On July 27, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) made new rules for how money will be spent that makes the strongest connection between federal transportation dollars and housing yet. One of the programs run by MTC, our regional transportation agency, is meant to better tie transportation money to regional housing goals ever – creating more affordable housing and tackling displacement. It’s harder than it sounds, in part because MTC’s transportation dollars come from the federal government, and that money has rules associated with what it can be spent on and how.
The program that connects housing and transportation is called the One Bay Area Grant program, or OBAG, and the new rules show a real step forward for our region. These rules will guide the second round of the OBAG program, which was established in 2012 and has five-year cycles; this round will allocate $862 million from 2017 through 2022. Below are some of the most exciting new elements in the OBAG program, from just a few of the many many advocates, MTC Commissioners, and staff that it took to make it happen.
An incentive for cities to adopt anti-displacement policies. Since 2011, the 6 Wins Network has proposed a powerful way for MTC to help address the crisis: use the OBAG program to reward cities that are tackling displacement. At the MTC meeting on July 27th, more than 25 members and allies of the 6 Wins Network, including resident leaders with Causa Justa :: Just Cause, North Bay Organizing Project, and East Bay Housing Organizations, turned out to MTC’s meeting, holding signs that read, “I am the face of displacement,” testifying powerfully (at 39:35 in the video) about their personal struggles with housing affordability and displacement and the solutions they are fighting for in their own communities. In response to the community’s call for urgent action, the commissioners unanimously approved a proposal submitted by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to make cities with anti-displacement policies more competitive for OBAG funds. Specifically, counties must give these cities points in the scoring criteria used to evaluate applications for funding.
A requirement for cities to prioritize affordable housing on their land.Amended in 2014, the State Surplus Land Act requires, among other things, every city, county, and public agency to give first priority to affordable housing developers when selling or leasing surplus land. Now, any general law city or town that wants to apply for the transportation dollars in the OBAG program must adopt a resolution outlining how they will conform with state law.
$10 million to create finance tools to purchase privately owned housing and make it permanently affordable. In fall 2015, fifteen Bay Area cities sent a letter to MTC requesting the Commission deepen its role to address the Bay Area’s affordability crisis with a focus on preserving market-rate housing that has historically been affordable to low- and moderate-income populations. The Commission approved $10 million to seed the creation of community stabilization finance tools for non-profit housing developers and community land trusts to acquire and rehabilitate unrestricted market-rate housing in neighborhoods that have undergone or are at risk of gentrification. Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise) and The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) have been convening a Working Group made up of representation from affordable housing developers, city and county agencies, CDFIs, community land trusts, and advocates. The Working Group has provided critical feedback to shape the emerging financial tools by providing guidance on criteria, eligibility, leverage, and capital structure. “MTC has a track record with the Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund (TOAH) of making bold commitments of using the region’s transportation dollars to address the affordability crisis. It is commendable to see MTC once again step up to address the displacement crisis. We hope MTC continues to make the needs of low-income families most at risk of displacement a priority.”
New $30 million incentive for cities that build the most affordable homes near transit; $16 million for conservation. MTC leaders recognized that they needed to create stronger rewards for cities and towns that are guiding growth appropriately in this new round of the OBAG program. Here are two of the most important actions they took: First, they launched a new $30 million incentive program that will reward jurisdictions producing the most very-low, low, and moderate-income housing near transit. Second, they increased funding for their first-in-the-nation conservation grant program by 60 percent, investing $16 million to help protect and steward the region’s Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs). “We’re very excited about these bold moves and look forward to more leadership from MTC on these issues as the agency finalizes its update to Plan Bay Area, the region’s long-range land use and transportation plan.”
Congratulations to everyone on this exciting step forward for the region!