The following OpEd was co-authored by Dave Wehner, Maureice Jones, and Jennifer Loving. The piece was originally published by The Mercury News.
In this difficult year, one thing has become painfully clear: Members of our community earning the lowest incomes have suffered the most from California’s housing crisis and the pandemic.
For the decades prior to the pandemic, California has suffered from a lack of housing investment. Recent studies estimate we have fallen short by over 2 million units, and the situation in the Bay Area is particularly acute.
These twin challenges — the COVID-19 pandemic and housing underinvestment — have been particularly difficult for neighbors earning extremely low incomes (ELI) — less than 30% of the area’s median, or $47,000 for a family of four in San Jose. Those families include many of the essential workers we’ve relied on through this pandemic to stock shelves, serve food, and provide health services.
Even before COVID-19, 73% of San Jose’s residents earning extremely low incomes spent more than half of it on rent and utilities — the pandemic has pushed these families further into the margins. Today, more than 40% of these residents across the Bay Area are worried about eviction.
Creating housing that these families can afford is not just a matter of principle, but a matter of racial equity. In the United States, 20% of Black households, 18% of American Indian or Alaska Native households, and 16% of Hispanic households are renters with extremely low incomes, compared to just 6% of white non-Hispanic households. These trends persist in the Bay Area. Of the approximately 12,000 households assisted through Destination: Home and Sacred Heart Community Services’ COVID-19 relief fund, 95% were people of color.
Yet we haven’t built the type of housing needed to address these disparities. There are only 34 affordable and available units for every 100 households earning extremely low incomes in the San Jose metro area — a ratio that’s far lower than for households in any other income level.
Even as we’ve acknowledged this urgent need, building housing for those neighbors has been extremely challenging. The Bay Area is home to some of the strongest affordable housing developers in the nation, but has few dedicated funding streams to build ELI housing.
So Wednesday, we’re launching the Community Housing Fund (CHF), dedicating $150 million to build extremely low income housing. Facebook will provide the funding as part of its $1 billion commitment to affordable housing; the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) will manage the fund, and through a partnership with Destination: Home, one third of the fund will go toward developments in Santa Clara County. The CHF will fall under the Partnership for the Bay’s Future family of funds.
This crisis can’t truly be addressed without partnering with those who are most impacted by it. Therefore, we’re establishing an advisory committee that includes residents who have personal experience with homelessness to guide the fund’s investments.
Through these efforts, we hope to create at least 2,000 affordable homes for neighbors earning the lowest incomes.
This is an important step, but our work is far from over. Though we hope the CHF will be a model for other communities, we know it’s not nearly enough to meet the needs here at home.
At a time when society’s staggering inequities have never been clearer, we cannot continue “business as usual.” We need government, elected leaders, community groups, higher education, business, and faith organizations to partner and implement systemic changes that address these challenges. And we can start by investing in the type of affordable housing that ensures all our neighbors can thrive.
Dave Wehner is chief financial officer of Facebook and co-chairman of Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Jennifer Loving is chief executive officer of Destination: Home. Maurice A. Jones is president and CEO of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).