San Jose nonprofits rally behind anti-displacement housing policy
Local nonprofits and residents rallied in front of San Jose City Hall on Wednesday in support of an anti-displacement housing policy. Photo courtesy of SOMOS Mayfair.

A coalition of local nonprofits and residents are pushing for a policy to prevent displacement and create a pathway to homeownership for low-income renters, amid a growing housing crisis that is pricing many out of the region.

The proposed policy, named the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), would require rental property owners to offer first rights on a sale to tenants or a qualified nonprofit before putting it on the market. If a for-profit investor makes an offer, nonprofits and tenants under COPA also will have the right to match the offer.

First enacted in Washington, D.C. in 1980, the housing measure is designed to preserve affordable rental housing stock, empower tenants and stabilize low-income households, local housing advocates said. The proposed policy would also prevent displacement—an issue that impacts communities of color disproportionately. Nearby cities such as Oakland and Berkeley are exploring the policy, as well.

East San Jose nonprofit SOMOS Mayfair, along with the Asian Law Foundation, Silicon Valley De-bug and South Bay Community Land Trust, among others, are championing the efforts, hoping to get the housing measure enacted in San Jose by next spring. The coalition has hosted community forums and solicited feedback from more than 1,000 residents through its canvassing efforts, SOMOS Mayfair organizer Matt Gustafson said at a Thursday forum.

“This is the input that we use to shape what we are recommending for a COPA policy for San Jose,” he said.

The San Jose City Council voted in 2020 to start exploring COPA as a strategy in its 10-part anti-displacement plan. The Charter Review Commission recommended in November that the city start identifying properties and nonprofits eligible for the program.

The anti-displacement efforts, both from the community and the city, come as the housing crisis in the South Bay continues to grow. With San Jose lagging behind its affordable housing goal, rent in the region has skyrocketed in the past few years—making the heart of Silicon Valley the second most expensive place to rent in the country.

As the possibility of homeownership increasingly becomes unrealistic for low-income residents and people of color, many are leaving the area or are being pushed into the streets. Local eviction filings are piling up following the end of the state eviction moratorium on Sept. 30.

According to data collected by SOMOS Mayfair, 66% of Black and Vietnamese residents are burdened by rent in San Jose, making them the most vulnerable to displacement. Latino and Black households also have the lowest rate of homeownership as of 2019—less than a quarter of all Latino households and roughly 35% of Black families own a house in the city.

Another layer of protection 

More than 60 people attended the evening forum to learn about the coalition’s vision. On Wednesday, organizers and residents also rallied in front of City Hall in support of COPA.

Displacement is tearing San Jose apart, advocates said. The proposed policy would serve as another layer of protection for vulnerable renters and keep residents in rental homes that they have lived in for many generations, Gustafson said.

“Santa Clara County accounted for 441 evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite all the eviction protections that we had in place,” he said. “(This) can provide pathways to homeownership with supportive models like community land trusts.”

The coalition, in working with the city, is also seeking to put $100 million into the program through various sources such as Measure E and commercial linkage funds. Measure E is a property transfer tax increase approved by voters in 2020, and the commercial linkage charges commercial developers fees to fund affordable housing.

“From learning from other cities, we know that their policies have been really successful when there’s a lot of funding and resources and support behind the program,” SOMOS Mayfair organizer Andrea Portillo said.

Under the policy envisioned by the coalition, COPA would apply to all rental units—including single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and mobile homes. San Jose has a large stock of single-family homes, where one house could be a living space for multiple families, Portillo added.

“We want to make sure that we are including all rental units and housing types under this policy,” she said.

Tenants and qualified nonprofits would have between six to eight months to purchase rental properties.

“We are arguing for a longer timeline to give tenants more of an opportunity,” said Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County. “Property owners in Silicon Valley are not an oppressed group. A delay of six to eight months is not going to be oppressive. ”

Portillo said the city is also working on its own recommendations for what COPA could look like. The City Council is expected to consider it in March.

“But we know that this is urgent, and we need this now,” Portillo told San José Spotlight.

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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