In summary

California needs more regional cooperation and community buy-in to deal with affordable housing and make our state affordable for every family.

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By Fiona Ma, Special to CalMatters

Fiona Ma is the California State Treasurer,

Lea este artículo en español.

It’s no secret that California is facing a housing affordability crisis. And, we clearly have a lot of work to do. It’s in all of the headlines.

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The impacts of this crisis are felt disproportionately along racial lines. Even worse, the proportion of California residents facing high rent-burden is ubiquitous and rising – 37.8% of Bay Area residents, 42.1% of Central Coast residents, 46.1% of Los Angeles and South Coast residents, and 42.7% of Inland Empire residents. This impacts our families, as high housing costs crowd out other essentials, creating what some call the “heat or eat” dilemma.

Housing markets exist regionally and do not stop at city lines, meaning solutions to housing affordability require big thinking. We need structural change to move California in the right direction and can achieve this from the bottom up, with smaller-scale regional change. 

The Coachella Valley region exemplifies this strategy – tackling the housing affordability crisis head-on, and the rest of the state should take note. Our state leaders can support this by opening doors so that stakeholders across the region can work together.

In the Coachella Valley, the percentage of households facing severe rent-burden increased from roughly 27% in 2010 to 29% in 2017. In total, more than half of Coachella Valley households are rent-burdened, and nearly 1 in 2 Valley residents earn below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. As a result, Coachella Valley families are forced to decide whether they want to pay the rent, buy food or pay for medication – decisions nobody should have to make. This problem has burdened the region for too long.

No California resident should be without a home because of rising costs. And, during times of crisis and economic uncertainty, it is even more important that we are prepared to show leadership and take action.

Enter Lift to Rise, a cross-sector, community-driven movement to improve life in Southern California’s Coachella Valley. It is a collective impact organization that addresses the deep-rooted housing issues faced by the region, focusing on reducing the number of rent-burdened families by radically increasing the supply of affordable housing.

Convened by Lift to Rise and in partnership with Riverside County’s Housing Authority, a group of 50-plus stakeholders has come together to create a bold vision for the Valley: producing 10,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years, reducing the number of rent-burdened families by a third. 

Their vision is not housing production alone, but housing production paired with bold policy reform, pipeline development and an investment agenda. At the center of this vision is the Coachella Valley Housing Catalyst Fund, a source of flexible, favorably priced capital for community development projects. The fund will finance a current pipeline of $800 million in projects, and 2,000 housing units with immediate capital caps of about $100 million.

In the past, housing investments on a project by project, or city by city basis, have left regions short; however, Lift to Rise started with community voice and will continue to take advantage of community input every step of the way. The Coachella Valley Housing Catalyst Fund learned from the community that affordable housing was the highest priority and now seeks to attract the capital needed to respond to the community’s voice. The fund has the ability to immediately jump-start projects and to serve as a model for the rest of the state.

While too many communities are left to fight over the crumbs when it comes to affordable housing, Lift to Rise and their partners in the Valley are trying to bake a bigger, better cake. California needs more of these big cake solutions, with regional cooperation and real community buy-in, to make our state affordable for every family.


Fiona Ma has also written about expanding California’s EV infrastructure with a program for more charging stations.

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