September 29, 2005 - From the September, 2005 issue

B of A's California President Calls for Cooperation, ‘Reinvention' in Effort to Provide Housing

Even if funds and contracts exist only on paper, communities and banks and their communities are so intertwined that the success of one nearly always depends on the success of the other. Even a national institution such as Bank of America understands its commitment to local regions, and it has generously sponsored CCRL. In her opening remarks at the Civic Entrepreneurs Summit, BofA California President Lynn Pike re-affirmed BofA's commitment to CCRL and to realizing California's dreams.

Lynn Pike

I'm honored to speak at CCRL's Civic Entrepreneur Summit today, particularly in the presence of such fine leaders as Sunne Wright McPeak, California Secretary of Business, Transportation, and Housing, Vicki Bradshaw, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, and Mayor of Long Beach Beverly O'Neill – three very prominent executives, and three very impressive women. But we've got a whole room full of important people here today, and I'll have more to say about that in just a moment. It is my privilege to add my voice to the many voices of welcome we will be hearing at this week's summit.

Bank of America's sponsorship of this conference is a natural outgrowth of our sponsorship last year of a series of economic vitality conversations, led by CCRL on behalf of Secretary McPeak. Those conversations have given hundreds of community, business, and local government leaders a chance to become directly involved in crafting plans and strategies to address the state's economic challenges and opportunities. This conference is a logical next step in that process.

It's also a logical fit with Bank of America's own regional structure. We have 21 regional market presidents throughout California. Each of them leads a team of local business executives who focus on identifying and addressing the key economic development needs in each of their communities. I guess you could say we conduct our own "economic vitality conversations."

As I talked to people here this morning and thought about the title of today's summit, "New Leadership for a New California," it brought to mind the old idea of California as a place that is continually reinventing itself. We reinvent ourselves because we have the creativity and vision that California is so justly famous for. But more importantly, we reinvent ourselves because we have to. Our needs are constantly changing. And, if necessity is the mother of invention, I guess it must also be the mother of re-invention.

The reason I bring this up is because when I say "we" are always reinventing ourselves, what I mean is "us" – those of us here in this room. We're the inventors. We're the ones with the vision, the big ideas, the experience, and the know-how, to propose change and to make it happen. Actually, there are a lot of different visions here in this room – a lot of big ideas about what needs to change, and how to make it happen. And by the time everybody goes home tomorrow, I hope we'll be just a little bit closer to doing what needs to be done.

At Bank of America, as we do our own regional planning, our local leadership teams have identified the same three key needs in almost all of our California communities: affordable housing, small business growth, and workforce development. I'd like to focus on affordable housing for just a moment, but, as we'll see, they're all interconnected.

I was pleased to see that there's going to be a workshop about California's housing needs later this afternoon. Of course, it's competing with a workshop on the movement of goods, one on rural innovation, and one on workforce readiness. You couldn't ask for a better illustration of my point about the diversity of our needs and our appetite for addressing them.

I'm sure we all remember when affordable housing was all about providing shelter for poor people. Those were different times. And don't get me wrong. It's still very much about that. At Bank of America, we've set a public goal for ourselves of investing at least $750 billion on developing underserved communities nationally over the next ten years. $80 billion of that will be spent here in California over the next three years; $50 billion of it on affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people.

But in California today, where the median price for a home is nearly half a million dollars, affordable housing is about so much more. It's about whether we can provide housing and home ownership opportunities to the men and women we are going to need to hold the jobs that fuel the state's economy. For a businessperson like myself, that's a very concrete reality. With our world-class education system here in California, we groom some of the best and brightest young minds. But far too often, we lose them to other states because they just can't afford to set down roots here.


So it's about whether we can continue to attract and keep the level of talent that has always kept us on the cutting edge. It's about whether the people we rely on to teach our children, police our streets, put out our fires, and keep our hospitals running – whether those people will be willing and able to make a life for themselves here – or whether they will be forced to settle in greener pastures.

At the end of the day, in an environment like California, affordable housing is all about whether the enormous economy of this state – the world's fifth largest – can continue to cycle upward or whether it will spiral downward.

For starters, Sunne's office estimates that California needs 225,000 new housing units per year to meet our annual population growth and keep prices from spiraling further out of control. That's a goal we haven't met since 1989. But it's a goal that Sunne's team is approaching in a balanced way, combining statewide standards with local accountability for multi-year planning. Affordable housing is not a very glamorous issue, but it's vital that we keep it in the forefront of the state's legislative and public policy agenda and not let it get pushed into the background as we work on other, equally compelling issues.

It's vital that we increase not just the number of housing units, but also housing choices, balancing single-family homes with apartments and condos. We must also build in the right places, so we don't increase urban and suburban sprawl or pave over valuable farmland and other environmentally sensitive ground. And we need to find ways to house people close to their jobs, so we're not forcing them into cars where they can't afford the gas and we can't afford the pollution. In other words, we have to avoid the phenomenon that Sunne so eloquently refers to as "dumb growth." We have to view housing as a fundamental component of our economic strategy, as a workforce development tool, and as a way to promote vibrant cities and rural communities to create sustainable economic growth.

One of the strengths of the CCRL is its intense focus on these types of interdependencies. And there are so many of them. Everybody has been thinking in the past few weeks about Hurricane Katrina and its horrifying aftermath. But who could have imagined that one of Katrina's legacies would be to awaken Americans to a new recognition of the size and depth of poverty in this country and the built-in social inequities of our disaster preparedness plans. That's a dramatic example, but it's those kinds of interdependencies that we always have to anticipate and factor into our thinking, about every issue we address. Otherwise, our schemes and solutions are bound to go the way of the levees and evacuation plans in New Orleans.

Creating affordable housing and economic opportunity is not a simple task, especially in the face of the rapid demographic and socio-economic change that is taking place throughout California. To quote President Kennedy: "The road ahead, to be sure, is a hard road, a road full of obstacles. But America has never long faltered in the face of new challenges."

As we continue the task of "reinventing" California and creating a new practical vision for our state, we would do well to remember the lesson that history has taught us, time and time again. The future of America often begins here in California.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.