When we heard that the city was in talks to finally do something with its long-dormant housing site at 555 Kelly Avenue, across from Cunha Intermediate School, we had two thoughts.
The first was a fist pump. It is terrific that city officials who have talked about affordable housing for years, but accomplished next to nothing, are making progress toward homes for dozens of local residents.
We’re glad there will be more dedicated housing for farmworkers on the coast. We can’t think of a more deserving group of people — essential workers and their families who are in many ways the unsung backbone of this community. Substandard housing for our agricultural workers has been a stain on the Coastside for generations and we do not begrudge theses hard workers this opportunity in the least. They deserve to be first in line.
Our second thought after hearing the news: What about the rest of us?
Farmworkers obviously aren’t the only Coastsiders priced out of the local housing market. Food service workers, gas station attendants, preschool teachers, nonprofit employees, landscapers, retail store employees, journalists … there are many of us who could use an advocate as effective as Belinda Arriaga and her hard-working crew at Ayudando Latinos a Soñar.
In February, the city put out a request for qualifications to build on the weedy 6,200-square-foot lot it has owned and done nothing with since 2017. ALAS and Mercy Housing put together a joint proposal that calls for expanding the lot and building 40 units that would be restricted for farmworking families. It was the only proposal the city got. No other group stepped forward when they had the chance.
Arriaga said last week that putting the proposal together wasn’t that difficult and sometimes getting government assistance is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and wading into the requirements. That has been the key to her success for years now. She and others in her organization aren’t afraid to ask for what they need, to explain why it’s important and to do new things.
You might think your elected representatives would act as advocates for others in the city. But elected officials from Half Moon Bay to Washington, D.C., are much better at climbing aboard the bandwagon than building a new one. Supporting a ready-made housing project for farmworkers was an easy win for the City Council.
ALAS has changed the game for Latinos on the coast to the benefit of all of us. It is astounding what the organization has been able to accomplish in a few short years, from food programs to summer camps to health equity projects that will bring services right to coastal farms. The key to its success may be simply getting started. There is a lesson in there for the non-farmworkers among us.
— Clay Lambert