Sandoval: Affordable homes are essential for communities to thrive
PATH's Villas on the Park permanent supportive housing site in downtown San Jose. Photo courtesy of PATH.

    Being a resident of downtown San Jose, I intimately understand that my community members are suffering. I hear it in the voices of business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open in the era after a global pandemic. I see it when I pass people curled under sleeping bags along the sidewalks that line my walk to work.

    As more of my neighbors start to return to the office, or try to rebuild their businesses, we are all wondering the same thing—what can be done? When I see how many unhoused neighbors I have, I know we have work to do. For my part, I am committed to playing my role in this effort.

    My organization, PATH, is driven by a mission to end homelessness for individuals, families and communities. To date, we have built 15 buildings that created 847 affordable and supportive homes—with another 671 coming soon. Our organization improves the quality of life for communities throughout the state by creating affordable housing solutions.

    Affordable housing is just that—it’s a home that’s affordable. To be considered affordable, residents should not spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs. With the fair market value for a studio apartment in San Jose currently going for $2,228, San Jose has become the second most expensive place to rent in the country. Renters need to earn $80,000 annually to afford to live locally.

    Most of the people experiencing homelessness on the streets of downtown San Jose don’t earn enough money to rent an apartment. Even if every person were fully employed and earning a living wage, they would be rent burdened, at best.

    Affordable housing is not shelter, or a drop-in center or a project that attracts homelessness on the street. Quite the opposite, homelessness decreases when people have access to affordable housing options that are willing to rent to applicants who lack rental histories or credit scores.

    We take pride in our developments throughout the state. We partner with nationally-recognized design teams like DAHLIN to design beautiful buildings. We are honored that Villas on the Park, our first development in San Jose, was selected as a finalist for this year’s Jack Kemp award for excellence in affordable and workforce housing.

    PATH’s affordable homes are designed in a way that nurtures healing as residents recover from the traumas of homelessness. We create community rooms where residents can enjoy the company of their new neighbors. We have teaching kitchens where residents not only cook for themselves, but can also share cooking tips amongst each other. At Villas on the Park, we have a beautiful rooftop deck where residents can spend a few minutes in the community garden, or simply enjoy the view of downtown San Jose at sunset. We believe anyone would be proud to call a PATH building their home.

    We know the transformative power of having a home. Since Villas on the Park opened its doors in 2019, we have helped nearly 100 people find safe, stable and permanent homes. Ninety-five percent of those who moved into Villas have successfully maintained their home for a full year.

    Moreover, we learn powerful stories from our residents about how having a home changed their lives for the better. Parents have reunited with their families. Leaders have found voice through community advocacy groups. Renters have made community in the local coffee shops where baristas not only know their names, but their favorite drink orders. If you walked past them on the street, you may not even know that, just two years prior, you may have passed the same person camping in front of the California Theatre.

    In any thriving community, there must be places for all types of people to live, work and play. We believe that we thrive when we are a community of individuals, enriched by diversity, working together to make this city a home for all. PATH believes that affordable housing options like Villas on the Park are the path to creating a thriving downtown.

    When affordable housing is integrated into community plans, neighborhoods will flourish. Homelessness will decrease. Essential workers will not be priced out of the communities they serve. Vibrant communities that are dynamic and inclusive of all types of people cannot risk omitting a plan for readily available affordable housing.

    As a statewide organization in 150 cities, we know there is suffering from the persistent challenges of homelessness. Yet, since moving to San Jose, I have more hope than ever that we can end homelessness for good. We have seen the success of collaborative efforts from the city, county, housing authority and community leaders working in concert.

    We have witnessed the passing of Measure A, where voters chose to tax themselves in order to fund this effort. We look at partners like Cisco, Apple, Facebook and Google who have committed their time, energy and resources to working together to improve the communities they work in.

    Although the state of homelessness in our community can feel overwhelming, we know from the individual and human stories that we see every day that this can be the community to functionally end homelessness. The innovation that defines the Silicon Valley has demonstrated itself in private and public contributions to housing affordability in our region. We have the best thinkers, the wealth of resources and the public will to end homelessness for good. Let’s be the community that sets the precedent in what it means to bring everybody home.

    San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is regional director at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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