San Jose begins crafting its anti-displacement policy
"For Rent Sign" by pvn_images is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As Silicon Valley’s economic growth persists, residents are plagued with a turbulent housing crisis that continues to raise rents and increase displacement among communities of color. In the hub of the valley, San Jose now exemplifies the region’s widening inequality, leaving local leaders chasing solutions that aim to close that gap.

Among these solutions is an anti-displacement policy, which city officials are in the early stages of crafting but say will promote the “three P’s” of housing policy — production, protection and preservation — all strategies focused on solving the city’s affordability woes.

The housing department will hold a study session with the San Jose City Council in September, but a formal recommendation will not be considered until late this year. The council will be discussing a tenant preference policy mid August and could consider a city-wide anti-displacement policy in early 2020, city officials said.

“Those are the three broad umbrellas, and we’re looking at tools under each one of those,” said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, director of housing in San Jose.

According to Morales-Ferrand, production policies ensure that there’s enough housing for people of all income levels, but that are specifically “affordable to the people who are being displaced.” The city’s housing crisis response work plan calls for the construction of at least 10,000 affordable and 15,000 market-rate homes within the next five years.

In San Jose, tenant protection policies such as rent control and just-cause evictions are already in place. But now the city is working on deepening the scope of its protection initiatives by implementing an anti-displacement policy to “prioritize some affordable housing apartments to residents.”

Specifically, Morales-Ferrand said the city’s efforts need to ensure that its affordable housing stock will be protected so that people can continue to live in it.

“So we’re looking at tools for how we protect current tenants that are living in San Jose, and how we preserve the housing that’s already affordable,” added Morales-Ferrand.

In an effort to broaden its knowledge of what causes displacement and inequality, San Jose turned to PolicyLink, an Oakland based nonprofit that created an anti-displacement policy network of cities to exchange ideas and best practices. San Jose was the sole city in California to participate with others that included Portland, Oregon and Minneapolis — both cities that have made national headlines for their burgeoning housing initiatives.

Source: UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project

“When it comes to both housing affordability and how development is reshaping not just San Jose but cities across the country, the city of San Jose has developed a number of strategies,” said Jeffrey Buchanan, director of public policy at Working Partnerships USA, who co-hosted an anti-displacement panel during affordable housing week. “But there’s still a lot of work and it’s going to be a public-facing process.”

Buchanan said the city is planning a series of community meetings that will engage neighborhoods most at risk of displacement, such as in the East Side or downtown, although he added that “it’s not necessarily just one neighborhood.”

Even though San Jose has been battered by the same obstacles that face every other Bay Area city, some leaders say it’s exacerbated by its status as the heart of Silicon Valley.

At least 155,000 residents in San Jose are at risk of displacement, while more than 113,000 are already facing displacement according to UC Berkeley’s urban displacement project.

“San Jose has a number of challenges and a number of great opportunities. Housing costs are increasing so rapidly and silently throughout the Bay Area,” said Chris Schildt, senior associate at PolicyLink. “This isn’t unique to San Jose that we are in the middle of this housing crisis and trying to catch up with this tsunami that’s overtaking our communities.”

According to Schildt, displacement occurs when members of a community lose their ability to live there, causing a shift in the community’s decision-making power. This means that people are driven out of their homes, or lack any say in how their neighborhoods change or develop because of forces outside of their control.

But the work extends beyond the “three P’s”, said Schildt, who acknowledged that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to solving the region’s crisis.

To combat generations of bad policy decisions that created displacement, Schildt said cities across the country are considering new ideas.

New ideas taking shape across the country to curb displacement include policies that center around community outreach before a proposed project is voted on, creating community ownership through nonprofit-owned housing or community land trusts that move housing out of the market all together. Another new initiative includes Portland’s “right to return policy,” which gives African Americans an opportunity to move back into their neighborhoods with first priority for affordable housing units and a right to an attorney when a tenant is facing eviction.

“It’s a complicated thing that took decades of making,” added Schildt. “There were all of these policies and systems that went into creating racially disinvested areas, white flight and under invested areas, and then creating the return of capital investment in these neighborhoods in ways that destabilized these communities.”

Despite the challenges, many policy leaders say there’s a real opportunity to make significant change.

“I think there’s an opportunity here to really look beyond just housing production as the the only thing that we need to do in this housing crisis,” Buchanan said, “and to really think about what more should we be doing around preservation and protections for residents as we go forward, regionally and even at the state level.”

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

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