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New bill aims to build up affordable housing funds
April 05, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
Millions of unspent dollars meant to help local housing trust funds to create affordable units would be freed up for use rather than swept into a state program that doesn't generate the same return under a bill proposed by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park.

The bill, which passed Wednesday through the Housing and Community Development Committee on unanimous bipartisan support, would give existing trust funds access to $8.8 million set aside for establishing new funds. The money is currently scheduled for transfer into the CalHOME program in November if new housing funds don't spring up to use them. While CalHOME would still use the money for the same goal of affordable housing, Gordon said it does not leverage the funds the way local entities like the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust of San Mateo County do.

"My legislation would keep the money in the hands of the local funds which allows it to be maximized," Gordon said.

Gordon points to Santa Clara as an example, which leveraged $2 million in state money to get $4 million locally for a $6 million total. If the state used the $2 million that is the flat amount that would be spent, he said.

Officials with HEART and the Housing Trust of Silicon Valley approached Gordon for help in accessing the money in large part because he was one of HEART's founders in 2003 while a San Mateo County supervisor. Gordon's efforts and the bill's success in the committee was lauded by the groups.

"We are very grateful for the funds and will put them to good use," said Paula Stinson, director of development and communications for HEART.

To date, HEART has invested $9.9 million to construct affordable housing and administer first-time home buyer programs, Stinson said.

HEART leverages its funds 22 to 1 using matching grants from private investors like Genentech and community partners like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. To date, Stinson said 825 affordable units have been funded in addition to the group helping first-time buyers.

HEART is also in the midst of redesigning its first-time homebuyer program which is one reason why the extended deadline for use proposed by Gordon's bill is welcome, Stinson said.

Increasing the amount of funds local trusts can access through government and private contributions is "extremely critical" in the current economy of reduced resources, Kevin Zwick, executive director of the Housing Trust Fund of Silicon Valley, said in a prepared statement.

The money in question stems from Proposition 1C which California voters passed in 2006 to provide more than $2 billion in bonds for the development of affordable and emergency housing. A portion went to existing housing funds, like HEART, but the number of new funds anticipated to use the other piece never transpired.

Gordon credits the testimony of housing fund officials and advocates in illustrating the incredible job they've done on the local level.

Although the legislation next moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Gordon said the early bipartisan support is important because he will need a two-thirds vote of both houses to pass it as an urgency bill. Otherwise, the funds will be absorbed in November and the legislation wouldn't take effect until Jan. 1.

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