SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT (publ. 10/29/2013, page A4)
An earlier version of a story about Matt Huerta of Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley incorrectly reported the family member who helped start a panaderia (bakery). It was his grandfather, not his parents.

Matt Huerta's roots are in affordable housing.

Huerta, executive director of nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley, was born in his young parents' subsidized housing unit in Visalia in California's Central Valley. He studied community and regional development at UC Davis, where as student body president he worked with city and county officials to make affordable housing for students more available. Affordable housing has been his career ever since.

Matt Huerta, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley.
Matt Huerta, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley. ( handout )

Huerta joined the Silicon Valley agency as its director in July 2011, after developing low-income housing for families and seniors in Woodland, Sacramento and Davis and affordable housing throughout the Central Coast.

In May, the nonprofit moved to new offices in downtown San Jose, where it provides counseling to low- to moderate-income would-be home owners, finds below-market-rate homes for them to buy and helps them with affordable mortgages. Through one program called "first look," it assists homebuyers in the five-county area of Alameda, Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey.

He spoke with this paper at the organization's new downtown office. The interview was edited for length.


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Q: How did your commitment to affordable housing begin?

A: My parents started out real young, and spent a few years living in subsidized housing in Visalia -- that's where I was born. They worked hard -- my mother as a manager at Mervyns and father at a glass shop -- and eventually were able to buy a home. So it's a very personal thing for me. I look back, and I know the stability of our family, and our access to services, and even my higher education, were part and parcel of their access to good home ownership.

Q: What's standing in the way of home ownership for families starting out now in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area? Isn't household income around six figures, one of the highest in the state?

A: People look at me like I'm crazy at national conferences. They say you don't have any problems in Silicon Valley. But actually, there's a third to half of the community that doesn't earn six figures.

Q: Stratospheric housing prices must present another obstacle.

A: Affordable housing means the $300,000 to $400,000 range. The challenge for developers who are building new homes is that there's very little incentive to build at these lower price levels. But in some communities they are required to build a percentage of affordable units. We play a role in providing them with buyers in Morgan Hill, Los Gatos and Santa Clara. Not yet in San Jose, but I would like to reach out to developers to let them know that our service could be a big asset for them in finding buyers.

Q: Isn't there fierce competition for existing resale houses from investors who can pay cash on the barrel head?

A: Absolutely, that's one of biggest problems homebuyers face. You get them ready. They're very qualified, have great credit, have saved and have money for the down payment, have money in reserve and good employment. And then they put in bids and get beat out by all-cash investors. So a program we're going to roll out in the coming months will work with Realtors who have listings and we will make an all-cash offer on behalf of our client. As an example, we will qualify somebody for our first mortgage product -- they'll have financing from us -- and we'll find a home and then we'll make an all-cash offer to incentivize the selling agent to sell to our buyer. I'm raising about $3 million from national nonprofits to do this.

Q: There was a tremendous amount of predatory lending during the housing bubble. Do you still see the impact of that today?

A: Unfortunately, Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley has seen literally thousands of families who have faced foreclosure in the last few years. While it's dramatically reduced over the last year and a half, there's still a steady flow of anywhere from 20 to 50 families a month that are facing foreclosure. So we maintain a staff to help these families keep their homes.

Q: What can you do for them?

A: Help them with loan modifications. Help them access state and federal programs.

Q: Four big lenders had to commit $25 billion to a National Mortgage Settlement, and California now has a Homeowner Bill of Rights. How have those programs worked out locally?

A: While the National Mortgage Settlement and the Homeowner Bill of Rights have helped homeowners, they also add layers of complexity that didn't exist before. So there's more opportunity for scammers to go to households and say "I'm with HUD," or "I'm with Keep Your Home California," and take advantage of these families. If there's not a true blue counseling agency such as ours and several others in the valley, they're just going to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous lawyers and real estate agents.

Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him at Twitter.com/petecarey.

Matt Huerta

Born: Visalia
Age: 35
Education: Attended UC Davis, majored in community and regional development; co-founded the Progressive Student Coalition of UC Davis
Home: Salinas; member of the Salinas Planning Commission
Work: Executive director, Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley; more than 12 years in affordable housing and community development
Family: Married, three children; spouse Diana teaches middle school in Salinas
Awards: New Leaders Council 40 Under 40 Entrepreneurship Award, 2013; Silicon Valley Latino Magazine 40 Under 40 Latinos2Watch Award 2013

Five things to know about Matt Huerta

He's a political news junkie.
He's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan.
He does a great impression of ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
His favorite band is Rage Against the Machine.
His favorite dessert is jumbo marshmallows.