Authors: Dessi Mia Carbajal and Anthony Federico – East Bay Housing Organization (EBHO)
We know San Francisco, Oakland, and the Peninsula are ground zero for the housing and displacement crisis. But rising rents and the lack of quality, affordable homes are putting pressure on all corners of the Bay Area. Take South Alameda County. Prosperous, suburban communities are growing and competing to attract businesses; but how will they balance desired job growth with projected housing needs, not to mention the existing white-hot housing market? This dynamic isn’t always part of the “housing story” that gets told across California’s cities. But now, in response, cities like Fremont – the fourth largest city in the Bay Area and home to mega employers like Tesla – are taking steps to rebalance their jobs-housing fit and promote equitable development.
On June 20th, the Fremont City Council adopted a linkage fee on new commercial development. New office, retail, or other commercial real-estate will bring thousands of new jobs to Fremont, including many lower-wage jobs that won’t pay nearly enough cover the cost of housing anywhere in Alameda County, let alone high cost communities like Fremont ($2,621 for the average two-bedroom rent as of July 2017). A commercial linkage fee, charged to developers on a square foot basis, supplements programs to create housing opportunities for these workers and other Fremont seniors, veterans, formerly homeless people and other low-income communities so desperately in need of housing. In Fremont, where low-wage jobs outnumber the housing inventory affordable to these earners nearly 9:1 (in a 2011 study), passing this fee leverages development to meet the community’s need for affordable housing.
At least 18 other Bay Area jurisdictions already have commercial linkage fees. And according to Doug Ford, longtime Fremont housing activist and EBHO member, advocates have been proposing one in Fremont for 15 years. So how did affordable housing leaders in Fremont, including EBHO members and staff, make this happen?
We brought together local activists, faith community leaders, and affordable housing experts to share information, plan a campaign and timeline, and develop a detailed policy proposal for the linkage fee. We organized EBHO member delegations with Council Members and the Mayor, and turned out community members to speak at Planning Commission and Council meetings. We combined forces with local tenant advocates in the RISE Fremont Coalition to lift up the reality of the housing crisis, and the need to invest in proven housing solutions. With expertise, people-power, and advocacy know-how, the EBHO membership helped deliver a significant new source of affordable housing funds to the fourth largest city in the Bay Area.
And the timing is perfect. With the recent opening of the Warm Springs BART Station, Fremont is starting to attract major business development in the Warm Springs/South Fremont area and throughout the city. Furthermore, now that Alameda County voters have approved the Measure A1 Affordable Housing Bond, revenues from Fremont’s commercial linkage fee will be used to match A1 funds and attract other state sources (such as Cap and Trade dollars for affordable housing near transit). And in the bigger picture, with federal and state funds for affordable housing ever declining, Fremont is showing us how cities can fill the leadership gap and step up local affordable housing commitments.
In the coming months, EBHO will continue to push for commercial linkage fees and other new local affordable housing funds in Hayward, San Leandro, and Union City. We will also continue to support our partners fighting for tenant protections in market rate housing, a critical component of stabilizing communities. Together, EBHO members and partners will fight for solutions that address the entire spectrum of the housing crisis. We ask leaders and communities in South Alameda County – are you with us?