San Mateo County reduces tradeoff between affordable housing and paratransit

Thanks to persistent efforts from supporters of affordable housing and transit, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors increased funding for affordable housing from Measure K sales tax, while reducing and postponing cuts to its contribution to SamTrans paratransit service.

After an initial proposal of $15 million annually, the amount of funding dedicated to below market rate housing was increased to $22.5 million next fiscal year and $21.25 million the following year. Instead of eliminating the contribution to SamTrans immediately, the county’s contribution to SamTrans was reduced to from $5 million to $3.75 million next fiscal year, to $2.5 million the subsequent year, and proposed to be eliminated after that, following a likely 2018 ballot measure that could be used to bolster SamTrans public funding. The county’s improved support for housing and transit was helped by Peninsula Clean Energy offering to repay a $4.5 million loan by the end of the year.

SamTrans has said that the reduction in funding may come out of reserves, which are projected to be exhausted by 2023.

Over the past 5 years, San Mateo County attracted about 50,000 jobs and built only 2,000 housing units overall, exacerbating a housing shortage that has driven price increases and displacement of low-income residents. The average two-bedroom apartment now rents for $3,400 a month and median home prices have jumped to $1.25 million. Funding for affordable housing will help, as well as adding more housing to balance jobs and reduce commutes.

For more on the Measure K allocations, see this news story.

For San Mateo County residents interested in supporting sustainable transportation and affordable housing, the upcoming discussion about the likely ballot measure will be important to discuss the needs, potential improvements and changes, and priorities for public funding. Stay tuned for more on how you can participate and share your ideas and priorities.

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In the budget deal, the county did not yet take the opportunity to reconsider the size of a proposed 800-1200 space parking garage in Downtown Redwood City that is expected to cost between $36 and $50 million, to serve employees being consolidated downtown. Based on modest information publicly available, the county’s employees have a drivealone rate of over 70%, and Redwood City is moving forward with transportation demand programs to help downtown and other employers reduce solo driving. The county’s programs offer up to $75 benefit for taking transit, bringing the cost of a Caltrain monthly pass from San Jose down to $115 out of pocket, but for county employees, vehicle parking is currently fully subsidized.

If the County was able to reduce the drivealone rate of 3000 downtown employees by ten percent, the county would save millions that could be used for affordable housing and social services, even considering the likely costs of stronger programs to help employees drive less.

Measure K, a half-cent sales tax extended this past November, generates about $80 million annually for social services, and supports a range of services from parks to mental health programs and information technology equipment to transit operations. For more on the Measure K plan, see this news story and the staff report:

For San Mateo County residents interested in supporting sustainable transportation and affordable housing, the upcoming discussion about the likely ballot measure will be important to discuss the needs, potential improvements and changes, and priorities for public funding. Stay tuned for more on how you can participate and share your ideas and priorities.