San Jose approves law to curb Section 8 housing discrimination

As part of a slew of sweeping measures aimed at strengthening tenant protections, San Jose lawmakers on Tuesday voted 9 to 2 in favor of adopting a law that bars landlords from discriminating against renters with housing subsidies such as Section 8 vouchers.

After more than three hours of back and forth deliberations, the City Council adopted the ordinance with two added provisions–a “right to cure” clause and a six month grace period that delays enforcement of the ordinance in order to better educate landlords.

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez dissented, saying they could not support the six month delay.

Councilmember Johnny Khamis voted in favor but expressed frustration that adding fees and regulations exacerbates the housing crisis and “punishes people who want to invest in property.”

The new law applies to all rentals including single family homes, duplexes, multiple unit dwellings with three apartments or more, co-living apartments, accessory dwelling units, guest houses, and mobile homes. Rooms rented within a single-family home that the landlord lives in are excluded.

“You’re not accepting a Section 8 voucher, you’re accepting a person — to live in a home,” said Councilmember Sylvia Arenas. “For me, it’s simple. Don’t discriminate then you won’t get fined. I see this as an opportunity to talk more freely about Section 8 vouchers.”

But tensions among some of the councilmembers were raised, as some expressed worry that the law would overburden landlords with “onerous mandates” that they’re not properly educated in and discourage potential landlords from entering the market or from investing in property, open them up to “frivolous” lawsuits and potentially cost them money by renting to a person with a Section 8 voucher.

In a letter to the City Council, councilmembers Johnny Khamis, Pam Foley, Dev Davis and Lan Diep addressed these concerns, writing that while they support creating a pathway toward equal opportunity, landlords shouldn’t be forced to rent to Section 8 voucher holders. They said landlords should have a 30 day “right to cure” period, before applicants with a housing voucher can take any civil legal action.

Mayor Sam Liccardo agreed, adding that a right to cure amendment is needed to “reduce the burden on landlords” while also ensuring that there aren’t frivolous lawsuits.

“I absolutely believe in moving forward with the staff recommendation because we have a crisis,” said Liccardo. “The goal is ensuring more folks get housing with these vouchers, while also alleviating undue burdens on landlords.”

Several councilmembers and the mayor were concerned about the delay involved with the leasing process for a landlord to get approved by the Santa Clara County Housing Authority. The department has to inspect the landlord’s home and set up a contract with the landlord before a tenant with a housing voucher can move in.

Executive Director Katherine Harasz from the Santa Clara County Housing Authority said that the process could take up to 27 days.

“Nobody wants discrimination,” said Davis. “The issue with Section 8 is not with the voucher holders themselves, but it’s with the delays that are in the program.”

Many angry landlords also wrote letters to the City Council and spoke at the meeting Tuesday urging them not to move forward with the law, stating that the ordinance is “complicated and problematic.”

To address these concerns, Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas wrote in a memo that housing officials will provide frequent updates on the new law’s progress and effectiveness.

“We appreciate the seriousness of many landlords’ concerns regarding delays and difficulties of the administration of housing choice vouchers, as one might expect with any federal process,” wrote Liccardo, Jones, Carrasco and Arenas. “By providing an assessment in six months’ time, we seek to have the housing authority assist in defining their performance metrics for the program, providing clarity about that performance, identifying opportunities for improvement, and fairly assess the burdens that we are imposing on housing providers through this action.”

At the meeting, Foley added that enforcement will occur six months after the law is implemented, giving enough time to educate landlords.

“It really is about educating our landlords. I do agree education can occur in six months and it is important to be able to offer Section 8 vouchers,” said Foley. “But it will not increase a rush of available units because they’re not out there. It will solve some problems, but it’s not the thing that will solve our housing crisis.”

The law will be enacted Sept. 26, but will not be strictly enforced for another six months.

San Jose Police Chief disagrees with police auditor on “use of force” label 

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, San Jose officials from the Office of the Independent Auditor and Police Chief Eddie Garcia presented two different reports on misconduct complaints against police officers. The San Jose Police Department agreed with all of the police auditor’s recommendations except for recording it as a “reportable use of force” when police officers point a gun at residents.

The councilmembers unanimously voted in favor of working with the police department on a more clearly defined term.

The police auditor discussed the number of public complaints against police officers for misconduct, including allegations tied to excessive use of force which spiked by 39 percent this year. Garcia presented an internal investigative review of 218 conduct complaints containing 770 allegations that were made by fellow officers or police officials.

Independent Police Auditor Shivaun Nurre said that she wants to see the police department track and record when police officers point their guns at people, and classify those incidents as a “reportable use of force.” The goal is to create a more honest understanding of how police officers use violence in the field, she said, while lowering officers’ use of firearms.

Liccardo, Jones and Peralez backed the recommendation in a memo, saying that “supervisors can correct potential misconduct by tracking these uses of force in an early intervention system.”

While Garcia was in favor of recording and tracking when officers pulled out and pointed a weapon, he did not support labeling it as a “reportable use of force.”

“We agree that it needs to be tracked and we’ve started to track it through our computer systems and conducting field checks,” said Garcia. “I don’t know if having an officer who had the need to protect themselves in the time of duty be second guessed. That’s something that I’m not prepared to sign off of.”

While citizen complaints against the San Jose police department have decreased in recent years, it spiked from 222 in 2017 to 248 in 2018.

Sonic Runway coming back to City Hall 

In an effort to revitalize City Hall, San Jose lawmakers unanimously approved a proposal to bring back the “Sonic Runway,” a light-art installation that attracted more than one million visitors while it was showcased for nearly four months in 2017. It will now be a permanent fixture at City Hall for at least seven years.

“This creates an opportunity for people to smile when they visit City Hall. That value is priceless,” said Davis in a memo to the City Council. “The new Sonic Runway will be a sophisticated platform for creative self-expression for our local artists where they can ‘plug-in’ to an enhanced sound system on either side of the runway to interact with the artwork while creating their own mutualistic expressions.”

Carrasco added to that sentiment, saying that art displays such as the Sonic Runway are “very, very powerful” in bringing people together. Several councilmembers including Carrasco, Khamis and Arenas also expressed wanting to bring more art to their districts.

“Art takes many forms,” said Carrasco. “For me, especially during these times, it has the power to heal.”

The new art display will be installed in June 2020 and will be located on E. Santa Clara Street between 4th and 6th Streets.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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