Two men stand outside at a press conference at a homeless housing site in San Jose
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and State Sen. Josh Becker at Evans Lane, an interim housing site in San Jose, on March 4, 2024. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Legislation to streamline homeless housing development is making its way through the state Senate.

State Sen. Josh Becker has introduced Senate Bill 1395 to speed up the time it takes to build temporary housing in California. Becker is gathering support for his proposed legislation and came to San Jose on Monday to share his vision alongside Mayor Matt Mahan — calling the South Bay city the poster child of interim housing success.

“Over the last 12 months in the rest of the state unsheltered homelessness, people living on the streets, increased 10.3%,” Becker said. “In San Jose it has decreased 10.7%.”

If passed, SB 1395 will allow cities like San Jose to build faster and cheaper sites to shelter unhoused people. It will put into law that temporary, single-room housing is eligible for streamlined zoning, that bypasses CEQA and other red tape approval processes. The bill will also extend the Shelter Crisis Act and the Low Barrier Navigation Center laws which allows local governments to use emergency powers to provide services and housing to homeless communities.

Becker said San Jose has been one of the few local governments to successfully curb the number of homeless people living on the streets and in creeks because it has built several temporary housing sites — places that give homeless residents a private room and bathroom, coupled with supportive services to help them move into permanent housing.

Officials spoke at Evans Lane, a six-acre site with 49 temporary homes — converted shipping containers — that house about 50 families. The project came online in 2021 and is one of six San Jose temporary housing sites. To date the city has roughly 500 beds, with 784 beds in the pipeline — but San Jose wants more sites to help get its 4,400 unsheltered homeless residents off the streets.

“These are our most vulnerable neighbors. These are neighbors who in many cases have been chronically homeless and traumatized, have struggled with behavioral health challenges and underemployment,” Mahan said. “We’ve kept seven out of 10 people in the last three years housed and nearly half graduated to permanent housing solutions, which is quite an accomplishment and far more effective than we’ve seen from comparable types or other types of shelter solutions across the country.”

The bill will likely face pushback from some advocates who argue the root cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing — and until that is addressed, temporary housing is just a Band-Aid.

It’s a similar debate San Jose had last year during the budget process, where Mahan wanted more dollars to be spent on immediate solutions, while others wanted money for affordable housing development. The San Jose City Council found a compromise that saved most dollars for permanent housing.

Becker said while affordable housing is the main solution, there need to be humane solutions in the interim to, at the very least, get people off the streets.

“California cannot continue to rely on old and failing tactics to address our housing crisis,” Becker said. “The longer people languish on the streets, the less likely it is they’ll be able to return to self-sufficiency. With the development of opportunity housing, we can put a roof over the heads of our unhoused neighbors so that they can get back on their feet and on track toward permanent housing.”

The bill has already received support from San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the Bay Area Council and SPUR, a local nonprofit public policy organization.

“It’s time to bring people indoors and save lives,” Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, said. “Interim housing is proven, scalable, and the best near-term solution to provide stability and dignity to California’s unsheltered population.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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