Empowering South San Francisco residents with programs promoting economic independence and home ownership while supporting those struggling to afford the high cost of living are among emerging initiatives endorsed by an equity committee.

The South San Francisco Commission on Social and Racial Equity discussed a variety of creative strategies designed to enhance social mobility during a meeting Wednesday, Oct. 7.

The commission formed in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd has met numerous times and discussed a variety of opportunities to improve the quality of life for local residents.

In most meetings, members select a few program proposals from a wider palette of options to prioritize. But the most recent meeting featured ideas so universally supported that commissioners agreed to continue exploring them all.

“I think these are all valid and I think they all deserve a deeper dive,” said Commissioner Pat Murray, who is also president of the South San Francisco Unified School District.

Establishing career pipelines for communities of color and those with disabilities; helping disenfranchised residents build sustainable small businesses; enhancing access to safety net programs; broadening initiatives combating homelessness and housing insecurity; and leveraging public land to build more affordable housing were among the approved concepts.

Noting the difficulty of trying to disassociate ideas that are linked so tightly, Commissioner Norm Faria blessed the idea of addressing them collectively.

“I’m glad we are pushing them all forward,” he said.

The meeting also featured a presentation from Ricardo Nuñez from the Sustainable Economies Law Center, who laid out a variety of alternative programs which could broaden access to home ownership and financial independence.

Recognizing that many in South San Francisco are exposed to the vulnerability of renting because they cannot qualify for a traditional home loan, Nuñez presented policies and platforms that can lower the barrier for sustainability and ownership.

Community land trusts, housing cooperatives and programs granting tenants priority to purchase rental properties going up for sale were among the concepts presented.

Community land trusts are nonprofit organizations permanently holding land for affordable housing and housing co-ops are entities sharing ownership of multiple units or developments.

Nuñez pointed to programs in the East Bay as models of success, which inspired South San Francisco Councilman Mark Nagales to suggest investigating whether similar initiatives could be established locally.

“I would love to see how we could implement that in South San Francisco,” he said. “Any way we can improve and have more affordable housing and have people own and people live and stay in South San Francisco is an absolute imperative.”

Resident Eddy Holman supports the adoption of innovative programs too.

“Please look into community land trusts, because that system is completely different from this messed up, speculative, profit-driven, capitalist land model that we are currently using,” he said. “Let’s transition to a way that we can value humans over properties and profits.”

Officials are compelled to move swiftly on housing sustainability programs, due to concerns that the looming end of rent moratorium programs will soon yield widespread displacement, said City Manager Mike Futrell.

“We fear there will be a mass churn in the residential market and people are going to lose their homes,” he said. “We have got to find a way to protect them.”

Another way to support residents is through programs and policies supporting independent business, said Nuñez.

With reports showing Latino residents are twice as likely to have home loan applications denied along with metrics indicating the same residents are less likely to own their own business, Nuñez detailed alternative options.

One is to approve policies facilitating worker-owned cooperatives, in which businesses are possessed and operated by the employees. Nuñez said opportunities to establish such arrangements may become increasingly common, as many longtime business owners are looking to retire rather than rebuild a company amid the pandemic.

For his part, Futrell was alarmed by the disparities between the races regarding business ownership and said officials would consider programs aiming to close that gap.

“It is way too disproportionate and I’d like to dig into the facts and understand why there are so few Latinx business owners,” he said.

Considering the wide array of options designed to support the community, Nagales said he favored a comprehensive discussion on the issue.

“We should have a broader conversation to assure all residents can stay here,” he said.

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