Silicon Valley is home to many of the largest and fastest-growing tech companies in the country, including Google, Apple and Adobe. But it’s also home to a major housing and homelessness problem.
Four candidates competing to replace Santa Clara County District 3 Supervisor Dave Cortese showed up Tuesday night at the Sunnyvale Elks Lodge to talk about how they’d solve some of Santa Clara County’s housing woes — if they get the 2020 vote.
Among them, San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, California Assemblymember Kansen Chu, former Sunnyvale Mayor Otto Lee and onetime San Jose Planning Commissioner John Leyba. The forum, hosted by SV at Home Action Fund, was moderated by Kyra Kazantzis, executive director for Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits.
When it comes to homelessness and how to use the $950 million Measure A funds approved for affordable housing by voters in 2016, the candidates each had different areas they’d focus their attention — and the county’s money.
Chu advocated using the funds to help prevent homelessness and create “rapid rehousing” options for people on the verge of homelessness or recently homeless.
“We as a county, as a government agency, should provide a down payment or first month’s rent for those people that need it interest-free,” he said.
Lee said he’d push for temporary or short-term housing and programs that include tiny home communities, like San Jose’s recent pilot project, to help get people off the streets in the near-term. Having people live in tents under underpasses “is absolutely not acceptable,” he said.
“We are really the richest county in the nation with companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Intel here,” he said. “We could definitely do better.”
Carrasco, meanwhile, said she’d look to address the issue by advocating for “very stringent rent control and tenant protection rights,” but also being proactive in areas that are ripe for redevelopment, particularly around transit.
“Where there’s transit corridors, people are losing their homes, and that’s because of speculation,” she said, referring to the practice of real estate investors looking to buy up properties that will increase in value. “Our transportation agencies have to really consider purchasing and investing in those transit corridors before they ever go in so that we can start building affordable housing.”
Leyba took a different tack, and advocated for creating a collective body to hold cities that aren’t producing enough homes to account. He also focused in on mental health and its tie to homelessness.
“Right now we’re viewing homelessness from the lens that it is simply a housing supply issue; it is not,” he said. “We need to double down on our support for families and social work so that when they have a mental health crisis on the home front, they can be supported.”
Each agreed they’d support shifting existing county resources — though they didn’t specify which resources — to prevent homelessness among vulnerable people. Leyba was the lone candidate to demure when it came to supporting a new countywide tax measure for affordable housing.
“Not until Measure A is done,” he said, a nod to the fact that the county has not yet used all of the funds from the 2016 measure.
Each candidate voiced support for using county-owned land for housing, and making affordable housing a major priority at Civic Center Campus, a 55-acre county-owned swath of land that is currently being master-planned.
The four candidates also took a stance on Stanford University’s controversial expansion negotiations in an unincorporated part of the county. The negotiations are currently at a stand-still as university and county officials disagree on how much responsibility Stanford should take to create or fund new housing on its lands.
In short, each candidate said the revered university isn’t doing enough and all promised to push Stanford for more homes.
Chu advocated for higher density on Stanford’s campus, while Lee noted the university’s current proposal includes homes that are nearly built, adding “that really does not really help the solution.”
“We’re not asking Stanford to be the end-all, be- all solution to the housing crisis,” Carrasco said. “But they want to put 9,000 students on their campus and we’re asking them to simply be part of the solution and not increase the harm.”
Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.