UPDATE: San Jose abandons affordable housing preservation proposal
More than 100 residents spoke ahead of a San Jose City Council vote on an affordable housing preservation policy on April 25, 2023. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    After years of deliberation and analysis, hundreds of public comments and heated jabs hurled between San Jose councilmembers, a controversial housing preservation proposal is dead.

    The San Jose City Council voted 9-2 to reject the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, or COPA, which would’ve given qualified nonprofits the ability to make the first offer on multi-family residential properties in San Jose to maintain affordable rents. Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Omar Torres voted no.

    The council will instead explore how San Jose could create or support an entity to help organizations secure grants and other funding to build, acquire or rehabilitate low-income units — helping preserve affordable housing and prevent displacement. The alternative idea was introduced by Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei. The city will also create an affordable housing preservation work plan.

    “I know some people were disappointed (about today’s vote), but it doesn’t mean we don’t care about displacement,” Kamei told San José Spotlight. “We deeply care. But we need to be very realistic as to what COPA does.”

    She and other councilmembers argued COPA is not as effective at curbing displacement as proponents claimed. For example, the $5 million earmarked for nonprofits through COPA would help save about 15 units, Councilmember Pam Foley said.

    Kamei said what San Jose needs instead is a direct solution for those who are displaced from their homes.

    Torres and Councilmember Peter Ortiz pushed back, noting COPA is just one tool the city can use to preserve affordable housing.

    “Displacement means loss of support systems, loss of jobs and emotional trauma,” Torres said. “We’re going to see displacement if we don’t preserve housing. The families that are leaving are those who built San Jose and that is very sad.”

    Jimenez said he believes San Jose needs more housing preservation policies, with or without COPA.

    Jimenez, Ortiz and Councilmember David Cohen want the city to explore purchasing and rehabilitating affordable housing and supporting nonprofits, like the South Bay Community Land Trust, that do housing preservation work. Other ideas include notifying tenants when their building is being sold and educating them on their rights.

    These suggestions also help ensure the city meets state requirements for housing preservation policies. Next month, San Jose must submit its Housing Element – a state-mandated plan that outlines the city’s housing strategy over the next eight years – for state approval.

    “I voted no because I have serious concerns about the impact (this vote) will have in receiving a certified housing element from the state,” Jimenez told San José Spotlight after the meeting.

    The city council first studied COPA in 2020 and the proposal faced several delays before returning for a vote. Several cities have adopted similar policies, including Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Assemblymember Ash Kalra also introduced a state version of COPA in February.

    The discussion at the council meeting was extensive—lasting more than five hours. Those who spoke in opposition said the policy would give too much power to nonprofits and affect a property owner’s ability to market their home.

    “(COPA) increases bureaucracy, decreases transfer and property tax revenue for the city and grants special privilege for corporate nonprofits,” said Sandra Webber, a realtor. “The time and money spent just studying COPA alone could have instead supported many more people with home vouchers.”

    However, proponents said COPA would help people stay in their homes—and several shared their concerns of immediate displacement.

    Dozens of pro-COPA advocates hold a rally ahead of the San Jose City Council vote. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    An hour before the vote, dozens of supporters of the policy rallied in front of San Jose City Hall, chanting and holding signs that said “COPA now.”

    “After this vote I wish that you can go home and enjoy your safe home without worrying about being displaced,” San Jose resident Norma Chavez told councilmembers through a Spanish translator. “But in your dreams, remember that most families do not have the same opportunities that you do. There are families with children, young people, parents and old people with anxiety and fear of being displaced.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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