Chavez: We must double down on our affordable housing investment

In my recent State of the County address, I highlighted the county’s success with the voter-approved Measure A housing bond. Measure A is ahead of schedule, almost halfway to building more than 4,000 new permanent homes for the homeless.

This week, I called for the county to double down on Measure A — to put an additional 1,000 new affordable, permanent homes into the pipeline before the end of 2020.

The idea for Measure A came out of a Housing Task Force convened by county Supervisor Dave Cortese in 2015, as did a quintupling of county-wide shelter beds.

We’ve found permanent housing for 3,000 homeless families and individuals. Ninety-three percent of the formerly homeless remain stably housed in their new permanent homes. Our new Homeless Prevention pilot has already kept 2,000 people out of homelessness.

The real heroes are the staffs of the county staff and our cities, their nonprofit partners like Destination: Home and affordable housing developers. And let’s not forget the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County, whose groundbreaking contribution of future rent subsidies, called project-based vouchers, allows us to build more and build faster.

Let’s take the city of San Jose for an example of a working partnership.

  • The county spends millions of dollars to fund all of the homeless shelters in San Jose, so the city can concentrate on strategies such as bridge communities and motel vouchers.
  • The All the Way Home campaign, jointly launched by Supervisor Cortese and Mayor Sam Liccardo, has so far housed 1,602 formerly homeless veterans.
  • The county has invested $184 million in the 15 Measure A housing communities in San Jose, supported by a city investment of $117 million.
  • The county has invested $6 million, matched San Jose’s $4 million in new two-year Homelessness Prevention pilot.

That partnership is replicated in other cities. The county has invested $84 million in Measure A housing projects in five other cities and funds shelters in even more.

And, in addition to the one-time investment in brick-and-mortar new homes, the county annually spends more than $85 million in services for the homeless countywide.

However, despite these efforts, homelessness has increased in the county 31% over the last two years because the skyrocketing cost of housing has forced more of our neighbors out of their housing. Income inequality is a primary force driving a housing crisis that is, in turn, driving the increase in homelessness. Renters must now earn $108,000 per year to afford a basic apartment, and the resulting social inequity is not sustainable.

What can we do while the new permanent housing is being built? Despite our increasing the number of shelter beds by 400% in one year, our capacity is being overrun by the need.

That is why last week Supervisor Cortese asked for us to rekindle the approach that worked for us before, and the Board of Supervisors approved a new Task Force to recommend emergency interim solutions while we build the permanent housing.

We will pull together our city decision-makers from all over the county and those with lived experience, along with experts in shelter, medical health, mental health and addiction recovery. Operating on a tight timeline, we will look for a package of solutions that we can scale up and put in place as we go.

We recognize that this is an emergency. We have to do more and do it faster.

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez was first elected in 2013 to the District 2 seat, which covers East San Jose and downtown. 

 

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