Tonkel: On the Ellis Act vote, we must protect, preserve, produce
One in 5 renters statewide, including more than 37,000 households in Santa Clara County, are said to be behind on rent. Courtesy photo.

    Here in Silicon Valley, we are in the midst of an affordable housing and displacement crisis and it’s time we act like it. We host discussions on preventing displacement and talk about the value of preserving affordable homes but behind the scenes, our leaders are moving to gut our most important affordable housing preservation policy, the Ellis Act Ordinance, which was previously weakened by the City Council in 2018.

    In our city, rent-controlled apartments are among the only affordable options for low and moderate income families, with an average rent many can still afford, $169 less per month. It’s a contradiction to promote the demolition of these homes and claim the city is doing everything it can to protect residents and preserve affordable housing.

    San Jose’s original Ellis Act required developers who knocked down rent stabilized homes to replace them under rent control in order to disincentivize demolishing affordable homes and evicting families. By bringing up Ellis Act again, the message is clear to developers: your most lucrative option is to knock down the only affordable homes we have when San Jose residents are already struggling to get by.

    These families are our teachers, small business owners and social workers, disproportionately women led households and families of color. Incentivizing demolition of affordable rent controlled homes that many low-income families depend on is not the right way to meet our housing goals when the 40,000 rent controlled, affordable apartments far outnumber deed-restricted affordable housing units in our city.

    This policy will have a huge impact on District 6. Forty-nine percent of District 6 residents are renting and of them, 52% are rent burdened already. Property values in San Jose have quadrupled since 1995 while wages of San Jose renters have fallen in the same time period. Forty-one percent of renter households in the district earn less than $50,000 per year. These facts don’t support lowering the Ellis Act requirements, just like they don’t support the council’s 2017 decision to setting rent control at 5% per year.

    It was a decision many councilmembers and city staff disagreed with, pushing instead for tying increases to the inflation index.

    This is what happens when politics is more fixated on the bottom line of developers than protecting working families. We are thousands of units short of our affordable housing goals, but we send millions of dollars in incentives to developers. At the end of the day, someone is going to be paying for the impact of these policies on our housing market — it’s either us, the taxpayers, or the developers. It’s time to put our community’s needs first to ensure we preserve and produce the affordable housing we need.

    We need leaders who understand that families are struggling and that make protecting San Jose residents a priority.

    That’s why I am so grateful to have received the sole endorsement from the South Bay Labor Council and to be endorsed by many of our local school board members including Brian Wheatley, Maimona Afzal Berta, Jorge Pacheco Jr. and Richard Nguyen, among many others, because they trust me to help working families afford to stay in San Jose.

    The saying goes; reduce first, reuse second and recycle third. For housing, we must protect, preserve and then produce. Not the other way around.

    Jake Tonkel is a biomedical engineer and a San Jose City Council candidate running in District 6, which covers Willow Glen and the Rose Garden.

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