Category Archive: Social Equity

  1. Around the State

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    San Diego

    San Diego EDC Launches Inclusive Economic Growth Initiative

    In February, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) launched an  inclusive growth initiative to address growing concerns about the risks to San Diego’s economic development as employees and companies choose more affordable regions due to rising unaffordability and demographic shifts. The initiative aims to bring together stakeholders from government, education, business, and philanthropy to conduct research, discuss key issues, and make recommendations to local leaders. Jennifer LeSar, CEO of LeSar Development Consultants, will serve on the initiative’s steering committee in the role of a local employer and housing markets expert.

    Inclusive Economic Growth Luncheon Hosted by the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation

    The EDC recently published a study, Future of Growth in San Diego: The Economic Case for Inclusion, outlining three specific challenges the initiative will address: the minority attainment gap, the housing affordability crisis, and the difficulty small businesses face attracting talent and remaining competitive. The EDC and the Steering Committee will meet regularly over the next year to develop its recommendations, and will provide research and progress updates on the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation website.

    Los Angeles

    Image of the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Action PlanLos Angeles County Board of Supervisors Approves Housing Policy Recommendations

    LDC and its affiliate, Estolano LeSar Advisors, created an Affordable Housing Action Plan (AHAP) for the County of Los Angeles in late 2017.  At its February 20th meeting, the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors approved four of the housing policies recommended in the AHAP:  Affordable Housing Preservation; Inclusionary Housing; Homeless Housing; and, Streamlining for certain Multifamily Developments. The Affordable Housing Preservation policy would include measures to prevent the conversion of affordable housing to market rate housing, and generate funding to provide for the rehabilitation of low-income housing. Inclusionary Housing would require developers to either build affordable housing as part of their project, or pay an in-lieu fee. And, the Streamlining policy would allow for multifamily developments to be allowed by-right in certain zones.

    Bay Area

    Berkeley Builder First to Employ New Streamlining Law

    In early March, a subsidiary of Blake Griggs filed an application with the City of Berkeley for streamlined approval of a 260-unit multifamily development, becoming the first developer to invoke Senate Bill 35. The law, which went into effect January 1, 2018, allows for streamlined approval of projects in cities that have not met their regional housing needs. The City is subject to SB 35 because it has permitted less than 4% of its low-income housing as required by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. SB 35 aims to boost the production of affordable housing statewide by streamlining the approval process in jurisdictions that have not produced adequate housing to meet population growth projections. The law has also sparked controversy about the decline of local control over housing.

  2. New Perspectives on State and Local Policy

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    Image of Sen. Toni Atkins speaking at the Housing Policy Leadership Academy

    Senator Toni Atkins speaking at Housing Policy Leadership Academy

    When we launched the Housing Policy Leadership Academy this fall, we anticipated that participants would gain new perspectives on how urban planning, development, and design and construction are influenced by federal, state, and local policy. What we did not anticipate was the degree to which these emerging leaders in housing policy valued the opportunity to exchange ideas with state and local leaders and to learn from each other’s perspectives on issues ranging from gentrification and displacement to affordable housing finance.

    Advocating for New Funding Sources

    One of the Academy’s highlights was a crash course on how state policy gets shaped led by Sen. Toni Atkins, who shared her experience shepherding The Building Homes and Jobs Act (SB-2) through the Legislature to ensure that California has a reliable source of funding for affordable housing.

    “It was helpful to understand what’s important to policymakers and why,” said Ted Miyahara, Director of Housing Finance at the San Diego Housing Commission. “As someone involved in affordable housing finance, I also appreciated the discussion about the complexity of getting affordable housing built, and the need for more people to get behind legislation to create financing sources for affordable housing.”

    Miyahara also emphasized the importance of giving more people the tools and talking points to have constructive conversations when they’re trying to persuade policymakers or the community about a new policy or project.

    Building Equity into the Housing Market

    Georgette Gomez talking about equity at the Housing Policy Leadership Academy

    In a session on equity, San Diego Councilmember Georgette Gomez (District 9) talked about how her experience growing up made her question how land use and development decisions create disparities between communities.

    She also talked about unhealthy living conditions, discrimination against people with Section 8 vouchers, the benefits of transit-oriented development, and the need to be more proactive about the preservation of affordable housing, and the benefits of transit-oriented development.

    “To lose the limited affordable housing we have, it’s going to create a bigger problem,” said Gomez. “We definitely need to have a better handle on the type of affordable housing we have, and we should strive to preserve it. Or when we talk about removing some affordable housing, we need to have a follow-up plan to replace it.”

    Fall 2018 Housing Policy Leadership Academy

    Are you interested in learning more about housing policy? Add your name to our interest list, and we’ll let you know when the application period opens for the fall 2018 course, which is anticipated to run for eight weeks in September, October, and November.

    Image of LDC Senior Associate Artemis SpyridonidisArtemis Spyridonidis covers housing policy issues, including structural solutions to the housing affordability crisis, consolidated plans, housing elements, accessory dwelling unit policy implementation, and regional issues across the state of California.

    To learn more about LDC’s housing policy services, contact Artemis Spyridonidis, Senior Associate, at artemis@lesardevelopment.com.

  3. Cross-border Housing Development

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    Group Picture in TijuanaTijuana is experiencing a resurgence. Long recognized as a bustling border town, Tijuana has recently been grabbing headlines up and down the California coast as an arts hub, a thriving gastro-tourism destination, and a place where San Diegans can find affordable housing. LeSar Development Consultants has been following these trends closely, and last week traveled to Tijuana to meet with local developers and architects to discuss how the city of Tijuana is changing and their vision for its future.

    Estación Federal

    The LDC team first met with Miguel Marshall, CEO of Centro Ventures, just across the border from the San Ysidro port of entry in a neighborhood known as Colonia Empleados Federales. Centro Ventures led the redevelopment of a former gas station called Estación Federal into a live/work space that has become home to regional artists and entrepreneurs. Marshall and a local community leader, Mario Aragón, described how the land was granted to federal employees in the 1940s, when the addition of canals to tame the flooding of the Tijuana River and the presence of a pedestrian bridge border crossing created a boom in both the local economy and the housing industry.

    After the pedestrian crossing was closed down and moved, the neighborhood experienced a downturn that is still visible today in the empty storefronts and abandoned developments. Just over a year ago, a new pedestrian bridge border crossing, known as “El Chaparral” in Mexico and “Virginia Avenue Bridge” in the US, was installed. The new crossing and the redevelopment of Estacion Federal have brought revitalization to the area.

    20170721_102157When Marshall and his investment partners decided to redevelop the property, they immediately looked to make the space an art and culture hub. The concept of redevelopment of mixed use properties is somewhat new in Mexico, so Marshall and his team raised the initial funds for the purchase based on their business plan and then received several rounds of financing for construction before accumulating sufficient credit to obtain a mortgage through a small, regional bank.

    Estación Federal currently has a variety of apartments ranging in price from $500 to $1,000 – many of which are rented by Americans working in the US. It also has six work spaces, and several commercial spaces.

    Escuela Libre de Arqitectura

    Three years ago, Tijuana also became home to a new architecture school, Escuela Libre de Arquitectura, which is rooted in the urbanist philosophy of founder and local architect and planner Jorge Gracia.

    During a tour of the school, Gracia and his colleague, Orhan Ayyüce, talked about the importance of the people and narratives behind architectural development. Their “constellations” program teaches students about how place-making creates community hubs within neighborhoods. Gracia talked about how the narratives of kidnapping and the war on drugs had destroyed the city. As a working architect and planner, he also saw an opportunity to revitalize the city by creating a new generation of architects who understood how history and culture shape the environment.

    ELA Recycling ProjectAt Escuela Libre de Arquitectura, students receive a hard hat on their first day to symbolize the importance of practical architecture and its relationships to urban planning, construction, and daily life. Students not only learn about design theory and trends, they also learn about mixed use development, how to work with clients, and sales. They also take part in three internships throughout their course of study, including both local and international internships that help them to understand the connection between architecture and place.

    Following a tour of the school and Gracia’s studio, one of the students, Sarah, showed the LDC team her latest group project — a burned out building the group is reclaiming as a space for an upcoming architecture conference. The space will showcase reuse and recycling. The students were working with a few volunteers that day to sort the debris from the fire into neat piles that would be used as the raw materials for the redesigned space. As Gracia said, the students are learning how to build a better city.

    To learn more about LDC’s policy services, contact Artemis Spyridonidis, Senior Associate, at artemis@lesardevelopment.com.

    LeSar-Artemis-4x5Artemis Spyridonidis is covering housing policy issues, including structural solutions to the housing affordability crisis, consolidated plans, housing elements, accessory dwelling unit policy implementation, and regional issues across the state of California.

  4. LDC Working with Chair of San Diego City Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness

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    Kris 2In July, LDC Senior Associate Kris Kuntz began supporting the chair of the San Diego City Council’s Select Committee on Homelessness, Chris Ward, as a subject matter expert. He is working closely with Councilmember Ward to identify and implement solutions to the city’s significant homeless population. Meeting on July 24th, the committee took the following actions:

    a. Approved a memo with concepts to immediately address unsheltered homelessness.
    b. Moving to come back at the next meeting with details on the concepts, including costs.
    c. Approved their yearly work plan that includes exploring the option of declaring a homeless state of emergency and considering a 2018 ballot measure directed at homelessness.

    krisFor more information about new strategies, program reforms and systems change to address homelessness, contact Kris Kuntz, Senior Associate, at kris@lesardevelopment.com.

  5. New AHSC Grant Guidelines Approved, ELP Advisors Again Provides Technical Assistance

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    AHSC Sustainable CommunitiesCalifornia is gearing up for Round 3 of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) grant program, and ELP Advisors will once again play a key role in providing technical assistance to select applicants.

    On July 17th, the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) approved new guidelines for the next round of AHSC grantmaking. Earlier this month, the council announced that LDC’s affiliate, Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors, in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, has once again been chosen to provide technical assistance to qualifying AHSC applicants. We are excited to continue our successful partnership with SGC and to team with Enterprise in providing comprehensive assistance to applicants across California.

    The new AHSC guidelines make some important changes since the last round, many in response to feedback from applicants. We are hopeful that these changes will make the application process less cumbersome, more effective and allow a wider range of communities to be competitive for funding. Here’s a rundown of the major changes:

    Bye bye, concept app: Repeat AHSC applicants will be happy to learn that concept applications are no longer required. They have been replaced with a checklist and an optional consultation with SGC staff. This change should greatly streamline the application process and give applicants a good idea of their competitiveness prior to investing time and money into a detailed application. A host of other, smaller changes are also aimed at streamlining and simplifying the process.

    New housing and anti-displacement requirements: The guidelines strengthen and, in some cases, add new requirements aimed at ensuring AHSC funds flow to communities that are complying with state housing law and protecting vulnerable communities from displacement.

    Changes to include more rural projects: Thanks to changes to the net density requirements, projects across a wider spectrum of rural communities will now be eligible for AHSC.

    Indian Tribes now eligible: Federally-recognized Indian Tribes are now eligible to apply for AHSC grants.

    New threshold criteria: Several scoring elements that were optional last year have become mandatory, known in AHSC lingo as “threshold” requirements. These include certain housing affordability and urban greening elements.

    You can review the new guidelines here.

    With the guidelines adopted and the technical assistance team in place, Round 3 of AHSC grantmaking will get underway this fall. The notice of funding availability (NOFA) will be released in October, applications will be due in January, and awards will be announced in May.

    Even before the NOFA is released, the council will begin the process of selecting applicants to receive free technical assistance from ELP Advisors and Enterprise. No details yet, but we expect there to be an announcement in August. We’ll keep you posted.

    For more information about AHSC grants and technical assistance opportunities, please contact Autumn Bernstein, Principal, at autumn@elpadvisors.com.

    LeSar-Autumn-5x7Autumn Bernstein, Principal, Estolano LeSar Perez (ELP) Advisors, is an expert in urban planning, transportation, housing, and environmental policy. She has 15 years of experience as a policy advocate, strategic advisor, non-profit executive and facilitator in communities across California. Autumn is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and lives in El Cerrito.

  6. San Diego is Doing Something Right for Homeless Veterans…What’s Next?

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    Homeless VeteransThe 2017 San Diego Point In Time (PIT) count data, released in April, showed that homelessness has risen, and unsheltered homelessness has increased significantly. This was not surprising. If you have driven around San Diego lately, in nearly every community in the region you can visibly see people sleeping outside. Although the overall results are dismal, one statistic provided a little glimmer of hope.

    From 2016 to 2017, homelessness among veterans decreased 9%, continuing a trend that has resulted in a 29% overall decrease in veteran homelessness since 2013.

    So San Diego is doing something right with Veterans but what is it? When I pondered this question, the usual things came to mind first. San Diego has participated with the great folks at Community Solutions in the 25 Cities initiative and is still involved in the Built for Zero effort. San Diego has focused on Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) in the form of Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) funding and HUD VA Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers. In addition, the San Diego Housing Commission is making headway on housing 1,000 veterans as part of its Housing Our Heroes program, and both the City and the County have landlord engagement programs targeted to encourage more landlords to house homeless veterans. All of these things together most likely make up the “what” San Diego is doing to house homeless veterans.

    We still counted 1,054 homeless veterans in the PIT; however, at a 9% decrease per year (although good), it will take us several more years to actually end veteran homelessness. I decided to look at some local data to figure out how we can make that 9% decrease a whole lot more and here are some thoughts:

    Increase VASH Utilization. Recent figures showed that the City and County Housing Authorities combined had a 78% utilization rate as of December 31, 2016. There has been a lot of effort to improve our utilization, and local media has highlighted veterans living on the streets with vouchers in hand. Yes, we have a low vacancy rate and a housing affordability crisis but so do many communities across the country. For example, the following large metropolitan areas, some with similar housing markets, have higher VASH utilization rates: County of Los Angeles (93%), New York City (90%), Dallas (86%), Harris County (84%), and Seattle (82%). Even if we increased our percentages just 5% or 10%, fewer veterans would not be on the streets in our 2018 PIT count.

    We need to get creative.  Maybe we explore roommate situations where veterans can live together in a 3-bedroom unit. Although San Diego’s vacancy rates are tight, they ease up slightly with multi-bedroom units or single family homes.  We could also explore modular units that are relatively inexpensive to bring on-ling while we actually build housing.  The City of San Jose is looking at using modular structures that have 6 bedrooms per structure with shared common spaces that meet the habitability standards so that Veterans could cash in their VASH vouchers.

    Increase outreach efforts for veterans living on the streets. We should develop the capacity to engage each and every one of the 454 unsheltered veterans identified in the 2017 PIT. However, when looking at a year’s worth of regional Street Outreach data from the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), San Diego only served 245 Veterans. So how are we able to count 454 veterans living outside on a single night, but engage only half that population over the course of a year? The Street Outreach figures could be undercounted as our VA outreach programs do not use HMIS, so we don’t know those figures. Nevertheless, we should question why we are serving only half the people we count.

    And keep in mind, this was not just unique to Veterans. In the 2017 PIT, there were over 5,000 unsheltered persons, and our Street Outreach programs only touched about half in a year.

    Connect People Exiting from Emergency Shelter/Interim Housing to Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing. When looking at regional Emergency Shelter data, only 30% of veterans exited successfully and only half of those veterans exited to RRH, PSH, or another subsidized housing program. The other half left to live in their own rental housing or with friends or family members. Like it or not, emergency shelters often serve as the entry to the system, so we need to ensure that we connect veterans with housing resources while they are there.

    Continue to Increase Rapid Rehousing and Decrease Transitional Housing. We served over 1,500 Veterans in RRH in a 12 month period. Of those who exited, 65% successfully went to permanent housing. This is compared to the over 1,200 Veterans we served in Transitional Housing with only 38% leaving to a permanent housing destination. We need to expand our RRH programs, and also get better at them. A 65% success rate is good, but other communities are performing at much higher levels, so we need to understand housing-based case management, core responsibilities, and other successful strategies. For Transitional Housing, we need to start thinking about how we use those beds as Interim Housing that provide veterans with a place to stay while we are working to connect them to permanent housing resources. I’ll be interested to see how San Diego responds to the massive changes coming with the VA Grant and Per Diem Program.

    Invest in Prevention and Diversion Services for Veterans. In a one-year period, over 1,600 veterans entered the homeless system for the first time, including 11% who entered from living with family and friends, 5% from a permanent housing situation, 2% from “other,” and 1% from subsidized housing. This accounts for a little over 300 Veterans. Diverting even half of these veterans from entering the system would be substantial—and very doable. Of the veterans who entered from a permanent housing situation, nearly three-fourths were in their apartments for a year or longer. With the right prevention strategies such as rental assistance and landlord mediation, many of these veterans could likely remain in their homes. Oh, and San Diego has experience doing prevention and diversion with veterans through the Veteran Homelessness Prevention Demonstration (VHPD) program that was in operation a few years back.

    Better Understand the Link Between Exiting RRH to HUD VASH. Of the 787 Veterans who exited successfully from an RRH program (most of them from the SSVF program), 35% exited to a VASH subsidized unit. We need to better understand this phenomenon. Are we using RRH as a bridge to a VASH voucher? If so, how long is the “bridge?” Is this a population that needs more support than RRH can provide? If so, how are we making that determination? None of this is a bad thing. We just need to explore how we can best use our resources.

    San Diego has made some great strides with homeless veterans. However, it will take us a while before all veterans in our community have a place to call home if the rate of homelessness decreases only 9% per year. By understanding what has led to the decreases, we can try to refine and replicate those solutions for other populations.

    For more information about homelessness programs, data, or policy, contact Kris Kuntz, Senior Associate, at Kris@lesardevelopment.com.

  7. LDC at United Way of San Diego County’s Changing the Odds Community Breakfast

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    On May 10, 2017, LDC staff and guests attended the United Way of San Diego’s inaugural Changing the Odds Community Breakfast. The breakfast gathered community partners, businesses and friends together with one goal: “To change the odds for children.”

    Held at the San Diego Convention Center, the event’s Keynote Speaker, Liz Murray, was a highlight of the morning. Serving as an inspiration to all and especially to children, Liz Murray went from homeless to Harvard, and is the author of Breaking Night. As noted by the United Way of San Diego, “Liz Murray’s life is a triumph over adversity and a stunning example of the importance of dreaming big.”

  8. President’s Budget Maintains Proposed Cuts to HUD

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    The Trump Administration’s Proposed HUD Budget for 2018 was announced on May 23rd and, while providing a greater level of detail than the “skinny budget” released earlier this year, it pushes for severe cuts or modifications to existing programs. In a news release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency states: “The President’s 2018 Budget continues to provide rental assistance for 4.5 million households while recognizing a greater role for State and local governments, and the private sector, to address community and economic development needs.”

    HUD’s request includes $40.68 billion in gross discretionary funding with proposed reductions to be implemented primarily through rental assistance reforms and eliminating funding for programs. The Administration seeks to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, on the basis that: “Since 1980, and most recently in 2013, HUD studies found that CDBG is increasingly not well targeted to the poorest communities and has not demonstrated a measurable impact on communities.” Similarly, the Budget proposes the elimination of HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP), because “state and local governments are better-positioned to serve their communities’ needs.”

    On an upbeat note, the budget plan removes the statutory limit on the number of public housing units that can participate in HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). It also requests that senior housing developments participating in HUD’s Section 202 Program become eligible to participate in RAD to help preserve housing for the elderly. In addition, the Budget seeks $2.25 billion to help local communities house and serve persons and families who are experiencing homelessness.

    In a reaction that differed forcefully from the response to the skinny budget, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers rejected President Donald Trump’s proposed budget blueprint even before it was formally released, saying that the cuts are too steep and the accounting is too unrealistic. Lawmakers said the document, which reflects the president’s broad vision, will go nowhere in Congress. Senator John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, called it “dead on arrival.”

    For more information about innovative approaches to policy and real estate development, contact Jennifer LeSar, President and CEO at Jennifer@lesardevelopment.com.

    Jennifer LeSarWith more than 25 years of experience in the real estate development and investment banking industries, Jennifer LeSar brings a diverse background to her work in community development and urban revitalization. Her technical expertise spans from policy and program development to the origination and underwriting of complex investments in equity funds, multi-family portfolios, and historic and low-income tax credit properties utilizing federal and state financing programs.

  9. Creative Solutions for Affordable Housing

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    According to information posted by California Treasurer John Chiang, “The Golden State is short an incredible 1.5 million units, and the deficit is worsening. Current efforts are not meeting the burgeoning demand. They produce only about 13,850 [affordable housing] units a year.” To assist in increasing the production of affordable housing, Treasurer Chiang has been implementing an Affordable Housing Initiative, which initiated reforms in 2014 to reduce construction costs by cutting red tape and making more developer costs eligible for previously untapped federal tax credits. The Treasurer estimates that, despite the housing gap, the number of total units built or rehabilitated annually has jumped 80%, from 10,371 in 2009 to a projected 25,466 in 2016.

    As federal funding for housing will be cut significantly next year, the emphasis on policy to enable housing development to pencil out will increase. Governor Jerry Brown’s message accompanying the release of his May revised budget indicated his opposition to approving increased funding for housing until localities reduce the per-unit cost of construction by streamlining permitting and providing incentives for accelerating responsible housing development. The legislature is, for the most part, aligned with this goal – of the more than 130 housing-related bills introduced in January, only three propose major new revenue sources for affordable housing. The majority of the housing bills address policy change and flexible local approaches to promote development.

    Similarly, innovative thinking to spur the inventory of affordable housing is underway throughout the state. Like New York and Seattle, large municipalities in California are examining creative value-capture strategies to incentivize more affordable housing production. As a first step in taking greater ownership of the housing crisis, major local ballot initiatives were passed by voters in 2016 and 2017 to increase housing funding. These include Los Angeles County’s Measure H, which will generate $355 million a year over 10 years through a one-quarter cent sales tax, Oakland’s Measure KK, a $600 million infrastructure bond earmarking $100 million for affordable housing, and Santa Clara County’s $950 million affordable-housing bond Measure A. In addition to generating financial support for housing development, cities and counties are moving forward with policies to create new units in unusual spaces.

    For example, in April San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin announced plans to submit legislation allowing housing units to be built above a fire station in the densely populated Financial District. The legislation separates out the property’s air rights, using a 200-foot height limit to build between 100 and 150 housing units on the 9,000 square foot lot. Using air rights for housing in infill areas is a type of “incentive zoning” that complements other policies such as density bonuses and inclusionary housing policies, in which a percentage of new housing units are set aside as affordable for low to mid-income residents (or allow the developer to pay a fee in lieu of meeting this requirement).

    Another strategy to make optimal use of already-developed sites focuses on clarifying regulations governing small-scale “granny flats,” or accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Policy changes are addressing ways to legalize existing unpermitted ADUs while assuring they meet safety and building codes, and also to reduce the costs of constructing new ADUs by waiving parking or infrastructure requirements that would normally apply to larger developments. Several state laws went into effect January 1st which mandate local jurisdictions to produce formal ordinances authorizing ADUs, and an additional bill, AB 494 introduced in 2017 by Assemblymember Bloom, would provide further clarification governing ADUs as separate rental properties.

    As the trend toward building more for-rent housing grows, municipalities will face greater pressure from both government and the private sector to create a full “menu of incentives” and to remove policy barriers to produce below market-rate units in both traditional and novel spaces.

    For more information about innovative approaches to policy and real estate development, contact Jennifer LeSar, President and CEO at Jennifer@lesardevelopment.com.

    Jennifer LeSarWith more than 25 years of experience in the real estate development and investment banking industries, Jennifer LeSar brings a diverse background to her work in community development and urban revitalization. Her technical expertise spans from policy and program development to the origination and underwriting of complex investments in equity funds, multi-family portfolios, and historic and low-income tax credit properties utilizing federal and state financing programs.

  10. Carol Galante Presentation at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation

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    Photo courtesy of BRIDGE Housing.

    Photo courtesy of BRIDGE Housing.

    On April 14th, I had the opportunity to hear a guest lecture from Carol Galante of the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation (and formerly a HUD deputy with the Obama Administration). The Terner Center is a relatively new center, connected to the Haas School of Business, Goldman School of Public Policy, and College of Environmental Design.

    In addition to describing some of the exciting research projects currently underway at the Terner Center, Galante offered her perspective on state and federal housing policy and identified four key areas of focus that are particularly important for the housing industry, and make up the four focus areas of the Center. These include: 1) Expanding supply and lowering the cost of housing; 2) Expanding access to high quality homes (financial structuring – improving access to credit); 3) Achieving sustainability goals; and 4) Using impact assessment to evaluate existing programs and how to change them so they work better.

    Concerning the current federal landscape for housing policy, Galante noted:

    • The federal election and cabinet team matter. Most work gets done at the subcabinet level, and the Trump Administration is far behind in making second tier appointments.
    • “Winning is easy – governing is harder.” The Administrative Procedures Act dictates that executive orders such as those recently promulgated by President Trump do not change policy overnight. Rather, they direct agencies to go back and review their rules. That process takes years, and there are many forces, both internal and external, that can throw tacks in the road.
    • The budget situation was already dire and is getting worse. That is the biggest threat, especially to projects like Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), and Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.

    The Terner Center’s work on federal policy includes several exciting new projects. These include a survey of residents living in Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties to determine if living in LIHTC property affect residents’ housing stability, economic opportunities, or educational opportunities. The survey, interviews and focus groups with residents are important because most of the existing opinion research about affordable housing comes from older public housing projects, which are very different than modern LIHTC buildings.

    The Center is also conducting an evaluation of the Rental Assistance Demo project (RAD), which allows agencies who manage distressed housing stock to restructure financial deals and rehab the properties.

    The Terner Center is also working to untangle the roots of the housing crisis in California. Residential construction costs in California have experienced double digit increases every year for the last four years, making it even more expensive and difficult to expand housing supply. An upcoming report from the Terner Center seeks to identify the drivers of these construction cost increases in California. One factor, Carol noted, is that productivity is lagging in the construction sector, which has been slow to innovate relative to other sectors.

    I’m especially excited about the Terner Center‘s new Housing Development Dashboard, an online tool designed to make the impact of housing policies more transparent and fact-based. The Dashboard predicts how likely it is that a project will get built based on public policy, market and rate of return factors. A map-based feature shows how changes in inclusionary zoning, parking requirements and other policies would facilitate more or less construction of market rate and affordable units on existing vacant, multi-family parcels. The Dashboard is currently available for several Bay Area cities, including Oakland and San Francisco, and the Terner Center is hoping to scale it up for the entire Bay Area and Los Angeles.

    Autumn BernsteinAutumn Bernstein, Principal, Estolano LeSar Perez (ELP) Advisors, is an expert in urban planning, transportation, housing, and environmental policy. She has 15 years of experience as a policy advocate, strategic advisor, non-profit executive and facilitator in communities across California. Autumn is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and lives in El Cerrito. She may be contacted at: Autumn@elpadvisors.com