Sam Liccardo focuses on housing crisis in new budget plan
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo delivers his State of the City address in this file photo.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s new budget priorities align closely with his goal of alleviating Silicon Valley’s housing crisis by investing in affordable housing, pursuing another housing bond and cutting red tape for developers.

“We need a lot of tools in the toolbox in order to meet our goals,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight in an interview Wednesday. “We need more public funding for rent-restricted affordable housing and we also need the private sector to build more housing because there’s never going to be enough public dollars to get all the housing built up that we need.”

Liccardo on Friday released his March budget message, which lays the groundwork for budget discussions this spring before councilors adopt a final budget later this year. Many of the programs the mayor wants to fund help set the stage to meet his 2017 goal of building 10,000 new housing units by 2022.

Liccardo wants to leverage state funding via a recent proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom to house the “missing middle.” According to the budget message, the city manager is currently, “directed to identify $10 million in the Multi-Source Housing Fund” should the state legislate approve Newsom’s proposal.

On the private sector side, Liccardo said he wants to look into a way to expedite the processing of housing projects.

“It’s important for us to find ways to reduce costs for building because we hear consistently that we’ve got a lot of builders that are ready to go but they can’t get financing because construction costs are so high,” he said.

Julie Mahowald, chief financial officer at Housing Trust Silicon Valley, said she was excited about the mayor’s initiative to try to build housing at a faster rate.

“I think anything the city can do to speed up the processes is something that will be helpful,” she said.

Mahowald added that the Housing Trust Silicon Valley would support another affordable housing bond. Last November, Measure V – a $450 million bond – failed by less than 3 percent of the vote. In his budget message, Liccardo said he’s been working with stakeholders to decide whether to return to the ballot for another affordable housing bond in 2020.

Liccardo is looking to tighten the city’s purse strings for rainy days amid an expected economic downturn.

Although the city has a $3.5 million surplus, it’s facing approximately $16 million in deficits over the next five years. On Tuesday, the City Council will vote to approve the mayor’s message that bolsters budget resiliency and focuses on six key areas: Savings, public safety, housing and living costs, homelessness, blight and the environment.

“We must invest strategically so as to provide long term cost-savings, efficiency improvements and the highest-priority services to our residents,” Liccardo wrote.

The mayor also affirmed the city’s commitment to fighting homelessness in his budget message.

One of his proposals would explore a partnership with San Jose State University and community colleges to help homeless students. Last year, the California State University Chancellor’s office released a study that found 13.2 percent of San Jose State students experienced homelessness in the 2016-17 school year.

“We know there are limitations in their budgets, but we want to do everything we can to help,” Liccardo said. “What we are hoping to do is to essentially go halfsies. If we can offer some money to encourage them to step up as well I’m hopeful we’re going to find good solutions.”

Liccardo also said he’d be interested in potentially helping SJSU set up a safe-parking program. The city recently adopted a new law allowing people to sleep in their cars in parking lots of churches, gyms, nonprofits and other places of assembly.

However, SJSU President Mary Papazian last week denied students’ requests to set up a safe parking area in the 7th Street Garage. Papazian reportedly said that allowing students to sleep in their cars would be inhumane.

“(The) Student Homeless Alliance hopes that the mayor’s announcement will encourage President Papazian to work with the City on developing emergency grants as soon as possible,” said SJSU’s Student Homeless Alliance President Mayra Bernabe. “It is up to the university to say yes, and get on board in this effort to come up with specific and supportive solutions to this very important but often invisible issue.”

After the council approves Liccardo’s budget message, the City Manager’s Office will formulate its budget in May.

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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