Last December, I surveyed all San Jose mayoral candidates and asked, “As the future mayor of San Jose, what would be your plan to reduce homelessness on our streets?” With the primaries behind us and the November election just a few months away, I revisited the responses of frontrunners Cindy Chavez and Matt Mahan and compared them to what they currently have on their websites.
Chavez said: “The solution starts with building permanent housing. In 2016, I led the effort to pass Measure A, the $950 million affordable housing bond creating the resources to build the kind of housing we need.” Mahan’s approach to the issue was a bit different. He stated, “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.”
Today, when I view both Chavez’s and Mahan’s websites, there are more comprehensive plans that I will attempt to summarize for you. Chavez’s plan focuses on prevention, interim housing, and permanent housing. To summarize each category:
- Prevention: the most cost-effective way to address homelessness is to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.
- Interim Housing: the highest priority will be to make sure all interim housing sites (homeless shelters) are safe and secure for both the homeless that are living there and the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. We cannot concentrate our homeless population in a single location such as the fairgrounds. By keeping interim housing sites to a manageable size, we can collaborate closely with the county and nonprofit partners to provide the homeless with the services and support they need.
- Permanent Housing: permanent supportive housing is both the most effective and most cost-effective long-term solution to homelessness.
Mahan has proposed a 9-Point Plan for common sense solutions on housing the homeless. He says his plan will focus on proven and cost-effective ways to transition those experiencing homelessness off the streets and out of creeks and parks and into shelters and treatment facilities. According to the plan:
- The first step is creating housing at a fraction of the current cost. By using pre-built modular units and placing them on government-owned land like the county fairgrounds, we can create safe and individual units for as low as $85,000 per unit — or just ten percent of the current cost.
- If housing is available, homeless individuals should have the responsibility to use it. San Jose can and should enforce its no camping laws when safe, individual shelter is available for homeless residents.
- San Jose must do its part, but Santa Clara County and the entire state of California should do more.
- Many people say homelessness is a symptom of unemployment. Matt will expand programs to pay the homeless to clean up our streets so they can work their way to self-sufficiency.
- Mental health challenges keep many people on the street (up to 42% of homeless people in San Jose suffer from mental health conditions, according to the most recent homeless census). Matt will demand that the county invest in the construction of inpatient drug addiction and mental health treatment facilities as part of a comprehensive approach to homelessness.
- The least expensive way to address homelessness is to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. Matt will prioritize helping people in danger of eviction in their homes, with programs that diagnose and help solve the issues leading to a loss of a home or apartment.
- A high percentage of our homeless dollars are spent through outside service providers. Matt will ensure we review and audit these contacts regularly and tie their renewal to continually improving results.
- Matt will work to create new housing where it makes sense — downtown and in very well-served transit corridors so our overall supply of housing increases. This is a long-term solution to the cost of housing. While this does not directly address street homelessness, we need to remember there are many people in danger of becoming homeless or are housing-insecure because of the high cost of housing.
- And most of all, Matt will hold himself — and top staff — accountable. Matt will make sure that if we are not reducing street homelessness every year, there will be no pay raises for politicians or top bureaucrats.
We have two very talented individuals running to become San Jose’s next mayor, but they have distinctively different approaches to addressing homelessness. Homelessness has continued to rise in San Jose despite the passing of Measure A, the $950 million dollar bond that was supposed to end homeless. Local residents have grown weary of any data that suggest otherwise as they see their streets, parks and creeks are overtaken by homeless encampments and trash.
When placing your vote this November, ask yourself the following important questions: Are you satisfied with the tactics that have been used to address homelessness or do you think leadership could do better? When I travel around the country for business, I take note of how our community compares as it relates to homelessness, graffiti and blight. I definitely believe it’s within our capabilities to produce better results.
Other questions to ask yourself: Who is best positioned to be an agent of change? Chavez is currently serving her second term as county supervisor. She was first elected to the San Jose City Council in 1998 and in 2006, and she ran for mayor and was defeated by Chuck Reed. She also led the South Bay Labor Council, which represents 90 unions and over 100,000 union members in Santa Clara and San Benito counties. Mahan is a newcomer to the political landscape. He successfully ran for San Jose City Council in 2020. Prior to that, he was a public school teacher, a tech entrepreneur and a CEO.
One more question to ask yourself is, do you want your government leaders to be data-driven, transparent and held accountable? The above are all questions to consider as you place your vote to elect the next mayor of San Jose.
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.