Hotop: Where is the accountability over Silicon Valley’s housing crisis?

“Rents at all time highs!”

“Homeless population growing”

“Incomes not keeping up with rents”

We’ve all seen these headlines the last few years and understand there’s a problem. However, there’s a bigger underlying problem that hasn’t been adequately addressed. These headlines go all the way back to the 1970’s. In 2003, San Jose’s Housing Department developed a “homeless strategy” to move the city’s then 1600 homeless individuals into permanent housing. San Jose’s homeless population is now four times larger than it was in 2003. Where’s the accountability?

San Jose taxpayers have entrusted hundreds of millions of dollars to our elected leaders to solve the crisis to no avail. Today, we are seeing the San Jose Housing Department turn into a juggernaut of the city’s budget. The FY 2014-15 Housing Department operating budget was $9.4 million.

Where are the results of that budget growth? As Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff, once quipped, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” San Jose’s director of housing and the City Council have heeded Mr. Emanuel’s advice well. There are now 82 employees in the Housing Department, up from 66 employees last year. If building an empire is the Housing Department’s goal, we can label it a success.

We’re on track to spend over $1 billion in the next nine years on the Housing Department’s capital budget. Would someone please stand up and tell us exactly what results we should expect from spending one billion dollars on the housing crisis in San Jose? What is the benchmark for success on that $1 billion? Tell us what results to expect: A zero homeless population? Affordable rents? More housing stock? We want to know, tell us. Please!

Here is one benchmark for success which San Jose taxpayers can judge the results by: The current Housing Department capital budget of $87 million would fully subsidize the annual rent on 2,900 apartments at $2,500 per month in rent. Assuming two people per apartment, we could PERMANENTLY house over 5,000 homeless individuals for that $87 million per year.

That’s 80+% of San Jose’s current homeless population. Now that’s a benchmark for success! If taxpayers could choose, do we take that result over more high-salaried employees in the Housing Department which further burdens taxpayers with their pensions and lifetime healthcare costs?

It is time for San Jose taxpayers to take note and start asking for those benchmarks of success. Anything less than permanently housing 80+% of our homeless population is simply proving to be a waste of that money. We’ve elected a City Council that openly enacted that budget. So obviously we, the citizens of San Jose, accept the social contract of spending that money to help the homeless and solve the housing crisis. It’s now time for results.

If the current City Council and Housing Department cannot produce tangible results with $87 million a year, it’s time to elect new leaders who can. Period. We’ve thrown all the money at it that they’ve asked for, now it’s time for our elected leaders and public servants to deliver! Results matter. Deliver them.

Dean Hotop is a 25-year San Jose resident, taxpayer and 20-year rental property owner.

Editor’s Note: The author erroneously referred to the Housing Department’s $87 million capital budget as its operating budget. The article has been updated. 

 

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