San Jose commissioners oppose diverting housing funds
Geraldo Garcia and Graciela Haio collect their belongings amid flood threats on the waterways in San Jose, as they scramble to find shelter in early January 2023. File photo.

San Jose housing commissioners had blistering words for a proposal to divert affordable housing money to shelters and sweeps.

The Housing and Community Development Commission on Thursday voted 6-2 to reject two spending proposals that would divert funds meant for permanent affordable housing to clear and temporarily shelter homeless people living along city waterways. Commissioners Ryan Jasinsky and Roberta Moore were the two no votes.

The decision is only a recommendation to the San Jose City Council, which has final say when it comes up for a vote next month.

“I have not had this kind of reaction to reading a report in a very long time,” Commissioner Huy Tran said at the meeting. “Basically the city is giving up on the idea of actual long-term solutions to homelessness. This is horrendous. This proposal is absolutely ridiculous.”

The city’s draft budget for fiscal year 2024-25 proposes diverting money from Measure E, approved by voters in 2020, that would leave little to no funding for permanent affordable housing. Affordable housing construction is 75% of the property transfer tax’s focus, with 25% going to homelessness prevention, rental assistance and shelters.

Mayor Matt Mahan — whose March budget message shaped the Measure E spending proposals before housing commissioners — pushed to divert affordable housing dollars last year. The council settled on a compromise that still favored affordable housing development over temporary homeless housing, which marked a shift in the fund’s priorities — a direction city leaders are leaning further into this year.

San Jose expects to spend $27 million clearing out the estimated 1,000 homeless people living along creeks and rivers starting next month, in response to orders by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board due to high pollutant levels. If the city fails to do so, it could face litigation and $60,000 per pollutant in daily fines. Under the current proposal, $15 million in Measure E dollars could pay for waterway sweeps and services.

Affordable housing advocates on Thursday directed their anger at Mahan, whose office responded by welcoming other suggestions.

“The city manager’s office didn’t recommend these proposed cuts lightly, but unlike commentators, staff has a legal obligation to propose a balanced budget,” Jim Reed, the mayor’s chief of staff, told San José Spotlight. “If folks don’t like staff’s proposed cuts, they should tell us what cuts they are for that will address our urgent street homelessness crisis and federal mandates to clean up our creeks.”

Commissioner Roma Dawson questioned why long-term homelessness solutions have to be sacrificed. She said the city’s known about water pollution along Coyote Creek and the Guadalupe River for decades. With the Measure E spending proposals, she said she felt “a personal sense of betrayal.”

“We are trying to come up with a quick-fix solution that makes councilmembers’ and their aides’ lives a little easier — but we’re not thinking about a long-term strategy that looks to solve homelessness,” Dawson said.

Jasinsky, one of two commissioners who supported the diversion of funds, said he sympathized with the challenges confronting the city. If city leaders fail to address the waterways’ high pollutant levels, they claim they face litigation and tens of thousands of dollars in fines per day. The city’s hands are tied, he said.

“I understand the frustration, but I don’t think the city has an option here,” Jasinsky said.

Huascar Castro, housing and transportation director of Working Partnerships USA, during public comment gestured to other advocates in the room who campaigned for Measure E.

“It was with the intent of creating these much needed affordable homes. I’d like to remind everyone that,” Castro said.

Commissioner Daniel Finn, the panel’s mobile home tenant representative, said the spending proposals would take money away from building permanent housing to “clean up messes.”

“That’s not what I voted for when I voted for Measure E, and I don’t think it’s what the majority of people voted for,” he said.

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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