Huy Tran embodies the first-generation vision of the American Dream.
His parents, Hai Tran and Kim Ho, fled Vietnam on boats in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, scraping together what little they had to start anew in California.
Growing up, Tran’s parents worked long hours as landscapers, inspiring him to always fight for the little guy. In college, he got involved in the labor movement as a student organizer to fight against budget cuts to the California State University system.
After graduating, Tran struggled while working odd jobs and lived out of his car. His friend, Assemblymember Ash Kalra, offered him a place to stay to get back on his feet — and he did. After a few months, Tran returned to community organizing and eventually to law school before he opened his own practice, Justice at Work Law Group with Tomas Margain, dedicated to worker’s rights.
“We all need a helping hand from time to time,” Kalra said. “He’s never forgotten those who have helped him along the way. He doesn’t see himself running as a way of validating himself, he sees it as a way of empowering a community. I’m very proud of how he’s been running his campaign and who he’s become over the years.”
For Tran, a 37-year-old employment attorney, his life experiences come full circle as he runs for San Jose’s northernmost region — District 4. He seeks to unseat Councilmember Lan Diep by approaching the city’s most pressing issues — homelessness and housing — and the district’s growth with a bold approach.
Housing and homelessness
To address housing, Tran said it’s important to build — but not at the expense of existing affordable units like mobile home parks, for example. He said the “trickle-down” approach, which focuses on building market-rate housing, isn’t working, as people across the socioeconomic ladder still aren’t getting housed.
“All these theoretical or economic arguments, justifications for how we increase housing production — it’s all pie in the sky,” he said. “What you get is people who are struggling in the streets, families who don’t have a choice but to live in multi-generational households. These are people who have been a part of this community, been a part of the city for decades and they’re right now being squeezed out.”
Tran is critical of policies that give developers fee reductions or waivers, instead advocating for a commercial linkage fee on new development to spur funds for affordable housing, studying how residential vacancies can be used as housing solutions and enforcing stronger rent control provisions. Tran said getting people housed is the first step in making a dent in the homelessness crisis in addition to treating underlying issues, such as mental health or addiction.
“We can focus on providing shelter first — that’s how you can get to a place where you can solve a problem,” he said.
According to recent financial disclosures, Tran has raised nearly $78,000 for his campaign.
North San Jose has seen a surge of development in recent years, with market-rate townhouses lining once-deserted streets ahead of BART’s arrival. But the area still grapples with a lack of public transit and rising traffic. As the neighborhood transforms, Tran wants to ensure residents aren’t displaced, that growth serves existing residents and that community events, such as the Berryessa Flea Market, are preserved.
“Managing our growth is going to be very important,” he said. “If we’re going to develop and grow in this area, how do we preserve the culture of places like a flea market, how do we ensure that BART coming in, that Google buying up these new buildings, serves to benefit the folks here?”
Tran wants to invest more in public transit, especially the city’s bus lines and expanding VTA’s service areas. If taking the bus didn’t take as long or was as efficient as driving, he said, people would use it more.
Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.
Name: Huy Tran
Family: Longtime girlfriend, Joanne
Political affiliation: Democrat
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, San Jose State University; Juris doctor from Santa Clara University of Law
Profession: Employment attorney
Current or previous elected or appointed positions: San Jose’s Housing and Community Development Commission
Top 3 priorities: Housing; economic development; improving services and community
Top 3 endorsements: Assemblyman Ash Kalra, San Jose Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco
Special talent: Tran loves to karaoke. His go-to song is ‘Feeling Good’ by Michael Bublé, which he considers a “celebration song, no matter what.”
In one sentence, why vote for you? “We need representation that will protect our communities and empower the people that live here.”