San Jose looks to increase emergency housing, discuss budget cuts due to COVID-19
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is pictured at a news conference Monday. Photo by Katie Lauer.

With more than 1,200 COVID-19 positive cases countywide and counting, San Jose leaders are scrambling to stop the spread to homeless people and vulnerable residents living in shelters, encampments and overcrowded homes by building emergency housing.

The City Council on Tuesday will discuss a proposal to allocate more than $17 million to build modular homes for homeless individuals and San Jose residents to self-quarantine, specifically those who have contracted or been exposed to the disease.

“This is a great opportunity for us to be able to utilize emergency procedures that we have in place now to build out emergency and transitional housing as quickly as possible,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a news conference Monday. “To address the need we may have for COVID positive individuals who need a place to be able to isolate, as well as for the long-term to be able to expand our inventory of housing for homeless residents.”

The state-mandated shelter-in-place order is forcing the city to move some homeless residents out from shelters to accommodate a 6-foot social distancing rule. But the city only has 849 shelter beds available, despite having more than 5,000 unsheltered residents sleeping on San Jose’s streets every night.

To expand shelter to the San Jose’s homeless population, the state has contributed 104 trailers and the city has created makeshift shelters at Parkside Hall and South Hall. But some lawmakers fear the homeless will be pushed back onto the streets after the crisis ends. Similarly, San Jose residents who live in congested apartments or small homes are a risk if they have contracted the coronavirus.

That’s why Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, and Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Dev Davis are calling for a permanent expansion of the city’s emergency and transitional housing supply, which includes lease and purchase agreements for long-term units.

“We’re going to we’re going to beat it, but we have to use every tool and strategy at our disposal to do it,” Jones said Monday.

The city has 2,000 bedroom units from past emergencies and on disassembled work sites it plans to use. City officials have also partnered with nonprofit and private sector leaders to construct the remaining modules.

If approved, the construction process will bypass city rules on purchasing materials and waive permit and land-use restrictions. City leaders plan to partner with the state and FEMA to qualify for reimbursement funds, with FEMA covering 75 percent of the costs while the state covers a portion of the remaining 25 percent.

Budgetary impacts of the coronavirus

Fearing devastating impacts to the local economy, San Jose leaders Tuesday will discuss efforts to cut costs amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Already, city officials have implemented a hiring freeze, suspended new projects and significantly reduced overtime, overnight travel, consultant fees, food reimbursements, marketing costs and office renovations unless needed for “unavoidable purposes.”

The county’s shelter-in-place order, which was extended last week until May 3 last, has forced the economy to a grinding halt and caused a massive spike in unemployment.

“To comply with the order, a significant portion of economic activity is suspended — residents and businesses are impacted, and job losses will likely continue to mount,” City Manager Dave Sykes said. “As restrictions lift toward the end of the fiscal year, the resumption of normal economic activity is anticipated to be slow, resulting in recessionary conditions through at least the first half of 2020-2021.”

The city is losing vital funds, including state-allocated sales tax, which is distributed on a quarterly basis and taxes collected from business-related travel, events, businesses and utilities. Sykes also expects unemployment and a coinciding recession to affect the amount of money the city will receive.

Collectively, the city expects to lose a total of $110 million in revenue during the pandemic.

Sykes said cutting costs will help avoid layoffs and save funds for next year’s budget. He also recommends the city use tax revenue collected from its agreement with eBay, expected to range between $15 million to $20 million, evaluating the use of existing reserves, reducing department budgets, and eliminating one-time funding for citywide projects.

City officials expect to release the proposed budget for the next year on May 8.

Declaring food distribution employees as emergency workers

Also on Tuesday, lawmakers will discuss marking food service workers as “essential” employees during the crisis.

The label would apply to store clerks and stockers, cleaning staff, deli and produce staff, food preparation workers and store managers. “For the majority of our county, we continue to rely on private food distribution centers, such as grocery stores and wholesale centers — which are working at capacity with strict social distancing restrictions in place,” Councilmember Raul Peralez said.

Peralez said broadening the definition will grant many low-income families who work in food service or hospitality the childcare services afforded to health care workers and first responders.

“While our local workers have our back during these challenging times, serving and feeding us, we must ensure we have their backs as well,” he added.

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

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