Bramson: You can’t make a budget in San Jose without breaking a few eggs
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan wants to allocate millions from Measure E toward homeless short-term housing and services. Affordable housing allocations would be diminished. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

    Though most widely recognized from our currency and as the motto of the United States, this Latin expression has its roots in the writings of Virgil, a Roman poet best known for classics such as the Aeneid. This particular phrase, however, carries no such epic ties. It was Virgil’s recipe for what ingredients need to be combined to make a good pesto. He was writing not about woeful tragedy or heroic triumph. Just about the best way to end up with a tasty dish by thoughtfully combining wildly disparate parts.

    In many ways, that’s the same approach we’ve taken to the budget process this year in San Jose, specifically for the issues of housing and homelessness. What started out over a month ago as a drastically revised spending plan for Measure E with recommendations that gutted affordable housing funding has slowly evolved into something more palatable over the past few weeks. Our elected officials, advocates, and community leaders have been working overtime on this one, and today it seems like there will most likely be something that we can all live with at city council this Tuesday.

    The best of these offerings so far was presented late last week by Councilmembers Davis, Ortiz and Torres. Incorporating concepts from the mayor’s budget message and other councilmembers’ perspectives, their memorandum outlines a refined and pragmatic approach for utilizing scarce Measure E dollars to support both our short and long-term goals. It is the only proposal that finds the money we actually require for available interim shelter options for our unhoused residents next year, while continuing to move forward with the largest possible investments for desperately needed affordable housing and homelessness prevention services.

    More importantly, it is a straightforward, transparent approach that allows the council to advance the work immediately, without having to require a supermajority vote to make changes or other surreptitious maneuverings to get around spending priorities that the entire council agreed upon only a year ago. The housing needs of hardworking families, elders, disabled adults, and so many others haven’t changed since then, so why on earth would we walk away from them now?

    And it’s not like there is some other tool out there that will help vulnerable people any faster or cheaper. Despite the rhetoric, the city’s own budget office shows a forecast of tens of millions of dollars annually to operate emergency interim shelters that are being built, but also makes clear that many of the new sites won’t be in operation for years to come. So diverting significant money to this activity next year just doesn’t make sense. It won’t move the needle or end any suffering now, nor will it permanently end homelessness for anyone.

    The truth is there is no simple or quick fix to a problem that’s been decades in the making. But we need to use our budget process each year to consistently plan in a way that sets us up for the best possible future for our community as a whole. Despite how painful and unnecessarily divisive it was to get here, fortunately it appears we now have a path to move forward, invest significantly in affordable housing, and put the right amount of money into the few immediate interventions that can actually happen in the next year.

    After a long month of rallies, press conferences and public proclamations, wouldn’t it be nice if we could finally coalesce around the decision that made the most sense for San Jose? Let’s get there this week. E pluribus unum.

    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 Twitter. 

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