital component of affordable housing preservation. In East Palo Alto, PAHALI community land trust, of which I serve as the volunteer chair, is an existing community resource with the knowledge and experience necessary to support the work of housing acquisition and rehabilitation.
PAHALI community land trust already works closely with the city, and other key stakeholders like EPACANDO, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and Youth United for Community Action. These entities formally collaborate as part of the Partnership for the Bay's Future, a regional collaborative effort to produce and preserve affordable housing for residents of all races and backgrounds and support protections for renters across the Bay Area. The revenue from Measure V will serve to boost PAHALI capacity to rapidly execute acquisition/rehab projects, with support from the city and Partnership for the Bay's Future.
Measure V revenues will help tenants to purchase, with assistance from the city and local nonprofits, the house or apartment building about to be sold out from under them. Ultimately, Measure V will help build our community's capacity to undertake affordable housing acquisition/rehab projects and to preserve our families' lower-cost homes. Vote "yes" on Measure V on Nov. 3 because everyone deserves a place to call home. For more information, go to EPAforV.com.
Ofelia Bello is the Executive Director of Youth United for Community Action and the Chair of PAHALI CLT. She can be emailed at [email protected].