Bramson: Groundhog Day in San Jose
Supporters of Measure E cheer on March 3, 2020 after early election results had the measure in the lead. File photo.

It’s Groundhog Day all over again with the proposed 2024 San Jose budget.

Yes, it’s true that there’s a different driving narrative this time around, but the answer is still the same: slash all affordable housing funding. Apparently, drastic disinvestment in one of our most important and needed assets is the route of least resistance around here.

Last year, thanks to the valiant efforts of a council and a community that knows that its people need a place to live if a city is to thrive, the housing funds were preserved. The city’s Housing Department went on to release that money to support 338 new deeply affordable homes at four developments that will serve working families, aging seniors, and formerly homeless, disabled adults. City officials also identified another 1,500 apartments in the process that could move forward now, if more funds were made available.

With such a robust pipeline — notably encouraged by the city’s commendable past of supporting affordable housing production — it seemed that the argument was stronger than ever where funding should go, even in the face of a looming deficit. And with neighborhood advocates finally winning an almost decade-long struggle to add new tenant benefits for so many of our residents facing displacement pressures, a significant financial commitment to building homes by the city would mean even more than ever before.

But then the proposed budget came out. And Measure E — the 2020 real estate transfer tax that was passed by the voters explicitly to address the lack of affordable housing — offered zero guaranteed dollars to build homes. A few other sources were cobbled together to potentially fund a couple of the existing projects, but that’s it. And while Measure E represents only 3% of the city’s general fund, the cuts to affordable housing dollars were by far the most severe, with considerably smaller reductions in other, much larger parts of the budget.

Even worse, the encampment clean-ups, safe sleeping sites, and shelters that eat up all of the existing funding in the 2024 budget to achieve some unknown level of environmental remediation will keep consuming money with no end in sight. For years, we’ve all seen the escalated commitments projected over time for this work. And passing this budget plan now — with significantly increased spending on costly, ongoing measures — means that there is no telling when affordable housing will be funded through this source again.

We do need a range of interventions to deal with the suffering of thousands of people on our streets. But other cities that are further down the mass shelter track are already seeing the financial peril of opening too many beds with no long-term places for people to go. Our own numbers show that in 2023 only 25% of people who accessed shelter exited into permanent housing.

And, to be very clear, there is no outside regulatory agency telling us that severe cuts to affordable housing are the only option to improve the health of our waterways. Nor is there evidence that the proposed approach will get us any closer to that goal.

What we do know for certain, however, is that if we fail to heed these warnings, San Jose is headed to a dark future where tens of millions of dollars will vanish each year, with no money left to invest in the housing and homelessness prevention services that we already know work so well to keep our city safe, stable, and housed.

That’s why now is the time to demand that we keep Measure E funds dedicated to housing, while also searching for new revenue sources that can further support this critical work.

On Thursday, the Housing and Community Development Commission wisely voted 6-2 to oppose the new spending plan that diverts Measure E housing dollars away to short-term efforts. And with the budget set to be heard by the city council Tuesday, we must fight to keep up the momentum of affordable housing development in San Jose. Otherwise, we might see our shadow this year and end up in an even bigger hole.

San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Operating Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at [email protected] or follow @rbramson on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

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