Affordable housing has taken center stage in California’s congressional elections in recent months, which has non-governmental agencies seeking funds and working with the private sector to alleviate the Golden State’s deepening housing crisis. As of October 2015, San Francisco had the highest rents of any major city in the country. In June 2017, housing prices in Los Angeles reached a peak. Adding to the tension, a report by UCLA Anderson Schoolf of Management has forecast that the situation is not likely to improve any time soon.

In the Tenderloin, a neighborhood in downtown San Francisco, median household income is $22,000 while median house prices are $998 per square foot for ownership and $3,500 per month for rentals. Many residents are among San Francisco’s youngest, with at least 3,000 children living in the Tenderloin. In large part, the families of these children moved there to secure more affordable housing, and some 80 percent of 15,800 apartments are either rent-controlled or locked-in at below-market rates, according to the San Francisco Business Times. But that housing supply doesn’t quite meet residents’ needs.


San Francisco. CC: Ferdinand Stöhr

More than three decades ago, nonprofits like Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) and Mercy Housing – along with San Francisco’s municipality – began buying up buildings in the Tenderloin to preserve their affordability. They also worked things out with investors using Low Income Housing Tax Credits to acquire buildings in the neighborhood and maintain them as affordable housing.

Today, the nonprofit owns and manages about 3,500 housing units in San Francisco, with 90 percent of their tenants making less than 30 percent of San Francisco’s area median income – which is currently $34,600 for a family of four. TNDC has been looking for a property to dedicate to families struggling to find a house that won’t suck their income since 2007.

In August, the nonprofit finally got its hands on a plot to house their Eddy & Taylor Family Apartments, an 8-story building comprising 113 units located on an underdeveloped side of Tenderloin. The site was being used as a parking lot, two blocks from a regional commuter train stop. All units are guaranteed to be priced below-market rents, while 60 percent will be two- or three-bedroom units and 30 percent will be dedicated for families coming out of the shelter system. The last five units will be dedicated to people with developmental disabilities due to mental or physical impairments. The nonprofit is yet to sign up a full-service grocer for the ground floor.

Although TNDC’s initial plan was to develop a 157-unit building, because of underfunding, the nonprofit diverted its plans. Instead, TNDC got an $11.7 million deferred loan from California’s cap and trade program, which was structured to set aside 20 percent of the state’s proceeds under the program for affordable housing. A deferred loan doesn’t require any payments until the loan term is up or it’s paid off early. The construction is scheduled to take two years.


Los Angeles. CC: Owen Cavlys

Elsewhere in California – the center of the nation’s film and television industry – The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working to combat the city’s housing crisis. The Authority has promised that it will help developers and contractors build houses along bus and transit lines, with the aim of combatting gentrification and displacement. A total of $9 million is in the earmarking for a loan program to encourage affordable housing near stations. The loan will go toward the preservation of existing affordable housing and help to build around 1,800 new units.

“It’s a loan not a subsidy, so it’s leveraging existing dollars, and affordable housing near transit is one of the best ways to ensure that nearby development actually generates ridership,” says Ethan Elkind, director of the climate change and business program at UCLA. However, he says state and city laws will probably not be flexible enough for a project like this.