Fueling speculation that it might begin funding efforts to allay the Bay Area's housing crisis, representatives from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative met with local housing experts, real estate groups, and academics last summer in talks that were "serious, but exploratory and non-specific" according to sources at The Information. That talk has now turned to action in the form of two new grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a charitable corporation funded by the valuable Facebook stock owned by company CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan. The organization will grant $500,000 to the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, whose mission is to research and develop Bay Area housing solutions, and $3.1 million to Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, whose programs and lawyers fight evictions and displacement.
David Plouffe, president of policy and advocacy for the initiative, announced the grants today, although the Mercury News had advanced word of them. Plouffe, notably, was the former 2008 campaign manager for Barack Obama. "While we recognize that there is no single approach to solving the Bay Area’s housing crisis, it’s clear that we need to both increase the availability of affordable housing, and help families stay in their homes and neighborhoods," Plouffe writes according to a post on Facebook announcing the grants. "These grants will support those working to help families in immediate crisis while supporting research into new ideas to find a long-term solution - a two-step strategy that will guide much of our policy and advocacy work moving forward."
Chan and Zuckerberg announced their philanthropic endeavor in December 2015 after the birth of their child, a pledge to give away 99 percent of their combined Facebook stock to charitable causes, the equivalent of $45 billion dollars at the time. Upon further inspection of SEC filings, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative turned out not to be a charity in the traditional sense, but instead, a corporation with a charitable focus. "The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will pursue its mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates, in each case with the goal of generating positive impact in areas of great need,” a release clarified at the time. “Any profits from investments in companies will be used to fund additional work to advance the mission.”
As for the recent contribution of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, "This grant will have an immediate, measurable impact by enabling us to hire additional legal staff to represent families at risk of displacement, including by defending against forced eviction," reads a statement from the team at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. "Moreover, we will double-down on our anti-displacement policy efforts such as advocating for tenant protections like rent stabilization and just cause for eviction."
According to a statement from The Terner Center for Housing Innovation at Berkeley, "this gift will allow us to expand our work developing and testing the bold policy ideas and private sector innovations needed to solve housing challenges here in the Bay Area and across the country."
For an example of the Terner Center's work, the Mercury News spoke with faculty director Carol Galante, who also has a relationship to Obama in that she ran the Federal Housing Administration under him as President. The Center, she says, is “right now editing a paper on off-site construction and what it would take to ramp that up," one effort to reduce construction times. In general, the Center is "trying to move the dial on the housing dialogue at the policy level,” Galante says.
In the meantime, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, might approach its founders and namesakes regarding their Palo Alto estate, surrounded by four homes that the family had purchased and planned to demolish as of last spring.