The Disney Resort donated $5 million to a revitalized housing trust fund, kickstarting a business-backed campaign to raise cash for housing the homeless, Orange County business leaders said Monday, March 4.
The low-key Orange County Housing Trust, incorporated in 2010 and operating on a small budget, will “rise as a Phoenix” under a partnership between the Orange County Business Council and NeighborWorks Orange County, a nonprofit housing assistance agency, said Lucy Dunn, business council chief executive.
The goal is to make “last-mile” loans available to affordable housing projects that already have secured most of their funding, providing enough capital to push proposed developments “across the finish line,” backers said.
“There has been a heightened focus on the critical issue of homelessness in Orange County,” said Steve Churm, past chairman of the Orange County Business Council board and a new board member of the O.C. Housing Trust. “We as a business community have a responsibility to address this.”
The announcement comes a year after the county’s homeless crisis came to a head, with cities and advocates squaring off in court over accusations of government inaction.
The trust has already committed to funding a four-story, 102-unit affordable housing development Jamboree Housing Corp. is planning at the corner of Manchester and Orangewood avenues, using money from Disney’s contribution.
Disney Resort President Josh D’Amaro hopes the company’s contribution will spur more companies to donate, saying when Disney acts, others take notice.
“I feel we do have a responsibility,” D’Amaro said. “I think about Anaheim not just as where we do business, but this is our home.”
Anaheim, the county’s most populous city, has a poverty rate of 16 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county’s poverty rate stands at 11.5 percent.
The reinvigorated housing trust comes to life just as local governments are launching another trust fund to support new affordable housing construction. In September, the state Legislature approved the creation of the Orange County Housing Finance Trust, jointly run by the county and its 34 cities.
Like the housing trust, the finance trust seeks to finance construction of supportive housing for homeless people and affordable housing for low-income residents but with public dollars, said David Kiff, interim executive director of the Association of California Cities-Orange County.
Kiff said the county Board of Supervisors and local cities will be deciding whether to join the new “joint powers authority,” which likely will hold its first meeting in May or June.
Initial funding will come from Proposition 1, the $4 billion affordable housing bond package state voters approved in November, Kiff said. The ballot measure includes about $300 million to support local housing trusts. Additional funding sources include revenue from a newly created real estate document filing fee and matching funds from other sources.
The finance trust “is more about maximizing Orange County’s share of public dollars,” Kiff said. He and others said both trusts are needed because some businesses are reluctant to contribute to a fund run by elected officials.
Leaders of NeighborWorks long envisioned an Orange County trust fund patterned after the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, which raises capital from the tech sector and other businesses to help fund affordable housing construction throughout the Bay Area.
Over the past five years, the O.C. Housing Trust leveraged about $1.5 million to finance numerous building projects providing permanent housing for the homeless – as opposed to temporary shelters, said NeighborWorks CEO Helen O’Sullivan, who also is the housing trust’s executive director. There’s no shortage of proposals on the drawing boards that could benefit from additional financing, she said.
The new partnership “will really expand our capacity to help local developers build affordable and permanent supportive housing, which is really much needed,” O’Sullivan said.
Asked why the business community didn’t invest sooner in the housing trust, Churm said, “We just reached an inflection point maybe we weren’t at 10 years ago.”
A UC Irvine study reported two years ago that homelessness costs local government, housing agencies, hospitals and other entities about $299 million a year. Orange County could save $42 million a year in health care, law enforcement and other expenses by placing the chronically homeless in permanent housing, the study concluded.
Local governments also cracked down on more than 700 people camping out along the Santa Ana River, sparking a legal battle before U.S. District Judge David Carter. The case resulted in court settlements to use public funds to create homeless shelters and expand the number of temporary beds while pursuing permanent solutions.
“As businesses, this was not a good economic indicator for Orange County,” Dunn said of publicity the homeless controversies drew.
The UCI study found the vast majority of Orange County’s homeless are longtime residents who ended up on the streets mainly due to evictions, foreclosures, insufficient income or lost employment.
“These are our workers. These are our families,” Dunn said. “Every little piece helps solve the problem.”
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