San Jose pours millions into housing relief, WiFi
Mayor Sam Liccardo unveils the "Compassionate and Clean San Jose" plan at the city's interim housing site on Rue Ferrari on Sept. 22, 2021. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

San Jose’s mayor took to the national stage to tout how the city used federal funds to address rampant homelessness and the digital divide.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo gathered virtually with politicians nationwide on Monday to discuss how American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds have been used in their communities. They looked at how data-driven research helped determine funding for housing, employment and health care needs. The event was hosted by the White House.

“We’re putting the dollars where they’re most effective because we’ve been relying on the data,” Liccardo said.

ARP is a $1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief package that provided state, local, territorial and tribal governments with $350 billion in aid; San Jose received a total of $212 million in ARP funds. Of this amount, the $134 million spent last year has already been divided between residential relief, small business support, homeless services and child education programs. Those funds are about 60% of the allocation, or $80 million. Another $45 million reimbursed general fund costs, according to Budget Director Jim Shannon, and $9 million went to emergency housing, energy savings retrofits and other programs.

Liccardo emphasized using ARP funds to generate momentum for the city’s affordable housing projects, and tiny homes. The city aims to have 683 tiny homes under construction this year, Liccardo said. He noted while it usually takes four to five years to construct traditional affordable housing at $800,000 a unit, ARP funding helped reduce the cost to $100,000 per home and construction time to several months.

“What we’ve seen already is tremendous,” Liccardo said. “We’ve served 530 unhoused residents: About half of those have exited in some way, 82% now to permanent housing or another housing solution.”

The homeless population in San Jose saw an 11% increase over the pandemic, totaling more than 6,700 unhoused residents. The city’s budget for the next year allocates more than $40 million for quick-build apartment communities.

San Jose is still thousands of units away from its goal to complete 10,000 affordable homes by next year. Last September, Liccardo and San Jose councilmembers had an ambitious plan to convert at least 300 motel rooms to house some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. Since then, San Jose has moved forward with only one development—a 76-unit interim housing project at a San Jose Police Department parking lot.

Hearing about ARP funding and seeing it in action is another story, homeless advocate Scott Largent told San José Spotlight. While ARP was supposed to aid unhoused residents during a global pandemic, large numbers of people are still living on the streets or in unsafe areas.

“There’s so many people out there… Some people just need a basic bus pass or a place to park their RV,” Largent said. “It seems like they make it more complicated than it needs to be.”

ARP funds were also utilized in bridging San Jose’s digital divide, with more than $5 million allocated to provide resources like hotspots and free community WiFi, Liccardo said.

“It’s embarrassing, though, here in Silicon Valley for us to have a digital divide given the technologies all around us,” Liccardo said. “We learned through the data that the need was overwhelmingly concentrated geographically.”

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for universal WiFi access, especially for students, East Side Union High School District Superintendent Glenn Vander Zee told San José Spotlight.

“I come from a position of an educator, but I also know that just in terms of the way financial information, health information is now communicated with families… WiFi is a necessary support,” Vander Zee said. “We’ve actually figured out as a city and a district how to partner, how to engineer, how to install, how to maintain and how to get the service provided.”

View the full Monday panel here.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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