As a prolific housing developer unveils plans in East San Jose, a new coalition is holding it accountable for maintaining acceptable living conditions.
Peter Ortiz, a community organizer and policy advisor for the Alum Rock Santa Clara Street Business Association, founded the East San Jose Tenants Coalition in early April after a San José Spotlight article revealed deplorable conditions at Renascent Place, a homeless housing site. The site was developed by Charities Housing and managed by the John Stewart Company. One resident called Renascent Place “nasty as hell” with broken windows, exposed wiring and an overwhelming smell of mildew.
Another San Jose homeless housing site, Second Street Studios, managed by the John Stewart Company, has been rocked by similar allegations. The John Stewart Company also faced criticism in San Francisco for tenant complaints about mildew, mold, rusty pipes and rodents.
Ortiz grew concerned when he learned Charities Housing planned to construct one or two apartment complexes on Alum Rock Avenue in East San Jose.
Ortiz, who works to increase affordable housing and protections for renters against displacement, realized a coalition would provide strength in advocating for tenants’ rights.
The coalition quickly formed to include Latinos United for a New America, SOMOS Mayfair, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, Human Agenda and Movimiento Democratic Coalition.
“I wanted to unite these organizations under a coalition to strengthen our voice and focus it on protections for our East San Jose residents,” Ortiz said. “A lot of us are affordable housing advocates. However, people forget once those developments are built about the conditions which residents live in. You hear stories, especially in East San Jose, of absentee landlords, illegal evictions and a lack of services.”
Kathy Robinson, director of development for Charities Housing, said it typically develops, owns and manages all of its properties.
“We decided to have John Stewart manage Renascent Place for us…because it was so large with 160 units, and because it’s 100% permanent supportive housing,” Robinson said. “In many people’s opinion, John Stewart is the gold standard for managing this extremely difficult population. We thought it was a good idea to hire a professional so it could be done well.”
Robinson said Charities Housing will manage its new project on Alum Rock Avenue, which will be a mix of people with special needs and low-income residents who need affordable housing.
Ortiz said he wanted to sit down with Charities Housing and the John Stewart Company to discuss their obligations to tenants, from being responsive to their concerns to not charging them for property updates.
“In our Latino undocumented community, we find a lot of predators,” Ortiz said. “When they update their apartments, they’ll try to charge our tenants.”
Ortiz said he’ll advocate for rents to be kept low to avoid displacement, prevent “bullying tactics” and illegal evictions.
Although the number of evictions in San Jose decreased following the adoption of an eviction moratorium, tenants face harassment from landlords and worry they won’t have the resources to pay back the rent they owe.
On Monday, coalition members met with Warren Reed, vice president of the John Stewart Company, and representatives of Charities Housing for a tour of Renascent Place. They also spoke with staff from housing and social services provider Abode Services, which runs an office in the complex.
Ortiz said if the developers and property managers refused to meet with them, the East San Jose Tenants Coalition would run a community campaign against them.
“We’d rather meet and focus on solutions than organize against their future developments,” he said.
Gabriel Manrique, community organizer for Latinos United for a New America, said when the coalition toured Renascent Place, they didn’t have an opportunity to speak with residents.
“We definitely need to talk with the tenants and see what concerns they have,” Manrique said. “We have to find out what repairs and services tenants might need.”
Ortiz said the coalition will hold developers and property management firms of affordable housing in East San Jose accountable.
“We’re going to be watching them,” Ortiz said, “and as problems arise, we’re going to put heat on them to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]