San Jose OKs Temporary Fix|for Growing Homeless Woes

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — In an indication of the severity of San Jose’s housing crisis, the City Council agreed to use a 6-acre city parcel to build a village of transitional housing designed to provide immediate relief to the rapidly worsening homeless problem.
     “The community has been urging us to do something immediately,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said during Tuesday’s council meeting.
     The city elected to contract with Abode Services to construct 17 manufactured-home units designed to accommodate formerly homeless people as city services attempts to transition them from living on the street to more permanent housing.
     The transitional housing village at Evans Lane is slated to come on line in the summer of 2017. The council’s alternative was to use the city-owned property to build a more permanent housing facility consisting of 446 units, approximately 40 percent of which would be set aside as affordable housing.
     The problem, according to several councilmembers, is that those housing units would not be available for at least five years and more likely seven years.
     “We have heard loud and clearly from our community that we need solutions to the homeless crisis and we need them today,” San Jose’s housing director Jacky Morales-Ferrand said.
     The city has the highest rate of unsheltered housing, according to a report on homelessness issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2014. This means that of the 7,500 homeless residents of the city, nearly 75 percent are spending the night on the streets on any given night.
     By comparison, New York — which has nearly 67,000 homeless people — has an unsheltered rate of 5 percent.
     San Jose is unique in another housing category: The capital of Silicon Valley became the only city in the United States where the median home prices eclipse $1 million, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.
     The market is exorbitant for renters as well, with the price of a one-bedroom going for on average $2,040 per month. As such, the city has an affordability crisis and several residents are forced to live in crowded apartments or even on the streets.
     The housing department came up with the unique plan for 17 manufactured homes on city property in between the Almaden Expressway and Highway 187. The units are designed to accommodate up to 102 formerly homeless individuals.
     “This is interim housing, but it’s real housing,” Councilwoman Rose Herrera said. “People will be inside with a safe place to sleep and a kitchen where they can cook.”
     However, not everyone in attendance or on the council was in favor of the plan. A slew of residents, most of whom live near the proposed project, said their neighborhoods are already overloaded with low-income housing projects that have brought an uptick in crime, drug use, vandalism, loitering and a general feeling of unease.
     Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio said that aside from legitimate concerns about the increase in crime, the project is an example of poor land-use planning that exacerbates rather alleviates the problems it attempts to solve.
     “A permanent solution would house more people,” he said. “Granted it takes longer, but you are not able to house more people when you reduce densities.”
     Another councilmember accused those of supporting the permanent housing option of a bait and switch, saying the same people would likely be back to oppose the permanent option using the same arguments.
     “I’ve been at meetings where we are presenting permanent housing options and we get exactly the same comments as we get today,” Councilman Raul Peralez said. “Basically, you get vitriol and dissenting viewpoints directed toward human beings who are homeless.”
     Peralez said opting for permanent housing that is nearly a decade off without providing more immediate solutions is “kicking the can down the road.”
     Experts in the field of homeless services continue to debate the efficacy of permanent housing and transitional housing. The emphasis on permanent housing in Los Angeles, which has the nation’s largest homeless population, has led to more unsheltered individuals on a given night because the funding for emergency shelters and other forms of transitional housing is vanishing.
     However, the Urban Institute has found that transitional housing is often just a short-term fix.
     “Rapid re-housing does not solve long-term housing affordability problems,” the institute said in a study published in June 2015. “After families exit rapid re-housing, they experience high rates of residential instability.”
     In San Jose, those in support of the approved transitional housing village acknowledge that it is unlikely to forge a permanent solution. But they say that the severity of the present crisis is such that it needs a more immediate short-term solution.
     “It’s a tough issue,” Councilman Johnny Khamis said.
     In the meantime, the city continues to look to expand its inventory of permanent affordable-housing solutions, as a steady stream of projects are slated to come online in the coming years, according to Morales-Ferrand.

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