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Affordable Housing Preservation 101

Affordable housing is most commonly added to the housing stock by producing new units, often with substantial investment from the government. However, when the amount of investment the government is able to spend on production is exhausted, we can reach a cap in the rate of adding new affordable units. This happened in 2021, and fortunately the State of CA was able to spend budget surplus to help new affordable units cross the finish line.

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We may not always have a budget surplus, or excess projects in the production line. On top of that, there are many more communities in need of affordable housing production than resources each year, and so in deciding where to place resources for housing production, some areas get left behind. Recent policy decisions by California State government have mapped neighborhoods as high- to low- resource, and are steering affordable production to high-resource areas in years to come. This is good from the view of the State of CA because it helps add affordable units in places that have been unwilling to include them for a long time. But for East Palo Alto, it does mean that the city has been deprioritized for new affordable production.


Because we may not always be able to build affordable units fast enough, or because resources to support new affordable projects may not be able to cover every neighborhood all the time, Affordable Housing Preservation is a crucial complementary tool to add units to the affordable housing stock. By capturing public funds to acquire and rehabilitate properties, and by building up the capacity of mission-driven developers to take on these projects and keep them affordable, we can help ensure that even during the periods when we miss out on resources for affordable housing production, we can still increase the number of affordable units. In doing so, we can disrupt displacement and help keep our communities intact. Recent Bay Area examples of Affordable Housing Preservation costed 50-70% of the average cost of production of new affordable units [ECP]. Because preservation requires less intense construction work, it can be a faster way to make units affordable than new construction.


The Bay Area and California at large need multiple strategies to address the housing crisis. New sources of funding to support acquisition and rehab preservation are emerging at the local, regional, and statewide level. Opportunity to Purchase policies can enable local jurisdictions to capture and leverage those resources to help families buy the buildings that they live in as renters, while preserving the affordability level for generations that follow. The EPA OPA is designed to do just that – and is therefore a critically important component of the City’s Affordable Housing Strategy.

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