Housing. It's been on the minds of nearly everyone in the Bay and Peninsula Areas - from middle-class working families, teachers, firefighters, police officers and city workers to politicians, activists and journalists for that matter. With all these minds at work and the wealth of the county taken into account, it may strike some odd that little headway has been made.

According to Steve Cervantes of the San Mateo County Housing Department, the county currently receives federal funds for housing to the tune of $30 million. There is also an additional $4 million dollars that comes from state funding.

Where the money goes after the county gets it, is another issue entirely.

According to Cervantes, the leadership of San Mateo has not come to the table with any formal plans for affordable housing within the city. Consequently, San Mateo has been left out of the loop.

"We primarily focus on the northern peninsula and the southern peninsula as being the area of need," when it comes to allocating funds for low-income and affordable housing, Cervantes said. There are several projects in the works in those areas. He credited city leadership and local non-profits for those programs.

The county depends upon leadership and direction from city heads in order to implement housing programs, according to Cervantes.

It would take a joint effort between the city of San Mateo and county agencies in order to implement more housing programs in this area, Cervantes added.

There are currently no formal plans in the works that would go to increasing the number of affordable housing units in San Mateo.

San Mateo's answer to housing dilemma

There are, however, two existing housing programs in San Mateo that are geared toward home ownership.

Another program had been in place, but has recently been shelved in order to reevaluate its effectiveness, according to Renee Daskalakis, an area Realtor and the program contact for the city of San Mateo's Community Development Department.

The Neighborhood Purchase Program - provides low-interest deferred loans for people looking to purchase in Shoreview and North Central San Mateo.

The other program, a first-time buyer program, also provides low-interest deferred loans for people looking to purchase. It, however, is directly related to two condominiums in San Mateo. One development is located on the corner of Third and Humboldt, the other project is located on Pacifica Ave.

The problems with both programs are quite simple - they both have waiting list that are more than a year long. And both programs present buyers with a potential Catch-22 situation, said Renee Daskalakis the administrator for the city of San Mateo's First Time Home Buyer Program.

In order to qualify for either program you must first qualify for the loan on the mortgage. Then, after you qualify for the loan on the mortgage, you cannot make over a certain amount per year - for two people that would be a joint annual income of $71,900.

"The prices for housing have gotten so high the programs are not useful for that many people," Daskalakis said. "A lot of times, if you make enough to afford the housing, then you don't qualify for the program."

She added that San Mateo, however, has been a front-runner on the housing issue.

It has been operating some form of affordable housing program since 1988. "At least we have some longevity," Daskalakis added.

Another problem, other than long waiting lists and arbitrary income cut-offs, is the fact that there are only two such homebuyer programs.

The only program that deals with the concerns of renters is Measure H, which was passed in 1992. It mandates that 10 percent of the units in all major housing developments be put aside for affordable housing.

In the 8 years, it has been implemented only one development - Bridgepoint - has been built in the city of San Mateo that qualifies under Measure H.

Many are looking to the Bay Meadows project for additional affordable housing units.

Patrick Sullivan, a member of several area housing coalitions and also a Realtor, does not think Bay Meadows is going to do anything for the housing situation. "It's a joke," he said.

In short, taking into consideration the anticipated growth of San Mateo, these efforts are all too little, too narrow and all too late.

"We have failed to collectively realize that the problem is much larger," said Sullivan.

The issue of housing, according to Sullivan, is approaching disastrous levels as the backbones of the community - teachers, firefighters, police officers - can no longer afford to live within the city.

"The quality of your life is only as good as the quality of your teachers. And the value of your neighborhood is the value of your schools," Sullivan said.

According to Sullivan, there are no incentives for developers to build affordable housing units.

Cervantes echoed those remarks, saying that one of the biggest problems he faces is that landlords typically refuse to deal with subsidized housing. "And unfortunately, I don't see it getting any better," Cervantes added.

Sullivan, however, added that looking for others to resolve the issue of housing is also a problem. "People are often looking to city officials for easy answers," Sullivan said.

But in the end, the burden falls into the lap of the people. He added that apathy among younger families and their lack of involvement in the political process has in effect silenced them. The leadership of San Mateo is made up primarily of retired people, who already own their own homes. The people who typically 'get involved' are retired people and people who already own homes and/or businesses.

"The bottom line is consumers haven't been putting enough pressure on the political powers that be to deal with housing," Sullivan said.

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