Community Conversation on Housing: Roberto Jimenez – Why We Should Care about Affordable Housing

Roberto Jimenez – image from screenshot from Davis Media Access Video

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, Interfaith Housing Justice of Davis presented “Davis Housing Solutions: A Community Conversation” – a forum at the Davis Community Church.  What follows are the full comments by Roberto Jimenez, who is the chief executive officer of Mutual Housing of California.

Full comments by Robert Jimenez

I am not used to seeing a room that’s full of people who are not opponents of affordable housing. There are smiling faces and some laughing. I wish I could see this more often. Why should we care about affordable housing? For all of the reasons that Connie said, because our values tell us it’s important, but even for those whose values aren’t aligned with ours, there are a lot of practical reasons to believe that affordable housing is necessary. People who work in a community should be able to afford to live in that community and not have to commute 45 minutes an hour, two hours, three hours to and from work,

Less time spent in traffic leads to healthier individuals, healthier families, healthier children and communities and the environment merely treating housing as a commodity like crude oil or coffee is what got us into this situation. Now I’m not opposed to market rate housing at all. It’s absolutely necessary. It’s a part of the equation, but treating all housing as a commodity is why we’re standing here today. Mutual Housing’s background is we were founded in 1988. We started working in Davis in 2006. We started working with YOLO Mutual Housing. It was actually Sacramento Mutual Housing in Yolo Mutual Housing. We merged in 2007 and eventually became Mutual Housing California. We have a portfolio of about 1400 units, 400 units of housing in Yolo County. 300 of those are in Davis proper, six properties within Davis, so they’re all smaller properties and we have a thousand units in Sacramento.

Within a year and a half, two years, we’ll have over 2000 units of housing across the region. So who lives in our housing? You can see up here our history is that 75% of the folks who live in our housing, our families in the last seven years or so, we’ve started branching out a bit. And so we have several different types of housing. We will begin serving veterans next year in Solano County, so we’re branching out there too historically.

Next slide. What we’ve done is garden style walk-ups, rather suburban style that’s well suited to this sort of environment, but we’re also doing a lot of urban infill these days. A much more larger style of housing. Most of the properties we built here are 50, 60 units are smaller Sacramento, they’ll be up to 250 units in one property. Our model and our origins are actually in what’s called social housing where residents involved in the governance of the property and they’ll have an ownership stake in that property.

In some ways it’s like a condominium. The bottle that started in 1988 didn’t fit with the tax credit model and so that model disbanded, but we did keep a number of elements of the social housing model and one was engagement of people and development of community. So the housing is a vehicle for engagement and for building stronger communities and helping people get access where they historically have not had access. To that end, we even have board members who are residents of our housing and at this point, 50% of our board are residents who live in that housing who inform our work and are deeply engaged. One of those is sitting here tonight. She was just down at the capitol yesterday advocating for more affordable housing with a number of other residents of affordable housing across the state. Our current vice chair lives in affordable housing in Davis and our former board chair of six years lived in affordable housing in Davis. Those are not opportunities that come around to people who are unhoused or generally living even in affordable housing.

Next slide. So what happens when people do get into affordable housing? You’ll see some of the impacts, hunger decreases, children have access to schools, family incomes increase and we have increased engagement as you see here, new opportunities for people. Next slide.

We’re also really committed to sustainable housing and its impact on the people who live in that housing on the corporation, the nonprofit corporation that we run and the communities that we live in. So yes, Connie’s right? We do the environment and we do housing. We built the first zero net energy multifamily community in the nation and we are building our second, our third one next year, which will be escalating that we’ll be using battery systems that kick in automatically to offset power usage during peak hours, decreasing impact to the grid and decreasing costs to the residents who live at that housing. Sustainable housing is possible. We need to reset the standards and you should expect that your public dollars are spent on sustainable housing.

Historically affordable housing since the late eighties, the low-income housing tax credit was the primary source of funding for housing. It covered a hundred percent of the cost over time. What you’ll see is that came down to 50 to 75% of the cost.

There are a number of reasons for that. The biggest one is labor. The second one is material costs and the third is regulation of affordable housing. So know that as you implement standards that are more sustainable, more environmentally friendly, it does drive the cost up but not permanently, right? The market will adapt to it and we should be pushing that. We are committed to going zero net energy on all of our future projects that we do and we need your support to be able to do that.

Next slide. So where does the money come from? If a hundred percent doesn’t come from tax credits, all of these sources, historically it would be some federal money, some federal programs and some state programs. Increasingly that is not enough and currently we have to find a third source, at least a third source to fill the gap in order to be able to develop that housing. We are taking private donations, so we are sometimes building private partnerships too and working with market rate developers and that. That’s great for us. That’s great for the community. It’s two different types of housing in one community.

The last place, well we have nonprofit foundations. Increasingly we’re going to private foundations for funding and that’s a tricky one because we can’t bank on it. It’s there sometimes, sometimes it’s not. So we have to spend a lot of time advocating and building relationships with particular foundations together that leaves cities and your housing trust funds. That is a critical source. When you have a permanent source of financing, those developers, nonprofit like us can count on some source of money being available and we can start to plan for new housing. Otherwise we’re spending most of our time chasing dollars. The two most difficult parts of developing affordable housing are access to Land Davis and access to dollars. Also Davis, in this case, it’s not true in every jurisdiction. Some have land and some have money. In your case, you’ve got a lack of both.

Next slide. Why should we care about affordable housing? That patchwork of programs is not sufficient. We’re playing three dimensional chess trying to put all these programs together. I’ve seen projects that have 14 different sources of funding built into them. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to manage and it takes a long time.

We all want thriving communities. We all want healthier communities which lead to healthier people. It’s not the other way around. Our communities have to be healthy to generate healthy people. Unhealthy communities don’t generate healthy people. Housing should not be treated simply as a commodity.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Matt Williams

    Roberto’s presentation resonated for me.  His focus on housing affordability … and doing something about it was very appropriate. It was particularly noteworthy that across all the speakers there was a lot of data provided and passion expressed about housing affordablility, as well as the upwards of 850 persons in Yolo County who are homeless.

    I’ll have to look at the video to confirm this, but

    — Beginning with Rev. Connie Simon affordable housing was front and center, but market rate housing was never even mentioned much less discussed.

    — Roberto followed Rev. Connie and he too never mentioned market rate housing.

    — Following Roberto,  Dana Bailey never mentioned market rate housing (or even housing affordability given her very appropriate and thorough focus on homelessness),

    — Then Bill Pride continued the trend by never mentioning market rate housing,

    — Followed by Judy Eniss, who  never mentioned market rate housing, and

    — Robb Davis who also never mentioned market rate housing.
    It wasn’t until Georgina Valencia that market rate housing entered the discussion.

    That leaves me with an unanswered question, “If all of the speakers prior to Georgina were laser focused on housing affordability (both capital “A” affordable and small “a” affordable), then why are the developers not “showing empathy for their neighbors” (a beautiful, resonant invocation by Robb Davis), and coming forward with proposals for smaller square foot per unit housing that is affordable for the people in the Davis workforce who need affordable housing?”

    I firmly believe that the lack of housing affordability in California is a society-level problem.  Shouldn’t the solutions also be society-level?  The State is playing Pontius Pilate and imposing an unfunded mandate on the individual Cities, Counties and communities.  Shouldn’t we get behind a statewide affordable housing tax measure that can be used to help developers plan and build additional housing that is 100% affordable for the members of the workforce in Davis (and all California communities).  That truly would show empathy for California neighbors.

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