Before landing my dream job running SVBC, I worked for 14 years as an advocate for affordable housing. In that role, I collaborated with affordable housing developers, an interesting and somewhat masochistic group of people.

Affordable housing developers are passionate about providing housing for those in need, so passionate that they are willing to roll boulders uphill every day. They cobble together funding from countless banks, government agencies, foundations, and institutions. They creatively convince landowners to sell them dirt, competing with for-profit developers who can probably pay more. They navigate complicated permitting processes. And they weather some of the most brutal NIMBY (not in my backyard) battles I’ve ever seen. If you thought the fight to keep the Lincoln Avenue Road Diet was tough, try telling a neighborhood that you’re going to put low-income housing next to them and see how many opponents show up to the city council meeting to hurl unfounded insults your way. This is the thankless job of an affordable housing developer.

When I moved over to SVBC, many of these do-gooder developers followed me. They knocked on the door and said, hey Shiloh, how do we “bike up” our developments? After all, if residents can bike instead of drive, that’s more money in their pockets to stash under the mattress or make ends meet. A 2015 survey by People for Bikes proves what we already knew, that those who make the least amount of money depend on the bicycle for transportation the most. That’s just one reason it makes sense to provide space and amenities for bikes in affordable housing developments.

At the same time, a new grant program came down from the State called the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities (AHSC) grant program. This program was one more way of implementing the State’s landmark greenhouse gas reductions legislation, Assembly Bill 32, and its companion land use legislation, Senate Bill 375, by linking dollars for affordable housing with sustainability. To qualify for AHSC money, affordable housing developers need to demonstrate how their communities will be more green.

What better way to create greener housing than to put the infrastructure and programs in place to encourage bicycling over driving?

After the third developer came knocking to ask for SVBC’s advice on how to bike up their developments, we decided to put a set of guidelines together. This set of guidelines is intended to help affordable housing developers understand the different ways that they can ensure that future residents can, with ease, use the bike for everyday needs. From bike storage, to bike maintenance, to bike share membership, these guidelines help developers incorporate a biking lifestyle into their new communities. One example of a developer that has worked closely with SVBC is First Community Housing (FCH).

First, FCH has always been the leader in green practices in affordable housing. So it is not surprising that they have taken biking very seriously. They were successful in the last round of Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities Cap and Trade funding with their St James Station TOD project. In partnership with the City of San Jose’s Departments of Transportation, Parks and Recreation, Arts and Culture, and the Housing Department, the project includes a site specific series of urban design capital improvements around the vicinity of the new North San Pedro Apartments development which will house formerly homeless Veterans in San Jose. Improvements include streetscape, a paseo park, pedestrian safety improvements, bike sharrows, support for open streets events, providing eco passes, a bike kitchen, and more.

FCH is also launching ongoing bicycle programs centered on education, access, safety/ridership, and maintenance.  In November, their Sustainable Design Coordinator worked with SVBC and the Bay Area Bike Mobile Clinic on hosting a 3-hour bike class and clinic for residents at Fourth Street Apartments in San Jose (below). Thank you to the Spare the Air Youth (STAY) program for providing funding for these valuable family biking workshops!

But that’s not all! In 2015, First Community created a Bicycle Facilities Standards Manual which includes guidance for specifying, designing, purchasing and maintaining bicycle-related facilities at each of their 20 affordable housing properties in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. This document included in depth site analyses of all 20 affordable housing properties, resident surveys and input from management and maintenance to help inform best practices for siting and selecting items such as secure storage, public racks, repair kiosks, and more. They are currently implementing these Standards across their portfolio as well as in all new developments. They have also adopted 5 goals for their communities:

  • Establish a bike culture
  • Increase biking convenience
  • Provide biking capacity
  • Establish biking community
  • Foster biking communication

Thank you First Community Housing for providing housing to those most in need and ensuring that FCH homes accommodate the biking needs and desires of residents.