Jacky Morales-Ferrand never thought her work in housing would span three decades, and she never imagined what that would entail coming to work for a city more than three times the size of Boulder, Colorado.
Morales-Ferrand, who’s worked as the director of housing for San Jose since 2015, oversaw a paradigm shift in how the city has grappled with the region’s worsening housing crisis. She helped drive the conversation around segregated housing in the city, as well as how council districts should divvy up new affordable housing sites. Now she plans to retire in July.
“I’m old,” she told San José Spotlight with a laugh from her office on the 12th floor of City Hall. “I am privileged in that I could just stop working now, if I want to, so I really don’t have any intention of taking another full-time job.”
She said her first role in housing was for the city of Boulder until she moved to San Jose in 2007. In Boulder she managed the city’s homeownership program, a job she took simply because she wanted a higher income than was offered in her previous part-time role.
As she got deeper into this particular sector, the true meaning of her position gradually became clearer—her work in housing was actually changing the trajectory of people’s lives.
“It’s really about the people that benefit from the housing, and the neighborhoods where we put the housing in,” she told San José Spotlight. “While I started thinking it was about the buildings, I really grew into understanding that housing is really about people.”
Morales-Ferrand started working in San Jose’s housing department as assistant director, and then became the interim director in January 2015. She officially became the director of the housing department in November 2015, while the city was working on updating its apartment rent control law.
Leslye Corsiglia, who preceded her as housing director before founding the advocacy nonprofit [email protected], said she hired Morales-Ferrand because of her exceptional skills and understanding of affordable housing. Her role will be difficult to fill, Corsiglia said.
“There aren’t very many people in the United States that have the skills to take on that job,” Corsiglia told San José Spotlight. “She’s accomplished so much in the face of a lot of opposition and a lot of technical challenges that come with the territory.”
A tough job
Morales-Ferrand faced criticism for failing to solve San Jose’s housing crisis and for failing to hold herself and her department accountable for these failures. She’s been forced to correct misinformation pertaining to funding allocations and the number of proposed housing projects.
She said that as much as her office has done to alleviate the housing shortage— crafting tenant protection policies, creating partnerships between governments and nonprofit entities, helping renters fight evictions and strengthening the city’s rent control programs—there is more work to do. She said the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, challenged the department to implement the city’s policies to the fullest extent possible.
“It would have been way more challenging, with way more people in the streets and way more people evicted, had we not been positioned to respond and take action,” Morales-Ferrand said. “We should be doing more. We have to do more.”
During the pandemic, San Jose extended its eviction moratorium several times. The housing department also opened eviction help centers offering in-person guidance and instructions to renters on how to protect themselves from evictions.
Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who worked with Morales-Ferrand for years, said he respected how the housing director was willing to tackle such a vast and pressing problem as the city’s housing crisis.
“I’ve admired Jacky for her repeated resolve to run into the fire, rather than looking for the exit,” Liccardo told San Jose Spotlight. “While we politicians often fought, Jacky forged collaborative relationships with county and Housing Authority staff that proved critically important to get work done.”
His successor, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, has made housing and homelessness top priorities in his administration, and said he is grateful for Morales-Ferrand’s commitment to the city.
“I appreciate Jacky’s years of dedicated service to our city and her persistent advocacy for our most vulnerable residents,” Mahan told San José Spotlight.
Jennifer Loving, executive director of housing nonprofit Destination: Home, said Morales-Ferrand has worked more to advance housing justice in San Jose than any other single individual, citing her leadership in creating important policies to protect low-income renters, and increase the construction of housing for extremely low-income residents.
“She has been in charge of some of our hardest work, often in the face of strong opposition, and yet she has still been able to advance these goals on behalf of the most vulnerable residents in our community,” Loving told San José Spotlight. “I will miss her very much.”
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.
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