BRIDGE Housing continues to push for affordability across all segments of society—its work is needed today more than ever.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN JANUARY 2016[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ynthia A. Parker is responsible for the overall direction of BRIDGE Housing, a leading nonprofit developer, owner and manager of affordable housing in Northern California. She joined BRIDGE as President and CEO in February 2010, bringing over 30 years of diverse and relevant experience to the organization. She previously served as Regional President for Mercy Housing and President of Intercommunity Mercy Housing. Prior to her tenure at Mercy, Parker was senior vice president of Seattle-Northwest Securities, a public finance firm, where she oversaw affordable housing, commercial and public facility real estate financing in five Northwest states.
Parker established the Housing Office of the city of Seattle and served as the City’s Director of Housing under two mayors, with responsibility for the city’s housing investment strategies, $100 million annual capital budget and $824 million loan portfolio. She previously developed over 3,500 units in Oregon and Alaska with mixed financing. She assisted the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation with the design of both taxable and tax-exempt housing bond programs and has provided syndication services for tax-credit placements.[contextly_sidebar id=”qdgqtarGxyBiiR30reReUI7B6HuHxkCr”]A former director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Parker has chaired the Sound Families Initiative for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and currently serves as a director of the National Affordable Housing Trust, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Housing Partnership Network, Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, the Beneficial State Foundation and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, and she is on the Board of Governors of the California Housing Consortium.
TR: In the current housing affordability debate where so much of the discussion is focused on workforce affordability concerns, the work of organizations like BRIDGE Housing are sometimes overlooked. It seems people are less concerned about affordable housing for the least economically able. Would you agree with that hypotheses?
PARKER: Not necessarily. We need housing for all. Unfortunately, the programs that provide subsidy for affordable housing are geared to people who earn less than 60 percent of median income, so the modest amount of affordable housing that has been developed has been restricted to that income group and below. We still need more of that focus; however, this has left out moderate-income families—those making between 60 percent of AMI to 120 percent—with no housing developed to meet the needs of that group. In cities like San Francisco, these families are just priced out. So we need to develop programs to address that group, too.
TR: How important is housing affordability throughout all levels of society? Are we doing a good job at accomplishing that in the Bay Area?
PARKER: Having affordable housing available at all levels is critical to a vibrant and functioning city. Having the workforce commute over an hour on an overcrowded transportation system or highways is unacceptable.
Investors in the Bay Area are looking to maximize rent growth and returns on investment. In the superheated markets of the Bay Area, that is where the developers are focusing their attention. To develop affordable or more moderate workforce housing takes subsidy—we have none for the moderate group, and not enough for the lowest incomes—we are not keeping up at all.
TR: What could and should we do better?
PARKER: When redevelopment agency funding for affordable housing ended, localities should have immediately seen that we needed an alternate source. Some cities, like San Francisco, did: they enacted more efficient inclusionary programs and put several bond measures on the ballot. Other localities have not been as quick to act, or are only starting to act now. We have three years to make up for, not even taking into consideration the unbelievable increase in demand.
TR: It may not be achievable to satisfy the current need for additional affordable units in our urban cores, given the amount of time it takes to get infill projects approved. Would an effort to build faster and more extensive transit systems be an easier way to accomplish that goal by allowing more affordable housing production in the more distant areas of our region?
PARKER: I‘d say we need to do both. Transit systems are very expensive, and it takes a long time to get the infrastructure in place. But we need to improve and expand transit systems and look ahead to jobs and population growth. We also need to aggressively pursue affordable housing development.
TR: What examples of recent successes of your organization can you highlight for us?
PARKER: After six long years, we expect to finish entitling Potrero Hill, which will allow us to build 1,600 units of mixed-income (market and affordable) housing in San Francisco. The first phase of construction should start during 2016.
In Oakland, we’re just completing AveVista, 68 units on Lake Merritt, as well as Mural, the first residential phase (90 units) at MacArthur Station. To give you a sense of demand, more than 5,000 people applied to live at each of those properties. We expect to start construction of 385 additional units at MacArthur Station in 2016; those will be largely market rate. It’s gratifying to see the build-out of places like MacArthur: large scale, transit-oriented developments that are responding to community needs.
We’re excited to see the progress on our first modular construction development, Marea Alta, across from San Leandro BART. It’s 115 apartments for families, and we understand this is the largest affordable modular project in the state. The design-build process is reducing time, construction waste and expense, all of which are critical factors in today’s environment.
TR: What are some of the projects that you are pursuing today? Where are they?
PARKER: We’re pursuing or conducting due diligence on a number of projects in the Bay Area, in places such as Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro, Daly City and in the South Bay. We are always on the lookout for new construction as well as acquisition opportunities where we can create or preserve affordability and bring our community development strengths to the table.
TR: How are you funded? What are your biggest challenges surrounding fund raising?
PARKER: We only fundraise for programs that benefit residents, in terms of their stability, wellness, education and future opportunities. It’s an ongoing effort, but incredibly important, and the philanthropic community sees that affordable housing provides a literal home base where people can access programs. We raise capital for development projects from the private sector and from public sources. We run the organization from developer fees, asset management fees, property income and other sustainable revenues.
TR: How does your organization perform during a downturn? What are you doing to prepare yourself for that time?
PARKER: We just came out of a downturn during which we geared up production. In affordable housing, there is always a need, always a demand. To be prepared, we make a practice of anticipating a range of scenarios, including worst case.
TR: What worries you the most in the next 12 to 24 months?
PARKER: Having our public sector partners step up to meet the challenges of unprecedented demand for affordable housing.
TR: What excites you the most in the next 12 to 24 months?
PARKER: Expanding our mission of delivering housing and building communities.