Santa Clara County officials announced Monday that Measure A, the $950 million affordable housing bond designed to help house homeless and low-income residents in the county, has passed with just over two-thirds of the vote.
The announcement by Santa Clara County Supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez at a Nov. 21 press conference came weeks after voters cast their ballots because it's been such a tight race. Measure A requires two-thirds of the vote to pass, and has been steadily holding at 67 percent of the "yes" vote since election night. With 97 percent of the ballots counted as of Tuesday morning, Measure A has 67.7 percent of the vote, giving Measure A supporters enough confidence to declare victory.
"The passage of Measure A shows the power and commitment of this county that we can come together and solve the most pressing issue we face as a community -- the lack of affordable housing," Chavez said in a statement.
The $950 million in general obligation bonds is structured to help the most needy residents in the county, with $700 million of the funds earmarked to construct new permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and extremely low-income housing -- which is defined as households making less than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). The 2016 AMI in Santa Clara County was $107,000 for a family of four.
The permanent supportive housing is designed to help the chronically homeless who have been on the street for more than a year, and need a greater level of services, including mental health, substance abuse or medical care. Rapid rehousing, on the other hand, is for residents who fall into homelessness for brief periods and need transitional housing for up to 18 months to stabilize their situation.
The bond measure also sets aside $100 million for building very low-income housing for residents making less than 50 percent of the AMI, up to $100 million for housing assistance for moderate-income families making between 80 to 120 percent of the AMI, and $50 million for first-time homebuyers.
Santa Clara County supervisors agreed to put Measure A on the ballot in June, hailing it as an opportunity to provide the funds needed to fuel a "housing first" approach to end regional homelessness. The decision came after the public-private partnership Destination: Home released a report outlining a path to end homelessness in Santa Clara County, which was contingent on securing "the right amount of funding needed to provide housing and services" to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.
In January, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling homelessness in Santa Clara County a crisis that imposes "unacceptable costs, both in terms of public resources and human suffering." Cities throughout the county, including Mountain View, also signed onto the resolution calling homelessness a crisis and vowing to boost affordable housing by the year 2020.
Jennifer Loving, the executive director of Destination: Home, told the Voice that Santa Clara County voters showed a great deal of compassion by overwhelmingly supporting Measure A, even though much of the money wasn't going to directly affect them. Most of the money is earmarked to help the most vulnerable people in the county -- the chronically homeless, seniors, veterans, homeless youth, survivors of domestic violence -- and residents agreed to stand up for them.
"That's amazing, that we had two-thirds of our community say 'yes' to this. That we're willing to see the bigger picture of what it means to have a rich fabric in the community."
Affordable housing nonprofits and the Housing Trust of Silicon Valley have frequently called Measure A a "game changer" that will provide the much-needed local housing funds to construct new affordable housing developments in Santa Clara County, and will allow developers to take advantage of state and federal tax credits. The goal is to leverage the $950 million in bond funds to build an estimated 5,000 affordable units and provide assistance to 1,000 first-time homebuyers, according to the county.
The county has already reduced its homeless population by an estimated 14 percent between 2013 and 2015, and the passage of Measure A means that housing the remaining 6,500 homeless residents throughout Santa Clara County is no longer a pipe dream, Loving said. She admitted that the effects may not be felt here in Mountain View -- where homelessness has increased two-fold and the car-dwelling population has spiked -- but she believes Measure A could finally reverse the trend and bring the homeless population in the city down from 271 to zero.
In the coming years, Loving said that Destination: Home will play an important role in showing local communities the benefits of having new affordable housing projects in the neighborhood, and shift the conversation away from what she called "deficit" language -- the idea that these projects bring safety problems, traffic congestion and decreased available parking. Instead the conversation should be centered on how these projects can add to the community, with the inclusion of things like open space and dog parks, while simultaneously solving the affordable housing crisis.
"People have this mythology that you're just taking a homeless encampment and putting it in a neighborhood," Loving said. "These are beautiful, modern homes."