Perry: Victory for tenants and unhoused people in San Jose
Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, protesting against Mayor Matt Mahan's homeless policies in May 2023. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Tenants, unhoused and low-income people won a stunning victory on June 13 in San Jose.

    After hundreds turned out to testify about the dire need for affordable housing, the San Jose City Council voted 10-1 to reject Mayor Matt Mahan’s proposal to shift millions of dollars of Measure E funds away from permanent housing and into interim housing instead.

    Most people understand the moral imperative today is not just to “end encampments,” as the mayor advocates, but to end homelessness altogether—especially in a fabulously wealthy community like Silicon Valley. That requires permanent affordable housing for everyone. Interim housing and shelters only work when there is permanent affordable housing to move into afterward.

    Instead of fighting to house our people, however, Mahan has chosen to side with local real estate profiteers and technology corporations whose agenda is to increase property values by making unhoused people disappear from view, without providing permanent housing.

    In his Mercury News op-ed last month, the mayor lied repeatedly.

    • He claimed advocates resisting his plan said, “The only solution is to build high-cost housing.” Actually, not a single advocate said that. Every advocate called for 75% housing and 25% interim solutions.
    • He said the “status quo” advocated failed policies. But then he tried to claim credit for the point-in-time count reduction in unsheltered homelessness, which was accomplished entirely by the “status quo” administration in place before he came into office.
    • He vilified the “policy of prioritizing million-dollar homes for the lucky few.” In fact, 9,645 unhoused people moved into permanent affordable housing in Santa Clara County between 2020 and 2023. More than 3,000 people housed a year is not a “lucky few,” it is a highly successful program.
    • Mahan claims he wants to house people now, while so-called “status quo” advocates favor waiting five years. But thousands of people a year are already being housed right now. That is because the community came together in 2016 and 68% of county voters passed Measure A. Measure A is on track to build some 4,800 permanent affordable homes, and many of them are opening as we speak. That is not five years from now. Mayor Mahan and many of his real estate tycoon friends were nowhere to be seen in the 2016 Measure A campaign.

    The entire budget debate this spring revolved around whether to spend a higher percentage of Measure E funds on permanent or on interim housing. The mayor and his allies charged that permanent housing advocates lacked compassion because they refused to support his prioritizing of interim units. But the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, which led the charge for interim housing, actually opposed Measure E when it appeared on the ballot in 2020. If the association had its way, there would not be any Measure E money available for either permanent or interim housing. That is not compassion, it is greed.

    The reason people held a nonviolent demonstration at the association office on June 7 was not to intimidate or try to silence them, as the association charges. It was to expose the immorality of their campaign to take affordable housing away from low-income people.

    All of this continues to be important to understand, because the mayor has already vowed to return in 2024 to try to divert more Measure E funds away from affordable housing.

    Mayor Mahan is covering up the real reason encampments in San Jose continue to grow, even while unhoused people move into housing. Every time we house someone, an average of 1.7 new people enter homelessness. The real cause of homelessness is the steady rise in unaffordable rents and evictions. The real solution is rapid expansion of the so-called “three Ps” of affordable housing: production, preservation and prevention. Mahan’s plan is to take us in the opposite direction, and may lead to the end of the era not of encampments, but of creating affordable housing in San Jose.

    The for-profit housing model in the United States is broken, especially in Silicon Valley. Supply and demand do not work. If rents or home prices go down—or even level off—landowners and investors simply stop building, until the crisis gets worse and rents go up again.

    A genuine challenge to the “status quo” would be to demand government intervention to ensure housing to meet human needs, not to just serve as an investment vehicle for global banks and corporations. With real political will—like that demonstrated by some of the councilmembers on June 13—there is no reason to believe that solving our affordable housing crisis should take the “decades” Mahan claims it will.

    As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”

    Sandy Perry is president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County and vice president of the South Bay Community Land Trust.

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