When I speak with my neighbors, there is a consistent list of issues they want to see addressed throughout San Jose. Those include public safety, clean neighborhoods, traffic congestion, affordable housing and assisting the homeless off the streets. Since this is a column about real estate, I will focus on housing and homelessness.
I reached out to the four current frontrunners in the San Jose mayoral race and asked them each the same two questions. Below are their responses:
As the future mayor of San Jose, what would be your plan to reduce homelessness on our streets?
San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis: There is no silver bullet to reducing homelessness in San Jose. We need a more coordinated and comprehensive response by the county to mental health and drug addiction issues, which are major factors in causing and perpetuating homelessness.
We need to agree that it’s not okay for people to be living on or near public sidewalks and trails. When someone is offered services and a place to stay, they need to accept the help or leave the area. We need to balance that with compassion too, by building more subsidized housing and continuing to fund homelessness prevention so fewer people become homeless in the first place.
San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez: Homelessness in San Jose has reached the level of crisis and it hasn’t been given the prioritization it needs. We have millions of dollars deployed, but we lack greater collaboration, communication and most of all accountability. We need to work more closely with the county to find better solutions for those suffering from addiction or mental illness. Ending homelessness will not be possible working in silos.
As mayor, I will form a task force focused on ending homelessness. Modeled after the success of Mayor Hammer’s Gang Prevention Task Force, I want to bring all stakeholders together to find ways to coordinate and ultimately hold each other accountable.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez: Homelessness is one of the biggest challenges we face in San Jose. We must be both compassionate and comprehensive. The solution starts with building permanent housing. In 2016, I led the effort to pass Measure A, the $950 million affordable housing bond creating resources to build the kind of housing we need. Interim housing is key to moving people off the streets quickly.
A critical piece of any solution is keeping people from becoming homeless in the first place by expanding support programs. We also need to expand our public-private partnerships, leverage financial resources from the state and work together with individual neighborhoods and communities on effective, long-term housing solutions.
San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan: Our government must spend our tax dollars more effectively. The county is now building so-called “affordable housing” at $850,000/door. We can, at a tenth of that cost, build modular units—safe, dignified apartments—sited on government-owned land.
When these units are available, we need to hold homeless residents accountable to use them. They should have the chance to work cleaning up San Jose, so they can earn their way to permanent housing. We need to expand and enforce laws that allow counties to require mental health and drug addiction treatment for those who are a danger to themselves and others.
What is your plan on solving the housing supply crisis?
Mahan: Some politicians say we need to solve the housing crisis by ending single-family zoning and allowing development of up to six units per lot in residential neighborhoods. This is a mistake. We can build dramatically more housing without traffic gridlock, sprawl and displacement.
I support creating new housing in existing urban villages, where it makes sense—sites chosen because they are well-served by transit and retail. To accelerate the construction of new homes, we must remove existing barriers. I am proposing new incentives to hold our bureaucracy accountable, like waiving permit fees if our government can’t process them on time.
Chavez: So many of our residents are anxious and frustrated about skyrocketing rents and home prices and their increasingly awful commutes. We need to update the city’s zoning requirements and ensure that they are clear and consistent for everyone. Then we need to empower the Planning Department to ensure that housing developments that meet the requirements are approved as rapidly as possible.
When we wrote Measure A, we made sure it included resources to help our residents become homeowners, including $25 million for a first-time buyer home loan program. We have to make these types of housing affordability programs as easily accessible and widely available as possible.
Peralez: Building more housing isn’t the only solution needed to end homelessness, but it’s also necessary to create more affordable housing opportunities in one of the most unaffordable markets. My plan is to work with state and federal leaders to remove hurdles and time delays in approving new homes through processes like CEQA that are abused today.
I’ve helped spur some of the fastest housing growth in downtown in decades, including collectively more units of affordable housing than anywhere else in the county. I’ll help scale that growth citywide and ensure San Jose gets its fair share of housing dollars and tax incentives from state and federal partners.
Davis: I don’t think the mayor or any person can solve the housing supply crisis in the Bay Area. It’s a market reality that many people want to live in this area. The City Council must work on two key areas simultaneously.
First, we have to reduce barriers to housing supply, such as by finishing all the urban village plans where dense, multi-family housing is scheduled to be built. Second, we have to support affordable (subsidized) housing developments and reduce the number of hoops they have to jump through to get built faster so that people across the income spectrum can continue to live here.
I appreciate the participation from the candidates for this article. Unfortunately, I had to keep their responses brief. I encourage you to visit the San Jose mayoral candidates’ websites, engage with them personally at events, and most importantly, hold them accountable to their commitments.
One thing is certain—we should not expect the same old tactics on addressing homelessness and affordable housing to yield new results.
San José Spotlight columnist Neil Collins is CEO of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, a trade association representing more than 6,000 real estate professionals in Santa Clara County and surrounding areas. His column appears every fourth Thursday of the month. Contact Neil at [email protected] or follow @neilvcollins on Twitter.