While activists maintain that San Jose’s housing policies are inherently segregated, a study undertaken by the city shows just how deep racial disparities go.
“The main takeaway is the legacy of past segregation is still very much alive,” said Kristen Clements, division manager of the policy group within the city’s housing department. “It’s still visible in who lives where in the city.”
The city discussed its preliminary Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH), an effort to give residents equal access to homes, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Officials will continue working on the assessment, adding in strategies that increase Black and Latino homeownership opportunities throughout the rest of the year.
The Housing and Community Development Commission will also discuss the report at a later date. The council is expected to hear a revised AFH report early next year when the city hopes to incorporate its findings into a draft housing plan.
The city began its first Assessment of Fair Housing in 2019. It was scheduled to be heard by the council in spring 2020, but COVID-19 forced the housing department to redirect its resources to pandemic response.
The draft AFH shows that large patterns of housing segregation continue, with disparities in race and income depending on what side of Highway 101 residents live. Residents tend to be more white west of the highway, with high concentrations of white neighborhoods in Willow Glen and Cambrian, and some concentrations of Asian residents. East of 101, residents tend to be Latino and Asian, with high concentrations in Alum Rock.
Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said neighborhoods east of Highway 101 did not happen by accident.
“It was intentionally designed and it was designed by policy,” said Carrasco, who represents East San Jose including Alum Rock.
She said she loves her district because of its history, the people and “how dynamic it is.”
“We don’t love the injustices,” she said. “We don’t love how under-resourced it’s been and the issues that have come about.”
Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who grew up in Sacramento next to a wastewater treatment plant, said he noticed there was a stark difference between his neighborhood and others.
“It was an additional realization that something just wasn’t right,” Jones said.
Jones wants to address the impacts of displacement and make it easier for Black Americans to own housing, as he himself experienced housing discrimination.
“I just want to make it clear that part of my main focus is to address a group in San Jose that’s marginalized as well as on the brink of extinction,” Jones said. “If you look at the African American population in San Jose, it’s declining significantly. And if we don’t take measures to address that and provide some stability, then 10, 20, 30 years from now the population is not going to be here.”
He said he’s eager to work with the federal government, as last week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a $100 million initiative to spur Black homeownership in historically redlined neighborhoods.
Clements said that the city also aims to look at more disaggregated data, especially among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the city, to better note how ethnicity and income factor into homeownership. Disaggregation of AAPI data would involve looking at individual ethnic groups among AAPIs which have wide disparities in health and income.
According to the assessment, Black residents, despite making up 2.5% of the population, comprise 17% of the homeless population. Native Americans account for 7.4% of unhoused residents despite making up less than 1% of the city’s population. Latinos comprise 43.7% of the homeless population despite making up just over a quarter of the city’s general population. In contrast, according to the report, white and Asian Americans are underrepresented in the homeless population.
“If you look at the history of 101, It wasn’t an accident that it went where it did,” Mathew Reed, housing policy manager at Silicon Valley at Home, told San José Spotlight. “They frequently went through poorer communities so they ended up creating a boundary between richer and poorer. A lot of the divisions that we experience are policy decisions that were used to separate people by race and by classes.”
The city also found that San Jose contains 75% of Santa Clara County’s racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty despite having 53% of the county’s population and 14% of its landmass, according to Clements. These are neighborhoods where the non-white population consists of 50% or more of the total population, and the percentage of individuals living in households with incomes below the poverty rate is either more than 40% or three times the average poverty rate for the metropolitan area, whichever is lower.
According to 2019 numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, San Jose’s poverty rate is 8.7%. Data for 2020 will be available later this year.
The AFH found that discrimination in San Jose’s housing market continues to be an issue. Groups such as racial minorities, the disabled and the elderly disproportionately experience housing problems, displacement pressure and homelessness.
“I’m glad the effect of this on people with disabilities is considered,” said resident Kathryn Hedges on Tuesday. “We’re affected so much by the high pricing of housing in the area.”
Victor Vasquez, director of organizing and policy at SOMOS Mayfair, a local housing and racial equity advocacy group, said generations were affected by the city’s housing policies.
“We must continue to think about not only producing new housing, but how do we permanently preserve the housing we have and (give) those keys of ownership back to these families… that have been denied for generations,” Vasquez said.
The Assessment of Fair Housing is based on a federal program created by HUD in 2015 under the Obama administration to better carry out the 1968 Fair Housing Act. In 2018, HUD, under the direction of the Trump administration, made the completion of such a report optional.
In response, California passed Assembly Bill 686, which mandates cities and counties incorporate fair housing initiatives into local housing policies.
“This is kind of a painful subject,” said Councilmember Pam Foley, who works in real estate. “This feels like action I can actually take to right some of those wrongs that have been perpetuated for years and years.”
She noted that down payments are major obstacles to building wealth through homeownership.
For Councilmember Maya Esparza, whose district covers East San Jose, the issue is about more than housing.
“It’s about how we designed the city,” Esparza said. “What we’re seeing is how your ZIP code is an indicator of your life expectancy.”