From the Field: California Advocates Launch investAHSC Campaign for Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Funded by Cap-and-Trade

California advocates launched investAHSC on May 7, a new campaign, coalition and website calling for sustained investments into the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program. Established in 2014, the AHSC uses revenue from California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) which receives revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program. The investAHSC advisory committee includes NLIHC state partners California Housing Partnership, Housing California, and California Coalition for Rural Housing, as well as campaign leader Enterprise Community Partners (an NLIHC special member) and TransForm.

California’s cap-and-trade program collects auction proceeds from major polluters and repurposes them to various efforts, including the development of affordable homes near jobs, commerce, and transit. Because automobile use is by far the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, the focus of housing production that reduces sprawl and long commutes is an excellent fit for the GGRF. The AHSC program stands as an excellent example of multi-sector coalition success, with transit, housing and natural resources organizations coming together to advocate for investments in underserved communities. The investAHSC campaign strives to educate advocates and policy makers about the impact the AHSC program is already making and to preserve this important funding source as other constituencies seek to access finite GGRF resources.

Despite still being a young program, AHSC has already had significant impact. A recent report from California Housing Partnership and Enterprise Community Partners analyzed its first three years of funding and found that AHSC allocated $701 million to fund 77 location-efficient properties with more than 6,400 homes. These investments represent just 43% of all the AHSC proposals for transformative housing and transit projects – a clear indication that increased funding is warranted. The projects funded have been geographically diverse, covering 40 communities throughout the state. Ninety-three percent of AHSC investments benefit low-income communities, with most of the 6,443 affordable homes targeted to very low-income households living at or below 50% of area median incomes. Households renting in AHSC-supported homes will save an average of $746 each month compared to those in market-rate apartments. AHSC-supported homes must remain affordable for 55 years.

The environmental benefits of AHSC investments are already being realized. According to the study by California Housing Partnership and Enterprise, AHSC-funded properties will reduce more than 1.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions over the course of their existence. A focus on location-efficient development will also reduce air pollution, as AHSC housing developments are expected to eliminate approximately 11,745 cars from California roads and reduce passenger-vehicle driving by an estimated 134 million miles. Additionally, 78% of AHSC investments are benefitting “disadvantaged communities,” defined by statute as including the 25% top-scoring areas for high pollution and low population as rated by CalEnviroScreen.

AHSC funds also promotes a healthy, safe, and accessible transportation infrastructure. AHSC funds have supported 86 miles of new or improved bike-lane infrastructure and 671 new or improved crosswalks. And AHSC has funded 58 new vans, buses or shuttles that, combined with the increased transit access offered by transit-oriented residential development, will boost public transit ridership by 41,000 people per day.

The investAHSC campaign is collecting stories of residents benefitting from the program’s investments, putting a human face with the data to compellingly advocate for preserving AHSC funding. Story-collection goes beyond just residents of affordable housing, including individuals who have benefited from the expanded transit opportunities and increased economic development.

To demonstrate the broad support for AHSC funding, investAHSC is adding endorsements from organizations and local governments throughout the state. The campaign is disseminating an advocacy toolkit with factsheets and talking points advocates can use with their state legislators.

“People vital to our communities – like child care providers, health home aides, and service workers – aren’t getting paid enough to keep up with skyrocketing rents. Thus, local planning must ensure homes for people earning lower incomes are built near jobs and reliable public transit, so they aren’t forced to make long commutes by car. AHSC is an innovative affordable strategy that promotes fairness, health, and equity, and improves the environment for all of us. It’s a solution all sectors and levels of government are getting behind,” said Lisa Hershey, executive director of Housing California.

For more information about investAHSC contact Nur Kausar at Housing California at: nkausar@housingca.org