Despite the affirmations and empowering quotes covering San Jose native Marcelina Taguinod’s apartment door, she’s been feeling down.
Taguinod, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has isolated herself in her room in downtown San Jose’s Second Street Studios, a permanent supportive housing complex for formerly homeless people.
A tenant at the development since it opened in early May, Taguinod has received nine lease violations for what she believed were minor issues. According to a July 2 letter from property manager John Stewart Co., most of those were for unauthorized guests. Taguinod was threatened with eviction and required to meet with property management and on-site service provider Abode Services.
A review by San José Spotlight found the complex’s management has doled out more than 430 lease violations in the 10 months since it opened — many of them for violating what advocates call frivolous rules — and eight people have been thrown out. Fed up with the restrictions, the residents have begun organizing and are considering legal action — including a potential lawsuit.
“It went from me feeling very comfortable and proud to have my own place to like, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to throw me out for anything,’” said Taguinod, 50, who had been homeless for 15 years.
Taguinod said she has had no violations since the meeting in July. But she said other Second Street Studios tenants and advocates have expressed concern about excessive lease violations, threats of eviction and unclear guidelines for the first home they’ve had in years.
The property owner, First Community Housing, and management maintain that normal lease requirements must be met to comply with regulations that help pay for permanent supportive housing. Second Street Studios has received national recognition for being a model in the housing-first approach and even served as the backdrop for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s push for a housing tax measure in January.
“We all understand the importance of homeless people being housed,” said Warren Reed, vice president of the John Stewart Co. and head of the company’s managed properties in the South Bay. “But it takes the partnership and cooperation of everybody, including the residents, and there’s lots of resources to avail themselves of and be successful.”
Unhappy with the rules
Homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright said tenants should be given greater decision-making authority.
“The whole idea of permanent supportive housing is giving people agency. Once they’re housed, they’ll basically make the right decision,” she said. “But at the same time, you’re telling them they can’t be trusted with basic decisions.”
Second Street is the first development devoted completely to permanent supportive housing in Santa Clara County, and it houses some of the most vulnerable, chronically homeless and disabled people in the region.
But the property has had its share of problems. Six months of delays cost the county $1.5 million to house people in hotels while construction of the development was completed. And now, the people who live there have found the rules to be excessive.
According to First Community Housing, 433 lease violations have been issued at Second Street Studios — an average of nearly three for each of the approximately 150 residents. Eight people have been evicted, including one person on Wednesday who had more than 20 lease violations.
More than three-quarters of all violations have been for unauthorized guests, said Michael Santero, director of asset management for First Community Housing. Most stem from a rule that tenants can’t have guests for their first 90 days of occupancy, and an old policy not allowing guests in the first five days of the month.
Those rules, he said, come from similar policies at other permanent supportive housing developments.
The five-day rule, nixed in November, nearly prevented a resident’s mother from visiting her in the fall. Yvonne, who declined to use her real name for fear of reprisal, had been homeless for seven years and lived in her van before she moved into Second Street Studios.
Her mother had taken the train from Oroville to visit for the weekend but was nearly turned away before Yvonne fought back, despite being threatened with a lease violation she never received.
“That was just unacceptable,” she said. “I had to do the right thing and bring my mom upstairs.”
Along with property management, Abode Services assists residents as they transition into apartments. The organization offers on-site therapists and a medical nurse among other staff.
But she soon recognized its shortcomings, like the development boasting it had a gym. Yvonne said she could use physical therapy for her back, as well as other forms of wellness to help her acclimate to her new home.
There are no plans for a gym, although as of Thursday, First Community Housing’s webpage stated that Second Street has a gym. Santero said the website would be updated.
The mostly empty parking garage below the five-story development has also been a point of contention.
Tenant Robert Bard Sr., 61, had his van and motorcycle towed within two days. The vehicles were parked in the garage while he obtained registration and insurance, but they were towed and he had to pay fines to get them back. Bard said he has since gotten the necessary documentation and they are now parked in the garage.
Parking in the garage is free, but John Stewart Co. requires residents to show proof of registration, insurance and have a valid driver’s license. Warning stickers are placed on vehicles, Reed said, before a tow truck is called.
Bard said he never received a warning.
“This full supportive thing they claim to be, they’re not,” he said. “And we’ve been quiet until now.”
Yvonne and others have begun forming a tenant board to raise issues. Nominations were just completed and elections take place in early March. There is also a separate organizing arm, Second Street Voices, comprised of tenants and advocates, that has spoken at San Jose City Council meetings.
“As time went on, everything just seemed to be a struggle,” Yvonne said. “It has been a matter of fighting for what we need.”
Considering legal action
The tenants are considering legal action and working with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.
But city officials say the rules are necessary. The rule forbidding guests to stay more than 14 nights out of the year is meant to accommodate housing voucher regulations about the number of occupants in a dwelling, Reed said.
“To best serve all residents, rules have been established and are enforced,” San Jose Housing Department spokesman Jeff Scott wrote in an email. “When rules are broken, every effort is made to address the root cause of the problem and de-escalate the situation. Extensive support services are available to every resident. But if a resident just isn’t a fit, placement advisors are available to assist the resident in finding new accommodations. Fortunately, this hasn’t been necessary very often due to the thorough vetting of residents and the overall stability of Second Street Studios.”
Developers say they hope to continue to improve buildings including Second Street Studios as more permanent supportive housing is added across the region. Villas on the Park, the other downtown permanent supportive housing owned by a separate developer and contracted with the John Stewart Co., is taking in people, as are two other First Community Housing developments.
“We’re still learning,” Santero said. “Even though we visited other communities, San Jose is unique, too.”
A stack of legal papers sits atop Taguinod’s desk. A paralegal before her fiancé died and she became homeless, Taguinod has helped others with court paperwork for evictions.
Taguinod said she wants to continue to grow at Second Street Studios.
“I want to learn how to be a part of a community,” she said. “I’m 50 years old. I know I have to grow up. I’m so tired of being done wrong or feeling unjust because of my class or mental state, of not being heard, or people able to get away with doing harmful things to me.”
Contact Eduardo Cuevas at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @eduardomcuevas on Twitter.