Bay Area students pitched housing solution to Facebook, social media leader listened

MENLO PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- Building a better Bay Area is a shared responsibility. Along the Peninsula, a group of high school students is rising to the occasion.

The group pitched housing solutions to Facebook. Now, they're expecting big results in the form of small backyard housing units.

RELATED: More homeowners are building backyard housing units amid Bay Area housing crisis

The UC Berkeley-based Youth- Plan, Learn, Act, Now (Y-PLAN) initiative describes itself as an award-winning educational strategy that empowers young people to tackle real-world problems in their communities through project-based civic learning experiences.

Their solution will give low-income families in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park some much needed housing help.

The Bay Area's affordable housing problem is one that is very personal to 16-year-old Mia Palacios.

"There was a time where my family was homeless," Palacios told ABC7 News. "And I just... I would be grateful to have that."

She continued, "It's really sad. Last year, my best friend moved to Sacramento because her family couldn't afford to live here anymore."

From her family's Redwood City home, Palacios told ABC7 News, "It just goes to show the relationships that are broken through gentrification going on, and it's just really sad."

The Sequoia High School Sophomore is one of 20 students who explored housing needs within the two cities.

As part of a Facebook-backed study, students interviewed residents and researched. They quickly realized current housing issues could impact their futures.

RELATED: San Jose State University eyes Alquist building for possible affordable housing units

"The next step was very natural, for young people to shift from the problem to not being the victims," UC Berkeley Center for Cities + Schools Executive Director, Deborah McKoy said. "But being actors with change and engaging solution."

The group pitched an idea to Facebook-- put more granny flats in Bay Area backyards.

Student-led problem solving led to a pilot program to fund four units.

"These young people and this pilot ADU project could be an inspiration to the entire region," McKoy said. "About how really to step out of the crisis and step into the solution of creating more affordable housing in places of dignity for young people and their families in the Peninsula area, but across the Bay."

Through a partnership involving Facebook, the Menlo Park non-profit Soup, affordable housing developer EPA Can Do, and Y-PLAN, the granny flats were a go.

"This is how we should be building policy," Facebook Location Strategy Director, Menka Sethi told ABC7 News. "It's one thing to build policy in the halls of city councils and state governments, but when you get grassroots participation from young people who are literally our future, I don't think it gets any better. I don't think it gets any more meaningful than that."

Together, monetary contributions between Facebook and Soup will provide more than $1-million. Money will finance low-interest loans for low and moderate-income homeowners who couldn't afford it otherwise.

Of course, credit for the bright idea will go to the group of high school students.

"I was like, 'Wow! They actually listened, and I was part of making that happen,'" Palacios said.

Crews haven't started building yet, but permit applications are in.

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