With big, complex issues, sometimes even when we’ve identified the problem, worked through the challenges, and devised the solutions, it can take a while to see the fruits of our labor.
Our persistent housing crisis is one such example. If there was any doubt before, the COVID-19 pandemic firmly laid bare the long-standing inequities in access to safe, stable, and affordable housing. At the same time, we’ve got hundreds of vacant lots and sites seemingly meant to provide affordable housing sitting empty.
It’s painful to watch how much time it takes to get just one project completed. Progress is delayed for many reasons – lack of funding, escalating construction costs, and complicated rules. Meanwhile, folks of modest means who are essential to the fabric of our community bear the brunt of these stymied efforts.
As our region grapples with this issue, we thought, how can we take a quantum leap forward instead of making incremental progress on a project-by-project basis? The truth is partnerships are key to overcoming these barriers. Simply put, we can do together what none of us can do alone.
One example: The county Board of Supervisors recently took significant steps toward this effort by voting to receive $16.7 million in Homekey funding from the State.
That opportunity was made possible in part by the partnership forged between the city of Mountain View and the county of Santa Clara with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to allocate 2016 Measure A bond money and other funding for affordable housing projects in Mountain View. The MOU is already paving the way for the delivery of hundreds of approved units, as well as a number of projects in the pipeline.
While the city of Mountain View hosts the housing, the county’s financial support is essential in helping the city complete its approved affordable housing developments, including the La Avenida Apartment project and the purchase and conversion of the Crestview Hotel for housing. Measure A also presents an opportunity to help bring badly needed “pipeline” projects to fruition.
We all benefit when we’re able to help people get off the streets. We know this can be done swiftly because we’ve done it before. When the pandemic began, virtually every level of government took action to provide immediate financial assistance to individuals and small businesses, with local governments in particular providing COVID-19-related tenant protections, investing in emergency interim housing, and rent and utility relief to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
We took those measures because we were dealing with a public health crisis and wanted to limit the spread of the virus as much as we could. But now, as the pandemic is winding down, we’ve got to remember we’re still dealing with an ever-present human crisis.
By providing safe, stable, and affordable housing, we all reap some very tangible benefits. We maintain a workforce that’s essential for our economy. We reduce traffic by reducing commute distances. And we ensure our very survival during the next catastrophe by keeping emergency service professionals (police, fire, and nurses) here in the community.
We also build resiliency, foster unity, and create a sense of community. When we not only work together, but live together in the same community, we develop strong ties with friends and neighbors. And, in the long run, it’s those bonds that will help us not only survive but thrive in the face of the next pandemic or natural disaster.
We hope our work on this city-county MOU serves as a model for other cities looking to bring more affordable housing opportunities to their communities. If we work together in partnership, there is no limit to the progress we can make.