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The San Mateo Housing Stories Project
Giving a voice to the voiceless in the conversations around housing.
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Giving a voice to the voiceless in the conversations around housing.
The San Mateo Housing Stories Project is an ongoing project of One San Mateo.
Far too often, those affected most by changes in our communities are those who leaset have a voice in the matter. They lack a voice in the media, and they lack a voice in politics, one feeding the other in a vicious cycle.
Again and again, we hear powerful interests say that we lack the data to take action on housing. But then when we push for government to collect the relevant data, those very same powerful interests do an about-face and cynically stand in the way of the collection of data.
Only government can collect the necessary data on the full extent and nature of the housing problems we are suffering from. However, we will not standby and allow those affected by housing to be silenced by the inaction of others.
The San Mateo Housing Stories Project is aimed at gathering stories from and providing a forum for those being impacted by the continuing housing crisis. You are not alone. By raising our voices together we have power.
By Leora Tanjuatco Ross
(Originally appeared here in the San Mateo Daily Journal)
“I cannot live this way. I need help.” I received this text message two weeks ago, from a woman who lives in Daly City with her 84-year-old mother and twin daughters, who are in high school. In the simplest of ways, she needed relief. She explained to me that piecing together the rent every month was getting more and more difficult. It was nearing the impossible. She was at the end of her rope.
This story is a common one, particularly in the Bay Area. But this time, our federal and state governments have stepped in to help.
In January of this year, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 91, which makes creative use of federal stimulus money to address the pressures experienced by both renters and landlords over the past year. In the face of illness and jobs lost due to COVID, many renters have been unable to pay their full rent and are now seriously in arrears, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. At the same time, their landlords have faced the loss of their customary revenue stream, putting some of them at risk of losing their investment properties. In response to these pressures, the state approved the use of $2.6 billion of federal stimulus money to backfill the missed rent. For San Mateo County alone, $75 million in rent relief funding is available.
The outlines of the program are simple:
1). If landlords agree to forgive 20% of the rent that went unpaid for the period from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, the state will pay them the other 80%.
2). Assuming the landlord takes the state up on its offer, the tenant is then permanently relieved of the full amount of the accumulated debt.
However, almost five months after the state allocated this money, only 1% of the available funds have been distributed. For people who are precariously housed, this money is the only thing preventing them from homelessness.
In our outreach, we discovered that many members of the community are still completely unaware of this generous rent relief program. According to County Manager Mike Callagy, of the $75 million in rent relief funding available, less than a third has even been requested to date. In North County, leaders from Faith in Action Bay Area have been phone banking and have now made 719 calls to small landlords. Of those they have talked to, 86% did not know about the program. Meanwhile, 88% had tenants who had been unable to pay full rent during the pandemic. Clearly, there is widespread need that these funds could help to fill.
This rent relief program has the potential to be a high-impact win-win that brings life-changing relief to both landlords and tenants. But first they must learn about it.
Help us spread the word: Are you a small landlord yourself? Do you know of landlords in your congregations, workplaces or service clubs? Do you have neighbors who are landlords? If so, please encourage them to investigate this novel program of relief.
Are you a community leader or an elected official? Please help us spread the word about this program. Tell your friends, neighbors and networks. If you’re an elected official, please ask your city to send out a mailer with the information about this program, as Redwood City recently has done.
Most importantly, we call upon San Mateo County to use its considerable resources to get the word out about SB 91. Pull out the stops. An aggressive outreach effort will help to prevent a tsunami of homelessness that easily could overcome our community in the near future. In the effort to increase utilization of this high-impact program, county leadership is key.
There are resources for tenants and landlords. Faith in Action Bay Area is offering to help landlords with the application process. To access this help, please contact email@example.com. Other local organizations involved in providing assistance are Samaritan House, Project Sentinel, Nuestra Casa de East Palo Alto, and International Rescue Committee. To apply for this relief and for more information, including details on which tenants are eligible, please visit https://housingiskey.com.
Even if landlords do not apply, tenants can apply to receive 25% of rent debt for the same period of April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021. Renters wanting more information are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org or to contact one of the other organizations listed above.
Leora Tanjuatco Rossis the associate director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.
As you may have heard, the Mercy nuns are proposing to develop their campus on Adeline Drive in Burlingame. Their current vision includes retirement housing for the nuns and a separate structure with senior affordable housing.
It is no surprise that they are encountering pushback from the “comfortably housed.” We are forwarding a link to a petition that is being circulated to show support for this project. Peninsula For Everyone is one of the petition sponsors.
Anyone who’s a supporter of affordable housing can sign this petition. Please consider adding your name!
By Justin Alley
The Bay Area is more racially segregated today than it was in 1970. Among the many destructive problems with residential segregation, one is that it helps governments create major imbalances in where they invest resources.
Broadly speaking, governments tend to invest more in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. As a result, you often see more parks, schools and clean air in those areas. Meanwhile, governments tend to invest much less in predominantly Black, indigenous and Latinx neighborhoods. Residents of color have seen the problem worsening over time and are not surprised that Bay Area suburbs are increasingly segregated along racial and economic lines. The skyrocketing prices of homes in the suburbs during the pandemic are part of that disturbing trend.
Last month, the Association of Bay Area Governments nudged the region closer to the inclusive and prosperous place it claims to be. It adopted a draft regional plan that requires more affordability in the suburbs than it ever has before. The plan is called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA. It is a state-mandated planning process where regional agencies tell their cities and counties how much new housing, and at which income levels, they must plan for over an eight-year period. It is worth noting that this process does not tell cities precisely where they must put new housing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon cities to break the historical trend of trying to squeeze as much new housing into poorer, less-white neighborhoods, and instead distribute it equitably across the whole of the city.
The pressures are mounting and it is long overdue for cities to redress their zoning practices. Bay Area cities and counties were expecting to see higher housing targets this time compared to previous rounds. In June 2020, the state found that the Bay Area’s total housing target for 2023-2031 is more than double the target from last time. One major reason for this large increase is that the new target includes the thousands of homes the Bay Area failed to plan for in previous rounds. Now, all of our cities and counties have an urgent duty to pull their weight.
The new legal duty to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing adds another weight to the scale. It requires regional and local housing plans to actively increase fair housing choice for everyone, no matter their race, gender or other protected characteristic. Fair housing choice exists when households “have the information, opportunity and options to live where they choose without unlawful discrimination and other barriers related to race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability.”
On the Peninsula, fair housing choice means having more affordable options in suburbs like San Bruno and San Mateo. These cities are known for having high-quality resources but few homes affordable to predominantly Black and brown low-income families. Only the wealthiest, who are disproportionately white, can benefit from these resources.
San Bruno currently has only one home affordable to every seven low-wage workers. San Mateo has one home affordable to every 10 low-wage workers. Many cities on the Peninsula, like Atherton and Hillsborough, have ignored fair housing choice by denying apartment buildings altogether. In the COVID-era, this is a wake-up call because a lack of affordable housing often leads to overcrowded houses and apartments.
We can do better.
Prior to the pandemic, 550,000 people were commuting every day to jobs on the Peninsula outside their home cities — that’s equivalent to three-quarters of San Mateo County’s entire population. Many commuters would prefer living in the city where they work, if they could afford it. And while many white-collar workers have been able to make the shift to working from home, this has not been the case for low-wage workers. When families can live close to work, stay in neighborhoods they grew up in, or afford to stay close to the people and resources they need, it is better for everyone — less traffic, more social cohesion, more time for families to spend with their children, and it moves us closer to the diverse and prosperous place we all want the Peninsula to be.
Now is the time for the Peninsula’s cities and counties to get to work and decide how they will meet these long overdue housing needs. Their decisions can ensure that every family who seeks to live here, whether for jobs, school or health, can find a place to call home. The Peninsula can do this, and we will all be stronger for it.
This piece originally appeared here in the San Mateo Daily Journal.
Please take a moment to watch this powerful video about the extreme hardships currently facing renters in San Mateo. Renters need decisive action to help them deal with the long and difficult road ahead of them.
The eviction cliff is rapidly approaching, and many of our neighbors are at risk. With the statewide eviction moratorium set to expire on January 31, thousands of Bay Area families face the very real danger of being forced from their homes.
One San Mateo is joining the effort of the faith community to prevent this, and we ask you for your support. Please participate in the call-in campaign now underway to persuade state legislators to vote in favor of two bills that have been proposed.
- AB 15 extends the moratorium originally put into place by AB 3088 until the end of 2021, protecting tenants from eviction as long as they pay a designated portion of their rent
- AB 16 is intended to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic on tenants, small landlords and affordable housing providers
The links below will take you to talking points and connect you with the office of your state legislators:
You can also have the links sent to your phone by texting NOEVICTIONS to 40649.
This request is especially urgent since the moratorium is due to expire very soon. Please call right away and help keep our neighbors in their homes.
As you are certainly aware at this point, the COVID crisis has put enormous pressure on lower income members of the community, many of whom have had their hours reduced or are completely without work. They struggle to feed their families, pay their utility bills, and meet their rent. In an effort to address these hardships, concerned politicians at all levels have worked to develop various forms of relief.
One of the more innovative forms of relief, embodied in California’s AB 3088, is the conversion of rent debt to civil debt, otherwise referred to as non-evictable debt. This is debt that is still owed to the landlord but cannot serve as the basis for eviction. If the rent remains unpaid, landlords can seek to recover it, but this can only be done through standard collection procedures, such as filing an action in small claims court.
Specifically, AB 3088 says that for the period March 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021, a major portion of unpaid rent is eligible to be converted to civil debt, provided that tenants pay a specified fraction of the rent that is due and fill out a form indicating that the nonpayment of rent is caused by pressures arising from the COVID pandemic.
In recent weeks, One San Mateo, acting on behalf of the People’s Alliance of San Mateo County (PASMC), has overseen the creation and distribution of a mailer to 4,000 low-income renter households in San Mateo to make them aware of the protections afforded by AB 3088. A copy of this mailer in both English and Spanish is attached. Similar mailers have been sent to 14,000 households in other cities in San Mateo County bearing the logo of allied organizations that are also members of PASMC.
AB 3088 provided important relief, but under its terms, tenants will be required to pay 100 percent of their rent beginning on February 1, 2021 or else be subject to eviction from their homes. With the virus continuing to rage and businesses shut down again, this date is alarmingly close, and the prospect of widespread eviction becomes exceedingly real. Undocumented families are at special risk of eviction since they have been eligible for neither unemployment benefits nor stimulus checks.
In the coming weeks, One San Mateo and its allies will be examining possible options for extending relief measures to keep renters in their homes. I hope you will join us in making the case for this relief. In the midst of the current pandemic, it would be unconscionable to allow thousands of families to be forced from their homes.
Finally at year’s end, a word of thanks. On behalf of One San Mateo, I want to express my deep gratitude to the many of you who have extended financial and volunteer help to your neighbors over the past months, who have raised your voices to protest against systemic racism, and who cast your votes in favor of a more inclusive community this fall. While 2020 has been an undeniably difficult year, there is still much we can be thankful for. I ardently hope that we are.
Vice Chair of One San Mateo
If you share One San Mateo’s views about some of the issues on the ballot this election, then here are some great ways you can get involved to make a difference before election day.
For Amourence Lee for San Mateo City Council:
For Chelsea Bonini for San Mateo County Board of Education:
For No on Measure Y:
For Yes on Measure RR:
At the State Level
For Yes on Proposition 15:
For Yes on Proposition 17:
For Yes on Proposition 21:
In keeping with One San Mateo’s focus on advancing just, equitable, and across-the-board housing solutions, One San Mateo recommends the following choices on this election’s ballot.
Amourence Lee for San Mateo City Council
When Maureen Freschet opted to retire early in 2019, a process ensued to appoint her replacement. At that time, One San Mateo, along with numerous other equity groups in our community, threw our support behind Amourence Lee. We held and continue to hold that it is of the utmost importance that a diverse range of neighborhoods, perspectives, and peoples have a seat at the table of governance. It is for this very same reason that we once again endorse Amourence Lee for a seat on the San Mateo City Council. Amourence brings a unique perspective and a details-oriented focus to her role on the city council. Having herself experienced the trials of poverty and the need for an effective social safety net, we believe that Amo will keep the needs of the most vulnerable close to her heart. From her previous work in addressing the unequal treatment of neighborhoods in the General Plan to her more recent work in championing the causes of LGBTIQ Pride and Coalition Z, Amo has demonstrated that the principles of equality for which One San Mateo also stands will be a defining part of her public service.
Chelsea Bonini for San Mateo County Board of Education
Chelsea Bonini is a courageous campaigner for equity in our community. She takes great care in bringing attention to kids with special needs, both through her nonprofit and her political work. She is deeply aware of how a lack of access to stable and affordable housing can negatively impact a child’s capacity to learn. We can attest firsthand to Chelsea’s deep values, her accessibility, her generosity of spirit, and her willingness to advocate for the most vulnerable. It is with great joy that we endorse our close compatriot Chelsea Bonini for San Mateo County Board of Education.
Measures & Propositions
No on Measure Y
Back in 2018, when a measure to extend San Mateo’s height and density restrictions was still in its petition phase, One San Mateo began a lengthy process to determine our position on that proposed extension. This process involved presentations on both sides of the issue. In the end, One San Mateo’s membership voted to oppose such an extension—what has now come to be known as Measure Y. To be clear, we are not opposed to all height and density restrictions. What we are opposed to is deciding such matters before the General Plan process—which is intended to consider these very policies in a thoughtful and inclusive way—has a chance to play out. One of the fundamental questions at hand here is whether San Mateo’s current height and density restrictions—which Measure Y would extend—help or hurt the affordable housing landscape. A number of developments have occurred since One San Mateo first articulated its opposition to what would become Measure Y. Chief amongst these from One San Mateo’s perspective was an independent study commissioned by the city at One San Mateo’s behest. The objective of that study was to investigate the possibility of raising San Mateo’s below-market rate mandate—a goal which One San Mateo has forwarded for many years. The lamentable finding of that study was that it was not economically feasible to raise the city’s below-market mandate within the restrictive envelope that Measure Y would maintain. There can no longer be any question: Measure Y’s policies stand in the way of us as a community being able to thoughtfully and inclusively pursue solutions to the affordable housing crisis.
Yes on Measure RR
Numerous transit agencies have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis. With the dramatic drops in ridership, those networks which rely to a significant extent on ticket fares and lack a dedicated funding stream have been hit the hardest of them all. This has been the case with Caltrain. Regardless of what the near-term may hold, the future of the Peninsula will depend on the maintenance of a fully operational Caltrain. As we all have been enjoying reduced traffic and congestion—one of the few undeniable upshots of sheltering in place—imagine if we were to return to pre-COVID traffic levels without Caltrain to reliably ferry commuters on a daily basis. Not only that, but a crippled Caltrain would imperil the models of transit-oriented development being used to responsibly direct the production of future housing. At a 1/8-cent sales tax increase, Measure RR is a small price to pay to keep the Peninsula “on track”.
Yes on Proposition 15
After over 40 years in existence, the data are in on Prop 13. Not only has it failed to provide housing affordability for those with limited options, it has also cleaved a hole in California’s school funding, plummeting our state’s schools from near the top in the nation to near the bottom. As usual, poorer localities with smaller tax bases and less clout to advocate for themselves in school funding battles saw themselves hit the hardest. Prop 15, on the other hand, is a prudent reform to Prop 13. Despite what opponents may suggest, it does not touch residential property taxes. Rather, it requires virtually immortal legal entities who can hold onto commercial properties in perpetuity to pay commercial property taxes not at 1970s but present day rates. Furthermore, the $12 billion in tax revenues this would generate would be funneled chiefly to schools. San Mateo County alone would stand to receive more than $400 million, a minority of which could also go toward programs such as roads and housing. We come to our present predicament in which we are witnessing massive tax shortfalls across the state as a result of the COVID crisis. Therefore, reforming Prop 13 and making commercial property owners pay their fair share is no longer just about rectifying the mistakes of the past, it is an essential lifeline for our state.
Yes on Proposition 21
One San Mateo has consistently advocated for robust tenant protections. We will continue to do so as long as there is a pressing need for them. And the need now, in the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century, is greater than ever. Indeed, many experts are warning us that we are about to see the biggest wave of mass evictions in our country’s history. While Proposition 21 would not put in place any new tenant protections, it would give cities greater freedom to craft tenant protections and other housing regulations that are in line with the needs of today. The time to finally reform California’s unfair and restrictive Costa-Hawkins Act is now.