At the beginning of the year it seemed as if Half Moon Bay City Council was creating momentum toward addressing housing needs for some of the most vulnerable residents. That was before novel coronavirus.

The council adopted guidelines for its affordable housing fund and made its first allocation to help create the Abundant Grace Coastside Worker Workforce Development Center. It approved a set of rental security measures that mandated minimum term leases and implemented mediation services for landlords and tenants. Through the city’s Community Services Financial Assistance program, several nonprofits were offered grants to work on rental assistance, home repair and assist with critical family needs. The city also is close to finalizing its Land Use Plan, which outlines possibilities to accommodate housing that is affordable for low-income households.

In the wake of the pandemic, conversations about housing were put on the back burner as the city grappled with a public health crisis and a budget deficit spilling over into the next fiscal year.

“I am really disappointed that in my tenure (on council) we have not built anything new,” Councilman Harvey Rarback said.

For years City Council meetings often began with public comment from residents asking the city to provide more in terms of affordable housing. And while strides are being made, more still needs to be done, advocates say. In fact, the need is more urgent today.

As of May 2020, about 21,098 low-income renter households in San Mateo County did not have access to an affordable home, county records show. Additionally, San Mateo County’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credits decreased by 42 percent from 2016 to 2019, according to the California Housing Partnership. State funding also decreased by more than 30 percent.

Housing experts are concerned that the low- and extremely low-income households will now be pushed to the edge by the loss of jobs and medical insurance, leading more people into homelessness.

MidPen President and CEO Matt Franklin said the emergency measures in place, such as added unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums, have kept some above water. But these measures are all set to expire soon, and the fallout could be devastating for those barely getting by.

MidPen is a nonprofit that develops and manages affordable rental housing in San Mateo County, including at three sites in or near Half Moon Bay. Franklin said local, state and federal government have important roles to play in terms of building affordable housing for the lower income families. For everyone MidPen is able to house, three more people in the region end up homeless, according to Franklin.

In terms of overall production of housing, Franklin said that’s continued mostly as planned because construction was deemed an “essential service” at the start of the statewide shutdown. MidPen has about five projects under construction and all have progressed accordingly under new health protocols for all workers.

“Construction is continuing, but I think the state is slow to realize the impact of the pandemic,” he said.

The Association of Bay Area Governments announced recently that the nine Bay Area counties, including San Mateo, should build 441,000 housing units by 2031 to meet the demand. However, it’s too early to tell if that demand will increase or decrease as the virus continues to ravage the country.

Franklin said that local governments are vital in facilitation of affordable housing.

“They are the most important partner and provide us the first money we get to help us leverage to get more state and federal funding,” he said. “They also help us identify land.”

In Half Moon Bay, Franklin said the biggest barrier to building new affordable housing is finding areas of land zoned for density.

“That is hard in a place like Half Moon Bay where a lot of areas are for agricultural use or zoned for single-family houses,” he said. “There is certainly a genuine interest to get more affordable housing and the political leadership to get behind developments.”

Though it’s been several years since any big project was completed, the city’s elected officials have loosened regulations to incentivize production of affordable housing. There are also currently three mixed-use projects under review that could have an affordable aspect to them.

“There are a lot of great political leaders in the county and they’re likely to be even more committed as this pandemic has put a spotlight on the need to have an affordable home, if anyone needed a reminder,” Franklin said. 

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