San Jose residents propose ideas for community-owned housing
Second Street Studios, located at South Second Street and Keyes, is a 135-unit affordable housing project. File photo.

    When imagining community-owned housing in San Jose, the first thing that comes to mind for some residents is inclusion.

    “We want to ensure we include very low-income, extremely low-income and those who have no income,” said Delma Hernandez, an organizer with South Bay Community Land Trust, Latinos United for a New America and Next Door Solutions.

    East San Jose nonprofit SOMOS Mayfair held the second of five community forums Thursday on how to create a Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) in the city. A COPA would give nonprofits funding to buy rental properties when they go up for sale. The funding typically comes from the city.

    The organization plans to draft a community policy by September to present to the San Jose Housing Commission and the City Council. The city identified a COPA policy as one strategy in an anti-displacement plan presented in March.

    Proponents of COPA say enabling community organizations to purchase rental properties will limit displacement while keeping units affordable for existing residents. Through community land trusts or limited equity housing co-ops, tenants could also become partial owners of the properties, increasing their wealth.

    During Thursday’s forum, SOMOS Mayfair gave an overview of similar laws in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The nation’s capitol contributes $10 million each year to its COPA fund, which mostly applies to buildings with five or more housing units. San Francisco contributes $25 million each year, with eight nonprofits currently qualified to purchase properties.

    Organizers divided attendees into discussion groups, each prompted with a series of questions on what a COPA in San Jose should look like. Facilitators returned from the breakout groups after 45 minutes and summarized residents’ responses.

    Hernandez said residents in her group wanted to ensure that people of all income levels would be included in this new housing model, and that nonprofits should advocate for the city to contribute $2 billion a year to the fund.

    “For every $25 million they invest, that only buys 25 units a year… that’s not enough,” Hernandez said. “Two billion dollars might even be (too) little… we have so many tech companies here.”

    Cindy Tran, who helped facilitate discussion during the forum, said residents in her group requested more meetings and asked whether the fund could help buy land as well as existing rental properties. San Francisco’s COPA allows nonprofits to purchase vacant land. She agreed that residents and community groups should rally for a high-value fund.

    “It’s better to shoot higher and overestimate, because we never know what the city will offer,” Tran said.

    Thao Le, an organizer with VietUnity South Bay, said the precise pathways to fund these purchases would be a large factor in how inclusive the housing model could be.

    “We would need a lot more funding to be inclusive of people who are extremely low-income,” Le said. “Could the nonprofit and tenant associations raise that money?”

    When considering whether to include single-family homes and duplexes in the law, Lupe Guerrero, Vecinos Activos coordinator with SOMOS Mayfair, said nonprofits would need to figure out where to house people living in overcrowded homes.

    “If you have so many people in duplexes, and then you’re able to (house) them under COPA, what happens to the extra people who are living there?” Guerrero asked. “We’re already jam-packed in single family homes and duplexes.”

    SOMOS Mayfair will hold its next COPA forum on June 10 focused on residents in north San Jose, followed by a south San Jose-focused forum on July 8 and another July forum with an undetermined date.

    Learn more about the meetings here.

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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