Shaw: Don’t reallocate affordable housing funds for homeless services
Tiny homes located at the intersection of Mabury Road and Highway 101 in Northeast San Jose. File photo.

    Like so many others, I am against San Jose’s current Measure E budget proposal to reallocate affordable housing funds for homeless services. The reasons being:

    1. Tiny homes do not offer permanent housing and are not a solution to homelessness. They are tiny shelters in a communal environment, with gates and security guards. Any place where you don’t have a refrigerator, kitchen or bathroom under the same roof as your dwelling isn’t a home. These locations would also be run by nonprofits.

    2. If San Jose needs to hire more people, the additional operating expenses do not need to be covered through this fund.

    3. The spigot does not need to be opened up for nonprofit spending. Rewarding nonprofit homeless service providers with money that is supposed to be used to house their clients, when they aren’t held to a housing placement standard, is questionable.

    4. It’s not what voters intended when passing Measure E in 2020. We intended to raise revenue for affordable housing. AffordableSJ was the lingo for the measure, and that’s exactly how it was presented, reiterated and reiterated again by everyone including the former mayor. It was sold with the slogan “Make San Jose affordable.”

    Unfortunately spoken words don’t carry much honor these days, especially from those who are “public servants.” Rather it’s the legal written word that holds the power over the people. And the working-class, low-income and impoverished people of San Jose have been bamboozled. Or at least it feels that way. After years of constant gentrification, displacement and homelessness in addition to a loss of heritage and small businesses to the monolith of Google, low-income residents felt like something good was finally coming their way. And for a moment, it seemed to be true.

    The possibility of reallocating funds was actually a point included in the argument against Measure E: “Measure E is a GENERAL TAX. Despite the nice wording about affordable housing and helping the unhoused, future City Councils can spend this money on anything they choose. If they spend just $1 on housing, they can say they have kept their commitment.”

    This again shows how written words are important. If Measure E was classified as a special tax we probably wouldn’t have this issue of reallocating funds. But since it’s written as general tax and able to be used for any city purpose, the mayor can absolve himself from any ethical issues since he’s following the words as written, and therefore isn’t in the wrong.

    However, it’s a moral issue given he’s from a working-class family in San Jose, and his proposal could hurt those same families.

    Hopefully voters don’t get hoodwinked by misdirected language by our local government in the future. The language for the election materials presented to voters for Measure E reads:

    “To fund general City of San Jose services, including affordable housing for seniors, veterans, families, disabled, and low-income families, and helping homeless residents move into shelters/permanent housing…”

    There is no mention of any other uses here.

    The language for the San Jose Municipal Code addition reads:

    “The tax imposed under this Chapter is a general tax….The revenues from this general tax shall be deposited into the City’s general fund and may be used for any City purpose.”

    No mention of affordable housing for seniors, veterans, families, disabled and low-income families or helping the homeless here.

    The language for the policy amendment reads:

    “…While these revenues are deposited in the General Fund and can be used for any governmental purpose, the City Council intends for the revenues to be allocated towards addressing the homelessness crisis and the City’s most urgent issues including, but not limited to, homeless prevention and developing new affordable housing…”

    The argument that funds from prior years are uncommitted is misleading because these funds are committed, they are just unused. There has been an a slow siphoning of Measure E dollars allocated for affordable housing for the past couple of years through amendments to San Jose City Council Policy 1-18. The affordable housing allocation has gone from 80% at inception to 70% currently, and is progressing even lower at this crucial time.

    I could maybe see an argument for reallocating funds to build mental health facilities, or addiction treatment centers or something with a positive impact. Maybe.

    But force herding homeless individuals into communes of tiny shelters, in order to hide them rather than help them, is clearly a moral issue. Using funds from much-needed affordable housing is gut wrenching. Like a child throwing everything under their bed and saying their room is clean, only to discover that everything includes the long-lost family pet.

    Jerome Shaw is an unhoused advocate residing at the Plaza Hotel run by Abode. He is a neurodivergent individual who seeks to ensure people remain aware of the importance of mental health and mental health treatment in today’s society. Shaw is part of a group of homeless columnists writing for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column to shine a light on the homeless experience in Silicon Valley. Contact Jerome at [email protected]

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