Fight to End Homelessness Pinned on $950M Bond

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — Some are calling Santa Clara County’s approach to homelessness — placing a nearly $1 billion bond measure on the November ballot — historic. Others are using the word unprecedented.
     “This is the first time someone has tried to fund a five-year plan,” said Phil Olmstead, a resident who attended the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors meeting in late June. “I mean, there are lots of plans around. Everybody puts out a plan. But nobody does anything to make it happen.”
     At that meeting, the board unanimously approved a resolution to place a $950 million general obligation bond measure on the November ballot. If passed by county voters, the bonds will fund the construction of rapid rehousing for the homeless and extremely low-income residents, affordable housing for moderate-income individuals, and provide assistance for first-time home buyers.
     The formula approved by the board calls for a $700 million expenditure on housing for extremely low-income individuals, with $100 million allocated for low-income individuals and families and another $100 million reserved for moderate-income individuals and families. The final $50 million would be used for first-time homebuyers’ assistance programs.
     Property tax increases will pay off the nearly billion-dollar effort, adding $12.66 to every $100,000 of assessed value. County officials say if their growth models are correct the tax increase will retire the loan in 30 years.
     During the meeting, supervisors — who expressed unanimous and enthusiastic support for the measure — emphasized the unique and proactive approach to what many believe is one of the most severe housing crises in the nation.
     “When ever has there been a discussion of putting $700 million in onetime financing for extremely low-income housing in this county or any county that you know of?,” Supervisor David Cortese rhetorically asked the packed chambers. “I have never heard of it before.”
     Santa Clara County and the city of San Jose represent the epicenter of the Silicon Valley. As the technology industries have flourished the price of housing — whether buying or renting — has spiked dramatically, creating a particularly acute housing crisis.
     This economic trend has had a particularly substantial impact on the homeless population in Santa Clara, where the latest count conducted by Applied Survey Research indicates there is a total of 6,500 homeless living in the county. As many as 4,600 of them go without shelter on any given night.
     Compared to similar surveys conducted in major metropolitan areas throughout the nation, Santa Clara County has the fourth-largest number of homeless persons.
     Some of that is attributable to the soaring cost of housing. Widely recognized as home to some of the most expensive real estate in the nation, home prices in Santa Clara County rose 10.4 percent over the past year and the median sales price for a single family home hit $900,000 according to CoreLogic, a company that tracks real estate markets in the Bay Area.
     Additionally, market tracker RealFacts reports that Silicon Valley apartment rents are now the highest in the state. A recent study published by the California Budget & Policy Center showed a dramatic widening in inequality in Silicon Valley over the past seven years.
     Silicon Valley is a more unequal place than it was a quarter-century ago,” the study states. “Income gaps have widened, the region’s middle class has shrunk, and the punctuated prosperity of the region’s wealthiest residents masks ground lost by Silicon Valley’s most vulnerable individuals and families.”
     Leaders in the nonprofit sector who run organizations dedicated to addressing Silicon Valley’s housing crisis also say California’s ending of county redevelopment agencies during the state budget crisis earlier in the decade has compounded the problem.
     “With the loss of significant funding for affordable housing — the largest being the elimination of redevelopment funding that brought $60 million annually to Santa Clara County cities — few resources are available to finance the development of new affordable housing,” said Leslie Corsiglia, executive director of SV@Home, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing in the region.
     Corsiglia and a consortium of other related nonprofits and private affordable-housing developers signed a letter expressing support for the general obligation bond.
     “If placed on the ballot and subsequently approved by the county’s voters, these funds will create housing opportunities for thousands of county residents who are struggling to afford the high cost of living in the South Bay,” the letter states.
     Nearly every attendee at the Board of Supervisors meeting spoke in support of the measure, many of whom were homeless. While many appealed to people’s sense of compassion, several parties have made the case a one-time investment of nearly a billion dollars actually makes better economic sense as well.
     Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation, said the health care facility spent nearly $915 million over five years on the homeless. He said the figure is heavily skewed toward frequent users who would not be using such services with such regularity if they had the benefit of housing.
     “This is the right thing from an economic standpoint,” Wilder said.
     Supervisor Cortese said the county stands to benefit economically from the arrangement as well, although it may appear counterintuitive as it spends nearly a billion dollars.
     But the county estimates it spends about half a billion dollars annually on services related to homelessness that don’t necessarily provide anything in the way of long-term solutions.
     Cortese emphasized that the one-time cost or investment could potentially go a long way in mitigating what the county spends in emergency services, cleaning costs, environmental mitigations and other problems related to homelessness.
     “I hope we don’t actually have people who think that putting $700 million of bond money to try to mitigate ongoing costs is a bad business model,” he said.
     Supporters of the measure acknowledged there is much work to be done relating to the bond measure, which needs a two-thirds majority approval from voters in order to pass.
     “This affordable housing bond is a total game-changer,” said Alison Brunner of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. “We will fight hard to get this thing passed in November.”
     

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