Silicon Valley leaders talk homeless prevention, push for new property tax

Silicon Valley leaders on Thursday touted the successes of recent initiatives to prevent homelessness, while using the data to make a last-minute pitch for voters to approve a new property tax to fund affordable housing.

“The solutions we know that work in this crisis are housing and prevention,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said during a news conference. “This is something that works. We see it in the data, we see it every day on the faces of the residents that we are helping.”

Liccardo was joined by Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez and Destination: Home CEO Jennifer Loving at Sacred Heart Community Service to advocate for Measure E, a March 3 ballot initiative that would levy a real transfer tax on property sales of $2 million or more with the money going into the city’s general fund to boost affordable housing efforts.

Officials said the Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System has served 3,957 people at risk of homelessness in 1,338 households since July 2017. The program provides direct, one-time funding – an average of $4,106 per family – to low-income residents who are at imminent risk of losing housing. Those funds help cover rent payments, medical bills and other unexpected expenses that could lead to homelessness.

They said 95 percent of the households remained stably housed, while only 8 percent became homeless in the year after leaving the program. But Liccardo and the advocates said these programs need more revenue sources, especially since the current system only had enough money to help 35 percent of the eligible households who reached out last year.

If approved, Measure E is expected to bring the city $70 million annually. Liccardo said the success of current prevention efforts is a clear reason residents should support increasing funding through efforts like Measure E.

“We can avoid not just millions of dollars of public sector costs, but an incalculable amount of human misery,” Liccardo added. “This is what we absolutely must do as an imperative for all of us as a community.”

But opponents of the measure, which include the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, are concerned the tax revenue could be redirected to fund other city needs since it goes into the general fund. They also said homelessness prevention is a function of the county — not the city.

“Today’s City Council cannot guarantee that money raised by the measure won’t be diverted to more pressing general fund budget needs as they arise,” Pat Waite, president of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, wrote in an op-ed for San José Spotlight last month. “Taxpayer dollars must remain focused on providing the core services we all deserve, something Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility calls the three p’s: public safety, parks and pavement.”

But Chavez said focusing on prevention efforts is the best way to serve the community and a better investment in the long run — as opposed to continually funding services for those who are currently homeless, such as medical care and jail stays.

“(Measure E is) us being more strategic with a public investment that then saves money in the long run,” Chavez said. “Our partnership with the city of San Jose has kept thousands and thousands of people in their homes and in safe places. We know there’s a (funding) gap, and that gap is something that as a community I know we can fill and really protect families in our community.”

Loving added that the City Council adopted a spending plan that would dedicate 10% of Measure E funds specifically to homelessness prevention.

She said homeless prevention is vital to tackling the area’s crisis, and one step closer to solving the issue entirely. “Unless we’re doing something to keep more people from becoming homeless, we’re going to continue to have this massive humanitarian crisis in our midst,” she said. “To truly solve this crisis, we must double-down on both permanent housing and prevention.”

Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

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