Morales-Ferrand: Setting the record straight on housing accountability

I read Dean Hotop’s op-ed (“Where is the accountability over Silicon Valley’s housing crisis?”) with great interest. There are few issues of more significance in our region than housing. Unfortunately, the piece included factual inaccuracies that may misinform rather inform your readers.

Mr. Hotop misinterpreted the City’s budget book. The Housing Department’s FY 2018-19 personnel budget was $15 million, not $87 million. And our FY 2018-19 headcount of 78, while up from the prior year, was below the 83 full-time employees who worked in the Housing Department a decade ago. In other words, our long-term staffing levels have been stable.

The Department’s operating budget beyond personnel costs is funded almost entirely from federal, state and local money that is required to be used for specific purposes, such as meals for home-bound seniors, essential home repairs for low-income homeowners, and services for homeless residents.

Mr. Hotop erroneously stated that the Housing Department is on track to spend $1 billion over the next nine years. This is incorrect. Since the State eliminated local redevelopment agencies, the Housing Department has lacked a significant, ongoing funding stream to build affordable housing. Our Department does have an $800 million loan portfolio. We receive loan repayments that allow us to reinvest in new affordable housing. The annual repayments on those loans are around $15 million. This past year, several large loans were refinanced, resulting in a one-time higher capital budget.

But even if Mr. Hotop’s numbers were correct, it would effectively be impossible to place 5,000 homeless residents in apartments for $2,500 per month as he suggested. There are not thousands of vacant apartments at that price. Moreover, when the Housing Department reviewed available listings on Craigslist last year, 66% of landlords wouldn’t consider tenants who use housing vouchers.

While the housing crisis is a complicated issue, and the tragedy of homelessness is shaped by many factors, the bottom line is that we need to build more housing. Our region is creating more jobs than houses. For every homeless person we house, two to three new people become homeless. We all wish there were easy solutions, but they don’t exist.

Nonetheless, the City has invested in, or facilitated the development of, approximately 19,000 affordable apartments that house nearly 60,000 people. And earlier this year, the City announced it will invest $100 million in 11 new affordable housing developments that will house 3,000 more people. Another 2,000 affordable apartments are in various stages of the City’s pipeline.

I can assure your readers the San José Housing Department is committed to doing everything in its power to provide housing for everyone in our City.

Jacky Morales-Ferrand is the director of San Jose’s Housing Department.

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