By Jackie Speier, Jerry Hill,
Kevin Mullin and Don Horsley
Housing and health fit together like a hand in a glove. A 2018 review of housing and health in the journal “Health Affairs” discussed many links, including the following:
• Low-income families with difficulty paying their rent or mortgage or their utility bills are less likely to have a usual source of medical care and more likely to postpone needed treatment than those who enjoy more-affordable housing.
• Severely cost-burdened renters (paying 50% or more of income on rent) are 23% more likely than those with less severe burdens to face difficulty purchasing food.
• In the modern era, researchers have found that the availability of resources such as public transportation to one’s job, grocery stores with nutritious foods, and safe spaces to exercise are all correlated with improved health outcomes.
Research by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs makes the link even clearer. Veterans without stable housing are at much greater risk of physical and mental illness. Housing stability often restores these wounded warriors to productive status within communities.
People often ask us: What can the federal/state/county government do about our housing crisis? The answer: Partner with other agencies to deliver housing and healthy solutions. In this case, we call upon the Peninsula Health Care District to reconsider its plans to place a market-rate wellness community and office building on public land owned by the district.
Who lives in new, affordable housing developments? People just like you, your family and community members we interact with throughout the week. Before finding an affordable unit, these persons may pay an extraordinary amount of their monthly income for rent. These persons are grocery clerks, food servers, bank tellers, home care aides for the elderly, day care employees, auto mechanics, house painters, those with developmental disabilities and countless others who are our neighbors, friends or partners in weekly life.
We even have a need amongst all of the hospitals in the county for respite care for seniors and low-income residents who are released from a hospital and have no appropriate place for care for up to 30 days. Some of the care is presently provided by hospitals and hospice for people who are terminally ill and living in a homeless shelter or in a car.
Land costs in San Mateo County are stratospheric. We believe public land, paid for decades ago for a public health purpose, should be used for people who are our neighbors and for those who serve us. The land can build resilience into our local economy and meet an urgent human health need.
San Mateo County’s housing shortage is even destructive of our nation’s long-term interests. Many of our younger teachers stay for a few years before moving on, pummeled by the costs of renting. They even take side jobs. Through affordable housing, they could find a way to remain in our community, serving our children in classrooms rather than closing the rent gap as Uber/Lyft drivers.
The federal government’s low-income housing tax credit program is often key to financing the construction of affordable housing in San Mateo County. These tax credits are usually available to nonprofit housing developers and, with the right characteristics of the development, can sometimes provide up to 50% of the cost of development. The state of California administers programs that may provide funding for construction, as does San Mateo County’s Home for All program.
Our May 18 public forum at Skyline College demonstrated the wisdom of the old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Three nonprofit housing developers explained in detail the opportunities at the Peninsula Health Care District site and the availability of federal, state and local public financing to address this opportunity. In conversations with staff, they have informally opined that the site in Burlingame would score well in competitive financing applications due to its proximity to public transit and the recognized need of the community for more affordable units.
In contrast, the wellness community presently planned by the Peninsula Health Care District would serve the needs of Peninsula residents who could afford to live in a for-profit retirement enclave. The district promises at least a 10% affordable component and will recycle profits to bolster the district’s grants for public health programs. The 10% promise wasn’t required by law, and the grants fund worthy programs. Both pledges are appreciated. However, the public has a more urgent priority: A housing shortage that can cause physical and mental health damage.
An opinion of the Legislative Counsel is being sought to offer a second viewpoint on the district’s legal opinion that it lacks statutory authority to develop the site as affordable housing. Once this opinion is available, it will be shared with the public. Even if the district’s opinion is correct, the law can always be changed.
The health benefits of affordable housing are undeniable. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Jackie Speier is a member of Congress, representing California’s 14th district; Jerry Hill is a member of the state Senate, representing district 13; Kevin Mullin is speaker pro tem of the California Assembly, representing district 22; and Don Horsley is a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, representing district 3.