It was a pleasure to reconnect with the City of Burlingame this year, our first partner in San Mateo County’s Home for All Community Engagement Learning Network. Together in 2018 we piloted a redesign of how to convene local communities for broader and deeper mutual learning about options for addressing the region’s most pressing issue: affordable housing. The award-winning collaboration on
Burlingame Talks Together about Housing led to a series of community-supported housing policies that have been bearing fruit – now including a growing fund for affordable housing based on commercial linkage fees.
At Common Knowledge, we engage in projects that are authentic in their intent to facilitate collective learning across the entire ecosystem of a community, not just a narrow “ego” system of elected or appointed leaders. We respect how much Burlingame’s mayor, vice mayor and senior staff have consistently committed to co-cultivating a wide lens on the long view for how Burlingame can support as diverse a community as possible with a robust mix of occupations and income levels.
The City of Burlingame’s commercial linkage fee policy has started generating funds for affordable workforce housing, and these one-time funds are slated to grow to $65 million. Once again, Burlingame chose to invest in extended community education and listening before deciding how to invest the funds, convening the “Housing Opportunity, Priorities, and Education (HOPE)” Community Advisory Committee. These are new funds and the task was not to decide on specific projects but rather to co-develop guidelines for what opportunities to pursue.
Community members representing a range of experiences and relationships with different parts of the Burlingame community were invited to shape guidelines for the disbursement of the City’s housing funds. As part of facilitating the HOPE Community Advisory Committee, Common Knowledge worked with staff to first ground the group in “just enough” basic information to understand the parameters of these new funds through an FAQ that responded to the group’s initial questions.
Each meeting in the series of four was designed based on the Committee’s evolving understanding of the trade-offs involved in different ways of prioritizing the funds. Although they brought different perspectives on workers with below average income – and the extremely technical nature of funding affordable housing – each participant in the HOPE Community Advisory Committee made substantive contributions to the group’s final report for the City.
The problems facing workers in retail, service jobs and other jobs with below average income are acute and impact local communities in many ways. This Community Advisory Committee invested time in jointly developing a situation awareness that included multiple essential perspectives. The group demonstrated the capacity for Council members and diverse community members to listen together – including the emotions, the edges, the frustrations – and learn together about what isn’t possible and also what could be possible for the City to do with the funds. HOPE committee participants shared how much they appreciated volunteering for this process, calling out the welcoming environment, trust and camaraderie that developed:
“The group did the hard work to dig into what it means.”
“We learned from each other.”
“The report made us feel really heard.”
“This is a big opportunity and I’m glad I was able to contribute.”
As future decisions arise, Burlingame’s Council Housing Fund Subcommittee indicated they will contact HOPE CAC members for additional guidance. At Common Knowledge, we want to express our gratitude for everyone involved as they demonstrated the potency of investing time and energy in mutual learning to benefit the community they all care so much about.