It Takes a Network.

By Kevin Zwick (Class XXV), CEO, The Housing Trust

I’ve been working in affordable housing for my entire adult life. When you step back, it’s this really amazing miracle that happens with each development. It only happens because so many partners, and laws, and coalitions, and financial innovations – a network, one could say – come together.

I remember the first affordable housing I developed – to create 29 affordable rental homes for people with a wide range of disabilities and special needs, we needed to piece together 9 different sources of funding and struggle with local NIMBYs that wanted us to find another site for our development. It took almost 10 years, but University Neighborhood Apartments (UNA) opened in July 2005 in Berkeley, as the nation’s first affordable housing built with Universal Design principles. It is a model of community housing: intergenerational, families and singles, and people with and without disabilities living together. But it took a network of churches, environmental groups, seniors, disability advocates and neighbors to make it happen.

Now, as our Bay Area economy continues to burn red hot and grow, and as we continue to add jobs but not enough homes to keep up, more people are experiencing a housing crisis. Workers live further and further away, or spend too much of their income on rent. Homeless veterans with housing vouchers struggle to find a spare apartment or landlord to rent. Longtime residents, seniors, and graduating seniors find there’s no place for them here and move away.

These issues has been with us for a while; but in the past two years people and organizations of all types have come to realize the need for new efforts on a scale we haven’t seen before. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will not be enough to provide affordable housing for all who need it.  A million or two won’t do it either.  Nor even 10 to 20 million.  We need billions.

We have a chance to do it now. There is a lot of momentum thanks to the leadership of ALF network members, we passed Measure A last year to address affordable and supportive housing in Santa Clara County. Here at the Housing Trust, thanks to help from ALF senior fellows like George Brown, Randy Pond, Carol Larson and Lisa Sobrato Sonsini, we’ve begun our TECH Fund campaign and partnered with Cisco, the Sobrato Foundation and the Packard Foundation to raise new moneys for starting up affordable housing. And as I write this, the State of California governor and legislature is poised to pass a package of housing bills that would raise $5 billion over 5 years for affordable housing while streamlining the permitting process. It speaks to the power of this network when I see ALF Senior Fellow Mayor Sam Liccardo up in the Capitol meeting with ALF Senior Fellow Assemblymember Ash Kalra to pass these measures.

For addressing a major social need, like affordable housing, it takes a strong network. I am grateful to be a part of this one here in Silicon Valley.