Collaborative efforts help San Jose create housing for vulnerable populations

By Jacob Bourne

Jumper’s June 2017 Report ranks San Jose as third in the nation for highest housing rental rates, with a median rent at $2,370 for a one bedroom unit. While middle and low-income workers struggle to afford the cost of living in San Jose, like many other cities in the Bay Area, those with very low or no incomes, often can’t access or remain in housing without external assistance. The dramatic rise in housing costs that occurred in the years following the Recession has resulted in increasing rates of homelessness, especially in San Jose. Compounding the issue, over the course of the year following the dissolution of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency in 2012, the City lost $40 million in funding for the creation of new affordable housing.

Officials in the City’s Housing Division were aware of the broad spectrum of demographics without adequate shelter including disabled veterans, youth aging out of the foster care system and chronically homeless individuals who often need extra services like mental health care. However, the resources to build residences equipped with access to social services catering to these populations were lacking.

It’s a supply issue and there’s a wide spectrum within the homeless population that need access to housing

“We’re faced with similar issues in San Jose as in San Francisco and Oakland, though it’s not experienced as much in smaller Bay Area cities and suburbs,” said Patrick Heisinger, senior development officer, Inclusionary Housing, San Jose. “There’s a lack of affordable housing and especially a lack of low income housing. It’s a supply issue and there’s a wide spectrum within the homeless population that need access to housing.”

A federally funded survey on homelessness estimates that the homeless population in San Jose is about 4,000, compared to 6,000 in Santa Clara County as a whole. Driven by the worrisome data, in 2013, City staff sought direction from City Council on ways how to create diverse housing opportunities. Since then, the City has worked to bolster affordable housing access by adopting inclusionary zoning, collecting impact fees, incentivizing landlords to accept housing vouchers for veterans and converting motels to short-term transitional homeless housing. According to Kristen Clements, division manager of San Jose’s Housing Department, the current initiatives have taken a collaborative effort between Santa Clara County, the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara, the City of San Jose and community based organizations.

“San Jose faces an affordable housing crisis, that is felt acutely by the over 4,000 residents who find themselves homeless each night and those thousands more who are working multiple jobs just to pay rent. We must do more, using whatever innovative methods we can, to address the need to create more affordable housing options in our community,” stated Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Three potential housing projects were discussed at a June City Council hearing as an initial step prior to a formal planning process for each. An Exclusive Negotiating Agreement and predevelopment loan of up to $200,000 was authorized with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates for future development of affordable housing at 226 Balbach Avenue. There was some discussion about the units potentially serving local artists. A second ENA was struck with Eden Housing for future affordable housing development at 5647 Gallup Drive and 1171 Mesa Drive. The parcels were from the Redevelopment Agency and would be combined to provide housing for veterans and those with special needs. A loan of up to $200,000 to the developer was approved. Finally, the North San Pedro Housing Project geared for veterans is being developed by First Community Housing. The project would deliver 135 units utilizing over $1 million in state grant funds.

Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination:Home views Santa Clara County’s Measure A, which passed in November 2016 as the single most important opportunity to increase the supply of extremely low and low income housing countywide. It will provide $950 million over the next ten years to fund between 120 and 140 affordable housing complexes. She acknowledged that several of San Jose’s initiatives such as the motel conversions will create necessary temporary housing for hundreds of people, but broader efforts are required to provide housing for greater numbers.

“When you’re working on solving the homelessness issue it’s about working in partnerships,” Loving commented. “San Jose has been very aggressive in wanting to solve its homelessness problem and has invested a lot of money to do that. Homelessness can be solved, but like any endeavor it costs money. Santa Clara County has been the primary leader in addressing homelessness. The Housing Authority of Santa Clara County is another crucial part of the equation since it provides project-based housing vouchers subsidized through federal funds, which are a big part of what makes these projects work. Some private funding has also been involved. The issue requires a collective impact model to solve it. No one entity is responsible for causing homelessness, so it takes collective action to solve it.”

Heisinger attributed much of the current momentum in San Jose to tackle homelessness to advocacy work done by organizations such as Destination:Home in creating awareness about the extent of the crisis. He said that the advocacy work got the attention of community members and Council members in all districts and spurred action.

“The Eden Housing project is in District 10, which tends to be more conservative,” offered Heisinger. “This shows that all the Council members are really stepping up and championing affordable housing. All districts are coming together to step up to the plate and solve this issue.”