Supporting SEIU State Public Banking Legislation

HR&A Advisors worked with a coalition of racial and economic justice organizations, financial access advocates, and labor unions, including the California Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the California Public Banking Alliance, to provide analysis of the financial and social impacts of unfair banking access to support advocacy for the California Public Banking Option Act (AB-1177). Our findings showed how inadequate and disparate access to free and safe banking accounts results in billions of dollars lost to the California economy annually, contributes to people remaining in poverty, and increases the use of taxpayer dollars towards providing social services.  

In October 2021, the California Assembly and Senate passed the California Public Banking Option Act and Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law in a move that sets the foundation for providing universal access to banking that will benefit households, local economies, and taxpayers. This is the first bill in the nation guaranteeing universal banking access, paving the way towards giving all Californians access to high-quality, low-cost financial services. 80.7% of unbanked Californians earn less than $15 per hour, and nearly half of Black and 41.1% of Hispanic households in California are unbanked or underbanked. Unbanked communities lack access to basic financial services — like checking and savings accounts — that are critical to financial stability.  


HR&A Advisors novel analysis examined who is not being served by the formal banking system, where they live, what the financial costs are to individuals and to the economy of un- and under-banking, and the economic benefits of the legislation to California. AB-1177 established a framework to study the feasibility and implement the CalAccount public banking option program, an alternative to the high fees that many Californians face from existing predatory banking options that stand as a barrier to wealth accumulation. 


Our analysis delineated how the CalAccount program could offer critical services to Californians and become self-sufficient within the next five years. CalAccount could draw on existing state programs to reach a customer base of millions of Californians resulting in an estimated $3.3 billion in savings for low-income households, potentially creating 22,000 jobs, and boosting the California economy by an estimated $4.2 billion by redirecting spending away from costly interest and fees.   



Photo: Louis Velazquez

FLOW Youth Center

HR&A has been working with a coalition of advocacy groups including JusticeLA (JLA) and Designing Justice+Designing Spaces (DJDS) in their efforts to advance projects around L.A. County’s transformative Care First Community Investment (CFCI). JusticeLA is a collaborative of several L.A. based organizations organizing with communities to disrupt where and how L.A. County incarcerates justice-involved individuals. DJDS is the nation’s foremost design nonprofit working to build and transform communities through restorative Justice. DJDS will steward an authentic, ground up engagement effort with community to design, build and operate new infrastructure that challenges the traditional paradigm around justice and incarceration. HR&A developed a concept plan for a pilot campus in Long Beach that builds on DJDS’s argument: that community-based solutions including mental health, substance abuse treatment, jail diversion, and quality design can disrupt the revolving door for justice-involved individuals.  In 2022, DJDS, JLA, and HR&A released a concept paper, proposing the development of a piece of the FLOW (For the Love of Well-being) Youth Center.

The FLOW Youth Center will be a new prototype for juvenile restorative justice, designed to break the cycle of investing in punishment by reinvesting in spaces and programs focused on care and healing. The Center will proactively address the root causes of youth incarceration and the lack of physical infrastructure and associated programming for holistic health services, education, and employment. Our concept paper describes an innovative and replicable process for radically inclusive, equitable, community-engaged design for restorative justice.


HR&A worked with JLA and DJDS to develop a robust engagement strategy and the estimated time and budget to complete the work outlined within the concept plan. With this concept paper as a guide for development, DJDS is currently looking for partners in government and philanthropy to invest in their concept development fund and inspire grass roots efforts to design and build these centers throughout Los Angeles and the country. We look forward to continuing this partnership as DJDS and JusticeLA work with communities to transform the built environment and L.A.’s criminal justice system.

Richmond Business Recovery Action Plan

There is no comprehensive playbook for how local communities should recover from COVID-19, but it’s critical to balance meeting immediate needs with building a more equitable and resilient economy.

In Richmond, HR&A collaborated with the City and the Economic Development Commission to develop guiding principles for inclusive recovery that set the foundation for a comprehensive Business Recovery Action Plan focused on addressing the short-term needs of small and locally-owned businesses. The team identified recovery needs and available resources and made recommendations such as expanding available grants for small businesses, often owned by people of color and reluctant to take on additional debt in an uncertain economic environment; removing barriers to access and consolidating information about City services, recovery resources, and regulatory approvals; and identifying opportunities to use federal recovery dollars to support workforce recovery and capital improvements.




The plan focused on identifying priority actions that could be meaningfully advanced within a six-month timeframe and that aligned with equitable recovery principles including addressing community needs, building local capacity, and improving equitable access. HR&A has since helped the City to advance several recovery actions including the creation of a new Economic Development Working Group, and to identify longer-term economic development strategies with a focus on building the capacity of the City and local businesses. As we help advance the plan, including forming the initial agenda for the multi-stakeholder economic working group and framing a buy local campaign, we look forward to applying lessons to other communities across California and beyond. The City of Richmond continues to demonstrate its commitment to supporting underserved residents and recently retained HR&A to lead a community-centered engagement process for allocating the City’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars.

SDSU Mission Valley Innovation District Development

Universities across the country are taking on new roles to increase opportunity for their students, faculty, and surrounding communities by creating inclusive spaces for innovation.

San Diego State University (SDSU) made the bold move to purchase a 135-acre site from the City of San Diego to create SDSU Mission Valley, a mixed-use, transit-oriented community that will help expand SDSU’s educational, research, and entrepreneurial missions. This site will include a 1.6 million square foot Innovation District, up to 4,600 residential units, a multi-use stadium, and over 80 acres of parks and open space. The entire project will increase career opportunities for SDSU’s 35,000 students, 54% of whom are students of color, and grow SDSU’s $5.7 billion annual impact on the San Diego region.


Quidel Corporation, a provider of rapid diagnostic testing solutions, cellular-based virology assays and molecular diagnostic systems, was announced in July of 2022 as the first partner in the Innovation District and a Founding Partner at SDSU’s Snapdragon Stadium. SDSU expects more private, public and non-profit-sector partners to be announced in the coming months, who will contribute to interdisciplinary hubs of research and innovation.


We collaborated with SDSU to refine a vision and business plan for the Innovation District and to guide refinement of a master plan for the district. We are currently supporting the procurement of a developer to construct as much as 500,000 square feet of space within the Innovation District, where SDSU will expand its research presence to anchor the new development.


SDSU Innovation District Quad and Public Realm, Image courtesy of SDSU.

Minimum standards for JPA-sponsored, California Middle Income Housing Conversion Transactions

The housing supply crisis in California is being addressed through a wide range of critical yet complex public and private investments. But very few resources support new housing for middle-income households.

In the last two years, three California Joint Powers Authorities (“JPA”) and their developer partners, with approval from local governments, have originated more than $5 billion of tax-exempt bonds paired with property tax exemptions to finance acquisition of 9,000 apartments, which will be converted into affordable rentals for middle-income households. The total financing exceeds the current $3.7 billion annual allocations of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits for low- and very low-income households in California.


Our work with local governments across the state has been focused on ensuring that these investments maximize public benefits and meet local policy objectives. Our project evaluations help guide negotiations for this new type of transaction and illuminate the issues that local governments in California should consider before approving participation in these transactions.


A white paper, co-authored with the California Housing Partnership and CSG Advisors, guides our analysis approach and highlights the urgent need for local governments to carefully weigh the merits of middle-income housing JPA bond transaction proposals. As a result of this work, Assembly Member Ward proposed AB 1850 to establish minimum standards for JPA-sponsored middle-income conversion transactions.


Project evaluation examples include two for City of Long Beach, where we helped negotiate better terms for a 215-unit building conversion, the Oceanaire and new construction of a 580 units, the Midblock Civic Center.


Image courtesy of Oceanaire

Los Angeles County Development Authority Loan Program

Since 1999, HR&A has provided on-call affordable housing advisory services to the CDA and the County’s Housing Authority, and since 2007, to the Department of Mental Health.


The County of Los Angeles administers several loan programs to fund permanent supportive and other forms of affordable housing located in cities and unincorporated areas throughout the County. These include an annual Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) program administered by the Community Development Authority (CDA), originally using litigation settlement funds derived from the former City of Industry redevelopment project area, and later, allocations from the County General Fund and other sources. The CDA requires technical assistance to review and evaluate non-profit developer loan applications for allocations of available funds. In 2007, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health was awarded an initial $116 million allocation from the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), a voter-approved initiative charged with expanding mental health services in the state of California. Among its many initiatives the Act allocated funding to each county to provide pre-development, permanent financing, and capitalized operating subsidies for new, permanent supportive housing for persons with serious mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. But the County’s Department of Mental Health lacked expertise to design and implement the program and evaluate applications for use of its funds.


HR&A has supported implementation of the CDA’s NOFA loan program by reviewing and scoring dozens of detailed competitive developer proposals, and for some projects awarded funding, conducting due diligence reviews, assisting applicants and County staff to finalize deal structures, drafting complex loan documents and providing other program implementation services, including project financing review, loan evaluation, and loan underwriting. For the County’s MHSA Housing Program, HR&A assisted staff to design all program operating and administrative procedures and NOFAs, evaluated applications from non-profit developers, and performed more detailed financial reviews for applications selected for funding.



Through HR&A’s work for the CDA, more than 100 projects have received funding from the its programs, which has been critical to securing federal low-income tax credits to complete the capital stack needed for total project financing. For the MHSA Housing Program, about $138 million has been committed to 52 affordable housing developments to date, with most of the projects either completed or under construction. Projects selected for funding will leverage over $400 million from other sources to produce about 2,500 units of affordable housing, of which 1,118 are targeted to MSHA Housing Program clients. Under both County programs new permanent supportive affordable housing, targeted to a range of populations – including seniors, families, and transitional-age youth – will be developed in all five Supervisorial Districts and nearly all of the County’s eight mental health services areas.

Creating a Racial Equity Agenda for the United States Conference of Mayors

The United States Conference of Mayors developed a comprehensive understanding of the programs, policies, and projects that are effectively advancing racial equity across the country.


Across the country, discriminatory policies and practices have created lasting disparities in social and economic outcomes across races. To work against this harmful legacy, the United States Conference of Mayors, with its strong tradition of leadership on issues of civil rights and social justice, is using its national platform to help mayors and cities understand and implement the policies and practices that can reduce racial inequities in cities.
The organization engaged HR&A to survey existing racial equity programs in cities and create a set of recommendations for how it could help member cities proactively make meaningful change in their policies and practices.


To understand their most pressing challenges, we interviewed mayors and staff from 13 cities. The collective feedback showed that some cities are incorporating racial equity through place-based initiatives, programmatic initiatives, and policy change. Additionally, cities are seeking help from external partners to directly address race in their communities. We learned the importance of mayoral leadership and that clear definitions of equity are needed to translate commitments into practice. Synthesizing our findings, we outlined the ways that the U.S. Conference of Mayors could serve as an important convener for mayors and a source of best practice and technical assistance.
Our deepest insight emerged from our conversations with economic development departments. Unlike many social services, these functions are siloed from conversations on racial disparity even though they are charged with decisions that impact the physical, demographic, and economic realities of communities. This insight helped us design a program that would connect these departments with training, resources, and technical assistance to embed equity into daily practice.


Joint Development Guidelines for Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Corridor

LA Metro is supporting the economic and physical development of Los Angeles communities through its Transit-Oriented Communities Program.


In 2008, Los Angeles County voters showed their overwhelming support for Measure R, which solidified a groundbreaking plan to double the length of the commuter rail system by 2035. To ensure that this major investment in the rail network produces wide-ranging benefits in the communities that it serves, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) launched the Transit-Oriented Communities Demonstration Program, a comprehensive approach to facilitating joint-development on the land it owns around transit stations.
As part of the program’s implementation, Metro engaged HR&A to support the development of program and design guidelines that incorporate broad community objectives – like community development, economic development, and multi-modal mobility – into joint development projects along the Crenshaw/LAX light rail corridor.


To define the appropriate scale and character of supportable development at each station area, HR&A analyzed market demand for key land uses at each station and tested the financial feasibility of potential development scenarios through pro forma financial modeling. Our financial feasibility testing placed a significant emphasis on potential opportunities that would likely result with the introduction of rail transit.
Also, to incorporate community input and feedback, HR&A attended and facilitated a series of community stakeholder meetings at each station area.
After using HR&A’s recommendations to develop overarching vision and design guidelines, Metro issued final development guidelines for the Fairview Heights and Expo/Crenshaw station areas in June 2016.


Building upon the development guidelines, Metro issued a Request for Proposals for a joint-development opportunity at the Expo/Crenshaw Station and selected a subsidiary of Watt Companies, a nationally recognized real estate investment and development firm, for a six-month exclusive negotiation agreement.
The Watt Companies’ initial proposal included many of the program elements recommended by HR&A – affordable housing for residents at the very low-income level, nearly 50,000 square feet of community-serving space, as well as retail spaces targeting locally-owned businesses.

Capacity Building for the National Disaster Resilience Competition

The National Disaster Resilience Competition institutionalized the practice of resilience in cities across the country.


To confront increasing physical vulnerability to the effects of climate change and decreasing public funding available for infrastructure and community development, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation partnered to transform resilience building policy and practice through the National Disaster Resilience Competition. In 2014, President Obama allocated $1 billion in HUD funding to competition winners, which were selected from places that suffered presidentially-declared disasters between 2011 and 2013.


HR&A supported the Rockefeller Foundation’s management of the program, providing technical support for 67 cities, states, and counties as each prepared competition submissions. This work ensured that the projects and programs would respond to a broad array of climate-related risk, and address social, economic and environmental challenges. HR&A also designed and delivered a capacity-building program for participants that provided individual technical support to teams to guide them through proposal development; regional “Resilience Academies” that brought together a network of experts to support teams in assessing risk and developing strategies and projects to address them; and tools and other resources to help interpret HUD guidance.


The competition enhanced local, state, and regional resilience techniques by offering resources and encouraging partnerships to amplify potential financial and social benefits activated by federal funds. In 2016, HUD announced the 13 winning cities, states, and counties of the $1 billion competition. Funded projects include state watershed, coastal protection, community flood grant, and public housing resilience pilot programs; and coastal wetland and rural river resilience efforts among other projects.
Following the awards, the Rockefeller Foundation engaged HR&A to incorporate workshop teachings into a permanent resilience curriculum, which was deployed across the world through the Global Resilience Academy.

Solicitation & Transaction Management for the Salesforce Transit Center

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority successfully procured a facility management and programming partner for the $2.26 billion Salesforce Transit Center.


The Transbay Joint Powers Authority was established to design, build, operate, and maintain the world-class Salesforce Transit Center in downtown San Francisco. Intent on maintaining its compact team and clear focus on transit, the Authority sought a private-sector partner to manage the facility’s 90,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, rooftop park, robust public art program, and significant digital advertising assets.
The Authority’s leadership engaged HR&A to identify the appropriate public-private partnership structure and solicitation process that would attract the right partner for this iconic piece of American infrastructure.


Working closely with the Authority’s leadership, the team defined a set of principles for a public-private partnership structure that would enable the Authority to maintain ownership of the transit center, generate an economic return, retain oversight of center operations, minimize risk associated with operations and maintenance of the non-transit program, and most importantly – provide a world class experience for the 50,000 daily riders, workers, and shoppers who will visit the transit center.
With these principles in place, HR&A drafted and released a solicitation, and marketed the opportunity to local and national real estate development, facilities, open space, and digital media management firms. The team guided the Authority’s evaluation committee through the respondent review, interview, and selection of the preferred asset management team.
To ensure the agreement terms incentivized performance and a timely ramp-up to stabilization of operations, HR&A worked with the Authority’s legal counsel through negotiations.


After attracting a number of strong proposals and selecting a preferred asset manager, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority executed an asset management agreement meeting all of its criteria with an interdisciplinary team led by Lincoln Property Company.