Tag: nn-feature-may-2019

Meet a local planner — Kristi Bascom

Meet a local planner — Kristi Bascom

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Kristi Bascom is Project Manager at Habitat for Humanity, East Bay/Silicon Valley, a position she took this January.

How did you become interested in planning?

As an undergraduate, I took classes in environmental studies that gave me my first exposure to land use planning. After graduating, I did advocacy for the Sierra Club. The intersection of protecting the environment and creating communities inspired me to return to school at SJSU to get a master’s degree in city planning.

Where did you work after graduation?

I worked for several Bay Area cities, primarily in current planning. I was principal planner at the City of Dublin. I also worked as a planning consultant and most recently as principal with M-group. Over the years, this work inspired me to think, how can we optimize good development? I dabbled in policy planning, but my interest is tangible results, creating neighborhoods and places for people. I was always interested in affordable housing, specifically in the gap between those who can already afford and those who can’t.

How were you able to change from traditional city planning to non-profit?

I asked industry professionals for some advice. What was the likelihood of a career planner pivoting to affordable housing, its own set of technical skills and background? I had no finance or construction background, was at mid-career, and felt in was a late shift.

Then there are the salary differences between most organizations and nonprofits. Is the move feasible or smart? For me, doing something directly meaningful carried more weight. I relied on the advice of several key advisors who made the pivot sound possible.

Any doubts now, after four months?

The idea of switching gears was both exciting and terrifying. Right now, the job market for planners is great. I was comfortable knowing that I could likely move back to planning if needed. I may not have been so bold in a tighter job market.

Can you comment on the idea of managing when you don’t love it?

Most planners will come to a point where they need to decide whether to go into managing people and processes. You have to determine your strength and passion. If your interest isn’t in managing, you won’t be successful. Are you effective at motivating others and good at overseeing people? Managing for any other reason is not going to lead to success. I really enjoy being a mentor and offering guidance, but I don’t think that it necessarily translates to being a good supervisor.

What are your core interests at Habitat for Humanity?

I admire Habitat’s ownership approach to housing. There are a lot of affordable housing developers on the rental side, but building affordable ownership housing is a niche. I appreciate Habitat’s methods, incorporating volunteers and sweat equity. I work with people who are passionate and good at what they do, with whole families building not just their home, but also their future neighborhood. Essentially, I am the architect’s client, involved with multiple facets of the project. It’s a learning process that keeps me optimistic.

The current discussion over local control has some saying that the housing crisis is isolated to specific counties in the Bay Area. Your thoughts?

Is there a housing crisis or an affordability crisis? Some cities and developers are building plenty of market-rate housing. The sales prices target upper tier incomes. But are there units priced for Bay Area workers? No. Hardly anyone wants a project of a scale, architecture, and unit count that doesn’t match their community’s “identity.” I think all can see that it is more desirable to have local community input. Still, there is that reality of how much people must pay and can pay. Typical middle-income workers have to find housing and residents need to find jobs. What kind of housing at what cost would serve people, such as those on the earlier side of their career or those in administrative, service, retail, and restaurant occupations — jobs that support the larger community. It isn’t healthy for people to live too far from work or too many people to a unit, and it is not sustainable for the people or their communities. The issue is a concern throughout the Bay Area, not just in certain counties.

Finding an affordable place to live is one thing, but getting ready to be a homeowner is another. Habitat has an entire department involved with family selection. We work with people to get them on a list for a Habitat home. We help them with credit counseling, developing a savings plan, and preparing to be a homeowner. Ownership speaks to me: people will put down roots and invest in their neighborhood for the long haul. From counterparts in other organizations, we hear that the below market rate housing wait lists are extremely long: 5,000 people waiting for 150 units. That is the real state of housing in California.

What advice do you have for new planners?

I have been an APA mentor for three years. I am so impressed with our new young planners. Land use is very broad and complex. Unless you, as a young planner, know specifically your niche, find an organization where you will be exposed to a lot of different things. Don’t say you don’t like something until you have tried it and worked at it. Keep an open mind. Say yes to new projects and topics.

What advice do you have for mid-career planners?

You bring your experience from elsewhere to your current place. As a consultant, I valued working for a number of cities. I enjoyed going to and learning about different locales. I’m not telling people to jump around, but you definitely will benefit from working for different organizations and in different settings — and you’ll be more likely to come away well-rounded and able to appreciate different perspectives.

There is a time to move on or try something new. Enthusiasm and a quest for knowledge are very important.

Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is Northern News’ associate editor. All interviews are edited.

Nonprofits may soon get first dibs on SF apartment buildings
San Francisco sunset, courtesy Next City

Nonprofits may soon get first dibs on SF apartment buildings

By Jared Brey, Next City, April 9, 2019

A new law proposed in San Francisco could give nonprofit groups the first crack at buying multifamily buildings when they go up for sale, in an effort to preserve affordable housing in one of the most expensive cities in the country. [The law passed the Board of Supervisors unanimously on second reading, April 16, 2019.]

The proposal, called the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), was sponsored by San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer after several years of research and advocacy by housing groups in the city. Under the law, which won a recommendation from the Planning Commission earlier this month, nonprofit groups would have a right of first refusal to buy buildings containing more than three units. If the law is passed, landlords who want to sell their buildings would first need to notify qualified nonprofit groups of their intent to sell. Nonprofits would have five days to express interest in making an offer and, if they do, another 25 days to work with tenants in the buildings and structure a deal. If the sellers then receive a higher offer from a private buyer, they would need to give nonprofits a chance to match the offer.

“We know that nonprofits often have trouble competing on the open market with speculative buyers whose plan is basically to buy the property, evict the tenants, and flip the building, or simply to re-rent them out at market rates …” says Ian Fregosi, a legislative aide to Supervisor Fewer. “By granting nonprofits the first opportunity to bid on these properties, this is going to have a big impact in giving them a fighting chance in buying more buildings and preserving more [units].”

“We have a really strong, progressive Board of Supervisors right now that’s really focused on preventing displacement and promoting affordable housing, as opposed to just purely building more market-rate housing,” Fregosi says.

Housing advocates have been working to get a law like COPA passed for at least the last four years, says Fernando Martí, co-director of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations. The law would build on other efforts like the Small Sites Program, which helps nonprofits find funding to purchase and preserve buildings with affordable units for low- and moderate-income tenants. That program has helped the Council’s member organizations acquire dozens of properties. But speculators are still able to move more quickly than nonprofits — or offer cash — leaving nonprofits at a competitive disadvantage even for the properties they’re best suited to buy, Martí says.

“We’ve had this pretty successful program — successful as long as there’s funding for it — but also there have been opportunities that we feel like we’ve missed, when a seller puts something out in the market and you end up with this bidding war,” he says.

Martí says the COPA proposal was informed by a similar law, called the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, that’s been on the books in Washington, D.C., since 1980. There, tenants are given the right of first refusal to buy the buildings they live in when their landlords are looking to sell.

Throughout the last three decades, landlords and the real estate industry have found loopholes in the law and made several attempts to challenge or gut the D.C. statute, says Michael Diamond, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. Diamond helped to write the TOPA legislation and spent many years running a legal clinic that helped tenants take advantage of it. He says that in the last few decades, he has found that it is easier to structure deals for larger projects, so that fixed costs can be spread across more units. It has also helped, when redeveloping properties for the low-income tenants who have already been living there, to add supportive services like daycare, after-school programs, and computer labs, Diamond says.

“Housing, while it’s critical to low-income people’s wellbeing, it’s not the only thing that’s critical,” he says.

In the last half-decade, Karoleen Feng, the director of community real estate at Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) in San Francisco, has helped the group acquire and maintain hundreds of apartments for low- and moderate-income people in the Mission. The Small Sites Program has been an important component of that work, Feng says. So has the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund, which helps finance affordable-housing deals. Seven of MEDA’s 22 building acquisitions in the last few years have been aided by the Accelerator Fund, Feng says.

Diamond, the Georgetown professor, says such funding is crucial. “There’s a huge need for subsidy,” he says. “Otherwise, the buildings will all gravitate to the higher end of the low-income spectrum, and the very low-income people won’t get housed.”

Landlords often have offers from buyers who will pay cash, more or less immediately. In one case, Feng says, her group lost a building on Mission Street because the owner, who also ran a business on the site, wanted the security of a cash offer.

“COPA is a policy and a legislative tool, and it has to be combined with a funding tool,” Feng says. “In San Francisco, we’ve currently developed a sizable fund, but we’re still looking for that permanent source of funds. So as we put COPA into place, we’re also going to be working with the city to find permanent funds to purchase [COPA-eligible] buildings.”

Despite the funding challenges, the program will give nonprofits and tenants an advantage they don’t have today. As Martí put it, a “pathway that allows us to get in front of the speculators who might be milling around.”

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable.

This article was originally published in Next City on April 9, 2019. Republished with permission.

Jared Brey is Next City’s housing correspondent. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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