SAN JOSE, CALIF.—Kevin Zwick's job is to make Silicon Valley a more affordable place to live.

That's no easy feat in a region where the median home sales price is about $550,000, making it one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation.

“There's such a tremendous need for affordable housing in Silicon Valley,” says Zwick, who has led the Housing Trust of Santa Clara County for the past two years. “The more creative solutions we can bring, the better.”

The Trust awards $5 million to $10 million each year in loans and grants through three main program areas—grants to agencies working with the homeless, loans to developers to build multifamily rental housing, and loans to first-time homebuyers.

This year, the group started a fourth program to assist neighborhoods and homeowners hit by foreclosures. The Trust is the lead entity in a consortium that received $25 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds.

Under Zwick's leadership, the Trust has launched several other initiatives as well, including the Safety Net Capital Improvement (SNCI) program. For many operators of transitional and permanent housing alike for the homeless, one of the biggest challenges is raising money to rehabilitate their buildings. The new program provides up to $200,000 per provider to make structural or energy-efficiency improvements. The Trust recently awarded about $700,000 in grants to six agencies in SNCI's initial round.

From social services to development

Zwick, 34, entered the affordable housing industry through the social services and community organizing ranks. He began his career as a service coordinator at Project Open Hand in Oakland, Calif., a food program that assists people with HIV, AIDS, and other chronic illnesses.

“It took me into the homes of a lot of people who were living assistance check to assistance check in substandard housing,” says Zwick, who has a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and a master's in nonprofit administration from the University of San Francisco.

For the most part, people in Project Open Hand's programs were managing their illnesses pretty well, but Zwick and others saw a disturbing pattern. When people's housing situations became tenuous, their health dropped precipitously. “It made me see that housing for many people is life and death,” he says.

From there, Zwick was drawn toward community development. He joined the Industrial Areas Foundation, a group that was examining gentrification patterns in the region, and then Lenders for Community Development, where he worked in the loan program and learned about affordable housing finance.

In 2001, he joined Affordable Housing Associates (AHA), a regional nonprofit developer. During his seven years at the organization, he rose from assistant project manager to deputy executive director. One of his strengths was acquiring new sites. While at the organization, he significantly increased its development pipeline, says Susan Friedland, AHA executive director.

“The affordable housing field is very fortunate that Kevin has chosen to devote his intelligence, creativity, and extraordinary skills to bettering the lives of low-income families,” she says.

Zwick then joined the Housing Trust in late 2008.

Not content to rest, Zwick continues to look for ways to expand the Trust. The group is working to become a community development financial institution, which would help capitalize a new loan fund with conventional lenders and Silicon Valley companies.

Zwick and his wife, Helen, have two children, Noralee and Daniel.