Laning Thompson, Livermore

From what I’ve learned about affordable housing, I doubt that Save Livermore Downtown’s “alternate plan” for the Eden Housing project is financially feasible.

I’ve served on Interfaith Housing’s volunteer board of directors since 2006, and as its president since 2015. IFH has three communities for low-income seniors in Livermore with a total of 207 one-bedroom apartments (applications are currently closed). In partnership with SAHA — a non-profit affordable housing developer like Eden Housing — IFH has been working since 2018 to build a fourth senior community with 140 apartments on Pacific Avenue. 

IFH’s existing communities, all built before 2000, have mortgages from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Residents must qualify as low-income; HUD subsidizes the difference between 30% of residents’ respective incomes and market-rate rent.

However, HUD no longer provides mortgages for new projects. Developers must now compete for other funding sources, principally the federal government’s complex Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program where large corporations provide construction funding in return for tax breaks.

California’s housing crisis and mandates to provide affordable housing mean that almost every municipality has to find land and funds to build more units ASAP. Affordable developers compete for funding by submitting lengthy applications with questions about myriad aspects of their projects, each of which earns a certain number of points. Projects serving people with extremely low incomes or the homeless receive higher scores. Developers must have purchased or leased the land before they can even apply for LIHTC funding.

An affordable housing building needs parking, a community room, offices for management and resident services, and facilities for mailboxes, laundry, and trash disposal as well as proximity to grocery stores. Family projects require multiple bedroom configurations. The baroque funding process compares the project’s scores on each aspect.

But SLD’s plan couldn’t start applying for funding until it had title to the sites across Railroad Avenue. A key parcel is currently changing hands; the future owner isn’t about to sell, and some other owners apparently aren’t either. How would parcels be purchased?

Moreover, the SLD plan’s 230 apartments might be too tiny and densely packed to qualify for government construction funds. And even if the $14 million in A1 bond funds were retained despite delays, that’s a fraction of the huge cost of the project. Finding subsidies to cover operating costs is yet another major issue.

Bottom line: SLD’s proposal just wouldn’t “pencil out.”