Bramson: Sounding the alarm before housing disappears
A homeless encampment outside William L. Sheppard Middle School in East San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

Heading into what will surely be a challenging budgeting season for governments large and small, it’s important to remember that the choices we make will have significant ramifications.

Last year, a coalition of San Jose leaders decided that affordable housing mattered most by continuing to allocate the majority of Measure E funds — a real estate transfer tax approved by voters in 2020 — to build new homes for our poorest neighbors. As a direct result of that action, this February the city’s housing department released the results of its Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), awarding nearly $50 million that will help move four new projects forward. This new affordable housing will include 338 homes with 115 new apartments for formerly homeless families, adults, and seniors.

None of this would have been possible without a bold budget policy action last year, but now with more people than ever unable to pay the rent and deficits looming all around us, I find myself wondering what other stones are left to turn over to uncover whatever we can to keep our community safe and housed.

The horizon doesn’t exactly look sunny right now. Gov. Newsom’s 2024-25 budget proposal calls for a $1.2 billion reduction in funding for programs that support affordable housing development. And Prop 1 — his alternative measure to find new money for supportive housing by bonding against Mental Health Services Act revenues — is hanging on by the thinnest of threads as the votes are still being counted. If the proposition fails, there will be virtually no money from the state in the coming year to support the type of housing that everyone agrees is needed the most.

On the local level, Santa Clara County’s 2016 Measure A Affordable Housing Bond will be fully expended this year. The Board of Supervisors and staff from the Office of Supportive Housing have done a masterful job allocating these funds in 10 cities to build or rehabilitate 56 new apartment buildings that include nearly 5,200 homes for people in need of permanent housing and support. But with the money running out and the county likely facing a significant organizational deficit in the coming year, one has to wonder how we will sustain this incredible momentum in the lean times ahead?

The answer is that right now no one is really quite sure. Regionally, housing advocates are continuing to work to get a $10 billion dollar bond on the 2024 ballot. It’s the best chance we have to keep this work going, but it’s going to take countless hours from community leaders and volunteers to raise the necessary support to get it passed. There will also be a companion measure (ACA 1) on the same ballot that will lower the threshold for housing bond approvals to 55% of the vote. If we don’t approve both, it doesn’t seem like there will be much to celebrate in the Bay Area come November 6.

Which brings us back to what we can do here in Silicon Valley. Beyond the projects awarded in San Jose’s recent NOFA, 13 other high-quality affordable housing developments representing 1,527 new units didn’t receive a dime because there wasn’t any more money to give out. These developments are geographically diverse, serving a wide range of populations in neighborhoods throughout the city. More importantly, many of them could start heading toward construction in a year if we could only find the resources to make them work. But if we can’t find those funds soon, these potential projects might simply fall apart, victim to the escalating and manifold costs of inaction.

This is all to say we are approaching the edge. The good news is that we can still do something about it. Not funding more deeply affordable housing now is a policy choice. And we must do everything possible to make our voices heard and our votes count on what really is the most critical issue of our time. Because if we do nothing, some day the rent you can’t pay might just be your own.

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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