Sandoval: Homes end homelessness and it takes a village to build them
Construction on the newest PATH Ventures affordable housing community, Villas on Fourth Street, is nearly complete. Residents are expected to move in later this year. Photo courtesy of PATH.

The underlying causes of homelessness are complex, but they can be narrowed down to structural inequities and, ultimately, the lack of housing.

We see trends of homelessness increasing when the cost of housing increases. Despite a lot of progress being made in the homelessness and housing sectors, we are still seeing more people fall into homelessness than exit it. To stem the flow of homelessness, we must focus—as a community, a region, a state and a country—on building more affordable housing.

While outreach, interim housing and employment services are still vital parts of PATH’s mission to end homelessness, many years ago, we made the decision to build affordable and supportive housing and formed PATH Ventures. Since 2007, PATH Ventures has become a recognized leader in creating high-quality, affordable and stable homes for people struggling with the high cost of housing in California, particularly families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

By building and operating affordable rental homes paired with onsite services that support residents in regaining long-term stability, independence and health, we can end homelessness. In the past 15 years, we have learned that building affordable and supportive housing relies on partnerships, community engagement and political will.

In San Jose, we are actively preparing to open three new communities—two PATH Ventures sites and one Affirmed Housing site, Vela Apartments, where PATH will provide onsite supportive services.

Located in the Foss neighborhood, Vela Apartments will offer 87 affordable homes to residents who earn under 60% of the area median income—or $74,600 for a family of three. It is the first apartment community in Santa Clara County that will offer mixed supportive housing solutions: 29 permanent supportive housing units will be set aside for particularly vulnerable households, while an additional 14 are reserved for families in need of medium-term rental assistance through rapid rehousing.

Vela is a prime example of how we work together to house as many people as we can, with Affirmed Housing as the developer, PATH as the service provider and Solari Enterprises Inc. as the property managers.

Around this time last year, we celebrated the groundbreaking of Villas on Fourth, which will provide 93 units of permanent housing for chronically homeless seniors aged 55 and up. Today, the community is nearly complete, and we will be leasing units in the fall.

Community engagement for this site in Hyde Park, near historic Japantown, started in early 2019. Mayor Sam Liccardo was there from the beginning, actively engaging in community conversations, often very challenging ones. During the groundbreaking, he shared that despite initial concerns, once a development is built and people’s lives are transformed, there is a net positive for all community members.

The site was formerly home to Dick’s Supermarket, a location that was important to the Chinese American community. Thanks to enriching dialogues with community organizations and stakeholders, we incorporated elements of the supermarket’s signage and exterior into the building design. Original wood and glass from the supermarket will also be incorporated into the community room we are constructing. Studies show that affordable housing benefits everyone in a community and being able to design housing that also reflects the rich history and culture of the community is an added bonus.

The final and perhaps most vital component needed to build affordable housing is political will. Homelessness, after all, is the result of policy, not personal choices. For decades, we have not built adequate housing to support our communities, but the tide is turning, and we are fortunate to have political leaders in Silicon Valley that have the courage and commitment to say yes to more housing.

A prime example of this is one of PATH Ventures’ newest sites, Villas on the Row. This future community will be home to 94 units of affordable housing, including some set aside for permanent supportive housing. At a recent community meeting for Villas on the Row, we were honored to have Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg join to engage with our neighbors, hear their concerns, affirm the importance of affordable housing and commit to working together to support the entire Burbank community.

“Thanks to local, federal and philanthropic resources, Santa Clara County has approved more than 45 housing developments over the past five years,” Ellenberg later reflected. “I firmly believe our county has an obligation to build safe and stable homes for our unhoused neighbors to live with dignity and have the best chance to thrive, and I am proud to see affordable housing like PATH Villas on the Row in the district.”

As the title makes clear, it does take a village to build affordable housing. I would be remiss not to also mention all the dedicated partners and organizations we work with, including Santa Clara County’s Office of Support Housing (Measure A), Housing Trust Silicon Valley, the city of San Jose, Destination: Home, Abode Services and our numerous financial partners. Together, we are making our community stronger, one building, one unit, one home at a time.

San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is a 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 every other month. Contact Laura at [email protected]

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