This is the sixth in a six-part interview series with team coordinators from each of the six CCI Connect Capital initiative teams. Team coordinators help their multi-sector teams steward work to address their community’s shared priorities.
The Coachella Valley is known as a destination for concert-goers, wealthy, sun-seeking tourists, and retirees. In reality, the Southern California region is more complex. Easily reached from Los Angeles, the area is also an agricultural bread basket. The Valley’s population is split between those who can afford the expensive resort housing and vacation services and the area’s low-wage agricultural and service industry workers. One of the most visible examples of this split is the housing burden: almost 60 percent of households in the Valley pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. To improve economic opportunities for these residents, the Coachella Valley Connect Capital team seeks to significantly reduce this burden through an ambitious effort to build or preserve affordable and mixed-income housing.
In this interview, Rubyd Olvera, Housing Specialist, and Mike Walsh, Deputy Director of the Riverside County Economic Development Agency, share their excitement to implement a regional strategy to address some of the systemic challenges that have led to the Valley’s fragmented populations. Raised in the Coachella Valley, Rubyd is a passionate advocate for immigrant communities and affordable housing efforts. A long-time Valley resident, Mike has more than 11 years of experience in the acquisition, finance, and development of single family and multifamily affordable and permanent supportive housing.
What are you all trying to do?
We are trying to reduce rent burden in the Coachella Valley by increasing affordable housing by 10,000 units over the next 10 years. We are creating a pipeline of projects that encompasses the various communities in the region to ensure we are addressing the needs of those most affected by the economic disparities within the region. We lack units that are affordable in the Coachella Valley, but we also lack the capacity to address this gap. Along with producing more units, we want to raise the capacity of developers in the region and increase the number of advocates and residents voicing concerns about housing. We think this broader focus will enable us to be more successful in the long term. We are set on building more units, but by looking at the enabling environment conditions as well as the financing specifics of producing affordable housing, we can address the systemic gaps in our region that led us here.
How is this work building on what you all have been up to in your communities?
For a long time, we had been looking at affordable housing projects as a one-project process. We are proud of the projects we have been able to do but hadn’t thought through how each project was contributing to a larger goal. It has become clear to us that in a region like the Coachella Valley where our communities are interconnected based on the economy and the way we live, we need to approach affordable housing with a regional view, working collaboratively towards a common goal. We have segregated communities and need to address job and housing imbalances between the different jurisdictions. In California, every city is required to create a Housing Element that spells out housing goals, but that is not enough in a place like the Coachella Valley. Currently, job-poor communities produce more housing than job-rich cities and Connect Capital has helped shine a light on how to get to a scale-able level to address this across jurisdictional lines. Within the housing field, we have been forced to ask: “How can we do better?” AmeriCorps has a phrase, “It would be even better if…” that applies here. How can we collect resources from different communities to have a bigger impact? The Connect Capital initiative is also building our resident engagement muscle. There are resident engagement efforts underway, but we are making sure residents are at the decision-making tables, which is especially critical in this regional approach.
How are you hoping Connect Capital will help?
Connect Capital is helping to increase our regional capacity to address system-level problems. It has forced us to be hyper specific—not just talk about big goals but narrow down and develop a playbook of how we will get there. In the past year, we have built a strong foundation and have started making moves towards connecting capital that exists already to address larger systemic issues. It’s easier to move an object already in motion, as Robin often remarks, and Connect Capital has given us that initial push. It has given us the training to look at deficiencies and opportunities and think about these things at a broader scale. The initiative has also given us the opportunity to sit in a room with different sectors trying to address different issues but all with common challenges. There are a lot of moving parts in the work and Connect Capital has allowed us to think through the various components. It has expanded our skills and learning about how these issues affect not only our communities, but others, and connected us to efforts across the country.
What has been most interesting or surprising to you or your team so far?
We were surprised to find that where we would think there would be natural alignment with our efforts, there has been resistance because we end up pushing into someone’s perceived turf. It’s been surprising to see how resistant people are to doing things differently. It’s been of great value to have to own that fact, and to have to do the work to move people to a yes—and examine what needs to be changed to get people there.
What are you most excited about next?
Everything! We are especially excited to complete the first batch of projects in our pipeline through this process and ensure that resident voices remain included. We are also excited to see how this effort takes off beyond the two years of CCI’s support. How will we keep riding on our own when the CCI training wheels come off?
Anything else you’d like to share about the Coachella Valley work?
It’s important to understand how different parts of the Coachella Valley region are from each other. There aren’t many places where you have mobile homes with unpermitted parks in dire conditions in the same region as some of the most famous vacation resorts. As we work within these varied conditions, it’s been extremely valuable to have a partnership with Lift to Rise. Their ability to expand their capacity as an organization has allowed us to have different people working together on this as part of their day job. Thanks to this capacity, we have been able to take greater strides and been able to push and organize forward. We wouldn’t be where we are without their ability to convene the various stakeholders in our region.