Access to Opportunity(?)

In 2016, the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC) proposed restricting the expenditure of LIHTC subsidy in any area deemed “low opportunity” according to the UC Davis Center for Regional Change (CRC)’s Regional Opportunity Index. Affordable developers, particularly non-profit organisations, pushed hard against the proposal, which CTCAC abandoned.

CTCAC is again moving forward with a similar proposal in 2017, but after months of consultation with a team of academics who devised the mapping.  (full disclosure as a former CalHFA staffer I sat in on and contributed to those conversations).

The idea of making it a policy goal to build more affordable housing in high opportunity areas is a noble one, but many people disagreed.  I want to highlight common argument made by affordable developers against proposal that challenge the notion of what access to opportunity is.

Here’s a comment that really struck out at me:

“The most troubling aspect of this proposal is that it would bar the
development of farmworker housing in agricultural communities. ” Pat Sabelhaus, California Council for Affordable Housing

Not everyone lives in “high opportunity areas” because the jobs they do aren’t always there because of the nature of the work.

Here’s another common argument:

” In many cases, low-opportunity areas are those most at risk of gentrification and displacement. There are other alternatives that should be considered.” (Rob Wiener, California Coalition for Rural Housing; Rachel Iskow, Mutual Housing California)

Opportunity itself is not static over time, it moves as we do–could rejecting affordable housing in low opportunity areas today mean we have none in the gentrifying areas of tomorrow?

And here’s the last very common argument:

“In the East Bay alone, there are thirteen BART stations that are in or within one-quarter mile of a “Lowest Opportunity Area.” We believe it is incredibly important to build housing in these transit-oriented areas to most effectively link people to job opportunities. ” (Andy Madeira, Eden Housing)

This brings up a lot of questions.  The ridership of BART is systematically wealthier and whiter than the general population.  Is this because the land value uplift effects push people out, or is it because the system was designed to connect people to San Francisco’s Financial District, which is disproportionately a middle and upper class jobs hub?

If it is the former, then Andy is right. We should build lots of affordable housing around BART.  But if it is the latter, then maybe we need to re-conceptualize what is important for job access and affordable housing.  There’s a wide literature suggesting that jobs access to affordable housing does not make it easier for those tenants to actually access employment… Are we still focusing on this because it’s easy to measure?

Here’s a look at the new opportunity map.  The darker the colour, the higher the opportunity:


We know people are, unfortunately, calling Bay View-Hunters’ Point the “last frontier” of gentrification in SF–which means now is the time to place a lot of affordable housing in there.  But this map does not prioritise it.

We also know Marin County is a bunch of exclusive, hypocritical jerks who need to build more affordable housing–and this map suggests we should build more there.

So maybe just carrots for affordable developers on LIHTC and access to opportunity, and no sticks?

Published by mattdpalm

Doctoral Student UC Davis USDOT Graduate Eisenhower Fellow 2014-2015

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