The news release issued in the days before Christmas looked like a rare bit of good news. San Mateo County was trumpeting an eight-figure investment in local, state and federal funding “to create more affordable housing across San Mateo County.”

Then you scroll down. There are 11 projects to produce 1,069 affordable units benefiting from this $54 million pulled from local tax receipts, American Rescue Plan Act monies and state allocations. Three are in unincorporated Redwood City. Two are in Daly City. Another two are being built in Burlingame. There will be none — zero — on this side of the hill.

How is that possible? Where is our investment in affordable housing?

“Great question,” conceded Half Moon Bay City Manager Matthew Chidester. Then he patiently explained that the highly competitive process to allocate money from the county’s Affordable Housing Fund rewards projects that are well on their way, with other sources of funding, permits and all the rest already in place. 

He described the Affordable Housing Fund process as a Notice of Funding Availability, which in this instance means similar calls for applications generally come around annually. He said he hopes the city and its partners Mercy Housing and Ayudando Latinos a Soñar will be in position to compete for that money in the years to come to help pay for 40 units envisioned at the city’s 555 Kelly Ave. property.

But why isn’t there a project ready to compete for such funding after years of suggesting affordable housing is the Coastside’s top problem? In fact, Chidester says, the city hasn’t requested money from the Affordable Housing Fund for at least five years.

In prepared comments, District 3 Supervisor Don Horsley, who represents the San Mateo County coast, acknowledged the need for affordable housing for working people, saying we can’t have a community of “haves and have nots.”

“When we asked voters to approve Measure K in 2016, we specifically called out the need to provide affordable homes. We are making good on that pledge,” Horsley said in the statement.

It sure doesn’t feel that way around here.

But let’s not be naïve. Building affordable housing is difficult anywhere in California. Building materials, labor, land, permitting — it seems everything necessary for a project is more expensive in the Golden State. That expense usually drives up costs for end-users. That is only magnified on the coast, where virtually any development is opposed by existing residents intent on maintaining their current quality of life and then must run a gauntlet of government bureaucracy.

Chidester cited an example. Half Moon Bay leaders would like to think there might be an opportunity for affordable housing in conjunction with the city’s current construction of a corporation yard at 880 Stone Pine Road. But the state loan upon which that work is predicated specifically precludes any housing on the site. In order to make it work the city might have to satisfy the loan first.

The devil may be in such details, but our better angels are elsewhere. It simply makes no sense that we can build a place for municipal vehicles but not a place to house families.

“If we are going to thrive as a region and thrive as a community that cares, we absolutely must ensure that working families and the most vulnerable among us have safe, clean and affordable housing,” Horsley states in the county release.

We couldn’t agree more.

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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