San Jose Considers Building Communal Housing for Homeless

As part of a regional effort to move people off the streets and into stable housing, the city of San Jose will consider building a “transitional community” for at least 100 people.

The proposal, up for consideration at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, would help people unable to find a home because of poor credit, gaps in rental history or a lack of money.

At build-out, the community would consist of about 16 modular units of up to eight rooms and shared bathrooms and kitchens. Another communal building would serve as a meeting space and laundry facility. Each room would have a locking door and include storage space and convertible furniture. The compound may also come with parking, a smoking patio, a dog run and community garden.

Abode Services, a housing nonprofit that serves more than 4,400 adults in three Bay Area counties, would act as property manager. The city expects each modular unit to cost up to $120,000 each and operating costs to run about $725,000 a year for every 50 participants.

This village-like shelter proposal comes a week after after city officials committed to building a 135-unit apartment complex for permanent supportive housing for the homeless. Also in the works are plans to buy a hotel, dedicated parking spaces for people to sleep in their cars and creating a hotel and motel lease program.

Meanwhile, Santa Clara County supervisors approved $13 million-plus to buy and fix up motels and hotels for the homeless. They also approved $3.8 million to bolster existing housing services, drop-in access to showers and toilets, and 585 shelter beds.

A recent study found that homelessness costs the region $520 million a year in services such as incarceration, mental health care and hospital visits. While the county saw a 14-percent reduction in the number of people living on the streets—down to about 6,500 this year—the region still claims one of the highest populations of homeless residents.

In San Jose, more than 45 percent of homeless people lost their home because of a financial or domestic crisis, according to the city. A recent survey and census found that the main reason people became homeless was from losing a job (30 percent of respondents). The third most-cited reason was divorce or separation from a partner (16 percent).

Respondents overwhelmingly said the biggest barrier to finding housing was a lack of money. Two-thirds said they can’t afford rent in this market, though most had once lived in independent permanent housing.

“Most people who are homeless have previously lived in independent permanent housing and they can generally return and remain housed when provided with limited assistance,” said San Jose’s interim Housing Director, Jacky Morales-Ferrand. “The more time someone remains on the street, the longer it will take to transition back into permanent housing. The goal of the pilot is to move program participants off the streets into the transitional housing community and offer services to locate permanent housing as quickly as possible.”

The city expects to have the transitional housing community up and running by next fall.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for September 22, 2015:

  • Santana Row will add more than 500,000 square feet of office space. Council members Pierluigi Oliverio, Chappie Jones, Don Rocha, Johnny Khamis and Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city should get the developer to pay for traffic signal upgrades, road widening and a shuttle service. Federal Realty recently leased out 300 Santana Row to companies employing hundreds of office workers. Meanwhile, the under-construction 500 Santana Row will be leased to Splunk, which will add new research and development jobs and attendant tax revenue in 2016. With this latest expansion, the city expects to gain 1,500 new jobs and $370,000 in annual property and sales tax revenues.
  • A $3.3 million federal grant will help the city hire 14 firefighters. Since 2011, the city has been awarded a combined $26.8 million to restore 90 sworn fire positions cut during the recession.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

26 Comments

  1. I notice that the local roads still have lots of potholes. The infrastructure in general is deteriorating. Those things need fixing, but they seem to always be on the back burner. This new proposal misdirects money from community maintenance and services.

    The article states:

    In San Jose, more than 45 percent of homeless people lost their home because of a financial or domestic crisis, according to the city.

    No kidding, eh? But of course, that is a meaningless statistic without more info: 45% of what number? What is the time frame? How many moved out of the area? How many found new jobs? & etc.

    …the main reason people became homeless was from losing a job… The third most-cited reason was divorce or separation from a partner.

    So when someone gets a divorce, why does that become the taxpayers’ problem? And the consolation prize is cheap/free housing?? In this very good job market, does this proposal not take away some incentive to find another job?

    Next::

    Respondents overwhelmingly said the biggest barrier to finding housing was a lack of money.

    Can I add: “Well… DUH.”?

    A few years ago the VTA would put contracts out for bid to bus companies, for servicing the local routes. The low bidder won the contract, and paid property taxes. They provided efficient, cheap transportation at no real cost to the county. And they paid taxes on their profits.

    But then, VTA management decided that, although they had no experience in running a bus company, or any hands-on experience at all in transportation, that they should be the ones who ran the transportation infrastructure! Hubris, no?

    The results were sadly predictable: the county lost its property tax revenue, the government lost the tax income — and VTA’s budget ballooned out of control. WAY out of control.

    So now San Jose wants to play landlord. What fun! With no (financial) skin in the game, Councilmembers can say they’re “doing something”. But they never mention that they’re “doing something” with taxpayers’ money, and that it will be every bit as inefficient and wasteful as VTA running public transportation.

    I am against all these social engineering proposals. But if the council wanted to ‘do something’, naturally they picked the worst possible way to do it.

    What they should do (‘nothing’ is best), would be to provide incentives for private companies with landlord/housing experience, to bid on low income projects. Thirty-year tax abatements, for example, and waive the density requirements. High rises make much more efficient use of land. Instead of ‘high density’ being 24 units per acre, why not 100 units/acre? It’s done in other places.

    San Jose’s interim Housing Director, Jacky Morales-Ferrand opined:

    “The goal of the pilot is to move program participants off the streets into the transitional housing community and offer services to locate permanent housing as quickly as possible.”

    To translate that pablum: the city wants to get into the landlording business, plus get into the social services business of “offering services” to find other housing.

    As we all know, once a bureacracy like that is started, it grows inexorably, and it is impossible to ever eliminate it. It takes on a life of its own; Ms. Morales-Ferrand will no doubt become the permanent ‘Housing Director'; and this drop in the bucket fix will make no appreciable difference in the number of people wanting cheap housing (which doesn’t exist here, except when hard-bitten taxpayers are forced to provide for a lucky few). A new VTA-style boondoggle will emerge. Is there any doubt?

    I have a few questions for the City Council:

    • When will our streets be fixed? I have been requesting a simple limited parking sign every year for EIGHT YEARS, because of the commercial businesses that use our street for their daily parking lot. Result: zero action. In fact, I never get any response at all.

    • This expensive proposal, if enacted, will generate a demand for more such housing. Since votes are at stake, how will the Council resist pouring more and more of our money into more free housing that will benefit only a small fraction of those in need?

    • Section 8 already subsidizes low income folks, paying 75% of their rent. Why does the city need to be redundant?

    • What are the city’s priorities? What, they don’t prioritize?? Why not? Where is this free/subsidized (and very expensive) housing, in relation to all the other needs of San Jose’s citizens? Why is it suddenly such a priority? Five years ago jobs were scarce. Now they’re plentiful.

    • Is there a cost/benefit analysis done on this proposal by an independent auditing firm? Ha, who are we kidding? Taxpayers would love to know how many dollars — including the salaries and benefits of bureaucrats like Ms. Morales-Ferrand, and all the other bureaucrats involved — that will be required to provide each night’s lodging per individual? What will this really cost? I suspect the cost will be above what the free market charges — and far above what the city admits to.

    I will be the first to agree that housing is expensive here. But when the government gets involved in being the developer, landlord, etc., the cost will certainly be far higher than if the city just made it easier for private citizens and companies to do the job. But then, it’s not the Council members’ own money, is it? It’s money paid by taxpayers, who do not need another bottomless pit for their tax payments! Is anyone for a new VTA?

    My advice to the Council: stay out of the landlording business! I have owned, rented, and managed numerous apartments, 4-plexes, duplexes, houses, and commercial shopping centers for many years. If the City Council really believes they have what it takes to efficiently provide housing, I would love to see their detailed plan. I think I could explain some basic facts to them, showing that they’re dreaming about cost and efficiency. (Truth be told, there are the usual special interests that smell easy money from city projects like this, and they’re busy whispering in certain ears. But we won’t find out much about them until it’s too late.)

    In the mean time, I am asking the City Council: please prioritize your spending plans. Where is this issue, in relation to all city spending requirements? Please take care of problem #1 first, then problem #2, etc. Or are you getting excited at the prospect of “doing something”, at additional expense to the taxpaying public that always foots the bills?

    • > Respondents overwhelmingly said the biggest barrier to finding housing was a lack of money.

      Really!

      And what did they answer to the question: “What is your biggest obstacle to buying a yacht with twelve person crew, a chef, and a helicopter landing deck?”

    • > In San Jose, more than 45 percent of homeless people lost their home because of a financial or domestic crisis, according to the city.

      Translation:

      They couldn’t make the payments on the bogus “liar’s loans” that banks were forced to offer them by the Clinton regime under the Community Reinvestment Act.

    • Usually these comment forums are filled with ignorant venom, but SMOKEY is fairly reasonable here, esp. on the need to back up the statistics.

      That partly addresses the “Who?” question, which is critical for making a difference.

    • SJ Inside has intentionally suppressed my post concerning this issue.

      They should publically explain why.

      David S. Wall

  2. I may not have the best answer here, but it seems very simple: it is very difficult (short of impossible) to first find a job, work long enough to meet first and last month’s housing obligations just to secure a place, and then meet all the other basic needs of maintaining a life. There are a number of projects back east that have shown promise along the lines of this suggestion. If we can provide housing that will support those who really want to work themselves out of their situation, I am all for that.

    • Sal Donovan says:

      …it is very difficult (short of impossible) to first find a job, work long enough to meet first and last month’s housing obligations just to secure a place, and then meet all the other basic needs of maintaining a life.

      Yet, millions upon millions do it, without freeloading on the taxpayers.

      And for those who really want to work themselves out of their situation, you’ve provided the answer: if they “really” want to work themselves out of their situation, then… get to work.

      That may sound callous to those who have been indoctrinated with the idea that Big Government is the solution to every problem. Those are the same mouth breathing head-nodders who agree with the talking heads on TV, always telling us we must “do something”.

      The fact is that anyone who really wants to work themselves out of their predicament, following just a few simple rules will do the trick:

      1. Take a job. ANY job. You will move up from there, just like millions of others have.

      2. Be on time.

      3. Make your boss look good. You will benefit from that, too.

      4. Spend less than you take in.

      5. Save some money out of each paycheck or other income source.

      See? Simples. And it works.

      The real problem is with the City Council, looking for ever more ways to spend our money. Stop it!

      • Boy Smokey, try having nothing (whether you lost it or just fell on poor luck) and try finding a job when your address is the creek bed. Than try making the savings for the first and last month’s rent. You must have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth or one up your ‘a$&.’ Don’t turn my words around for your lack of compassion, due in part to your ignorance.

        • Sal Donovan says:

          Boy Smokey, try having nothing (whether you lost it or just fell on poor luck) and try finding a job when your address is the creek bed.

          Sal, I was discharged upon returning from Viet Nam <–[old timey spelling], with eighty bucks in severance, a ticket home, and nothing else.

          That was in January 1970 and there weren’t many jobs. I did what I could, but times were tough. For 3 months I lived in a tent on a grass turnout near Summit Road, south of Los Gatos. No car, no home, no money. I slept in a sleeping bag and hitchhiked to get around.

          Finally I found a job, for $3.31/hr. From there I got better jobs (employers don’t want you if you’re unemployed; that means no one else wants you. But if you have a job and apply somewhere else, employers want you just because someone else does, too. Human nature.)

          Being a saver, not a spender helped. (I never had a credit card until I was 50.) I saved money for a few years, then found a cheap house to buy. It was tough at first, but with job promotions it gradually got easier. I rented rooms to help pay the mortgage. I still saved money from every paycheck.

          Eight years after I bought my first house, I was able to buy a duplex. I had plenty of negative cash flow at first, but over a few years that gap was closed, and then I started to make a small net profit.

          I bought more property when I could. After the first two, it got easier. But I’ll tell you, it was never all that easy. I usually worked 2 jobs. Saved what I could, including all the profit from renting. As interest rates came down, I refinanced, which provided more net income.

          Now I’m retired. No need to work — but if I had to I wouldn’t hesitate. So I went from a homeless ex-soldier to someone in the middle class. No one helped me, certainly not the government. Does that answer your question?

          If I can do it, surely most people can do it. I know young people right now who are buying property just like I did. Sure, prices are higher now. But I’ve paid 18 ½% interest on home loans. Now interest rates are 4%. On net balance, the cap rate is about the same.

          I just do not see why the government must get involved with all these ‘great new ideas’, like becoming landlords. They do it by raising our taxes, then spending the money. But with no financial ‘skin in the game’, efficiency plummets. Politics trumps finance.

          In the early decades of the last century immigrants came here for the one government benefit that was offered: freedom. They prospered, and the ones here now would prosper just the same without all the handouts.

          Back then, the press reported on success stories. Now, the reporting is always on the saddest case they can find. You are supposed to feel guilty, because getting another gov’t program started is the easy way to assuage your guilt. But I notice there are no starving people anywhere here. You know, the kind with distended bellies and arms like broomstick handles. In fact, people are living longer than ever. They just want the freebies, and the electeds have learned to turn freebies into votes — at your expense.

          The problem is that government has decided that it likes having the cookie jar. Giving out other folks’ money feels good. But it grows the bureaucracy, and requires ever more taxes. And once started, these programs never seem to go away; they always grow and grow. They are a bureaucrat’s job security.

          So, which do you want? Big Government, high taxes, and an out of control bureaucracy? Or smaller government, and citizens taking more care of their own local concerns and fellow citizens?

          That’s the choice. One way leads to EU-style stagnation, but where everyone is more or less equal (except for the ruling bureaucracy); the other leads to much greater wealth and personal freedom, but with a definite inequality of results. It is also what made America so prosperous.

          Which is better?

  3. So Sal, you say: “If we can provide housing that will support those who really want to work themselves out of their situation, I am all for that.”?

    I’ll agree ONLY if we amend it with the following: “If we can provide housing that will support those residents of San Jose who have been paying either state, income, and/or county property tax in the past 2-3 years and really want to work themselves out of their situation, I am all for that.”

    We all know very well that this will hardly be the case (http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2015/06/18/san-franciscos-homeless-policies-have-been-a-15-billion-failure) and the only “beneficiaries” of this fairy tale will be the professional vagrants and the city administrators themselves. Talk about foxes guarding the hen house.

  4. Old city hall is still unused, right next to law enforcement (got a feeling we need it near this commune) and would have enough space to house all our homeless, not just 100.

  5. > Old city hall is still unused, . .

    Good grief. San Jose political scandals never get resolved. They just get buried by other scandals dumped on the top of the pile.

  6. It seems to me that everyone who submits a comment on SJI regarding any government agency should cc it to the responsible agency/agency members. Then they might get an idea about how far out of touch with the people they are. So, on this thread all who have already or will post a comment should cc their comment to the SJ Mayor and all SJ council members. That would only take an extra few seconds once you have established a group in your email address book.

    • Meh, they all read our comments here, or their staffers do then pass it on. Remember the site was banned at the CSJ firewalls for a while. Trust me, they see them these posts, just choose to not acknowledge them. Too many contractors drooling at the chance for some work building these new structures.

      • I am not as connected as you are Cousin Cortese, so I have no way of knowing whether “they all read our comments” or not. Staff probably filters what gets sent on to the electeds. However, I believe that if they are forwarded separately it might have a greater impact. Perhaps I am just naïve.

  7. “Council members Pierluigi Oliverio, Chappie Jones, Don Rocha, Johnny Khamis and Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city should get the developer to pay for traffic signal upgrades, road widening and a shuttle service.”

    Road widening, say what?! Winchester and Stevens Creek are absurdly wide as it is. These roads need a road diet, not widening. Have the developer put in bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

  8. While many of these ideas have been previously mentioned (most notably by FINFAN), they bear repeating as they have potential as a “Final Solution” to the homeless problem.

    First, the City must identify a prime piece of real state, preferably in Willow Glen since this is where most of the “compassionate” people live. There, a “Solutions Center” should be established for the first phase of the homeless improvement process. At the “Solutions Center” homeless “clients” will be interviewed to determine whether or not there might be family members or other acquaintances who would be willing to forgive the “Client helpee” for past mistreatment, assaultive behaviors and/or molestations of family members and/or friends and neighbors and determine who among this latter group might have sufficient means, compassion and inclination to help.

    Following the anticipated 99.99% failure rate of “clients” processed at the “Solutions Center”, the next step would be to post photos, biographical information (and in small print, criminal records; drug use and mental health histories) online on a sort of “Wino-list” website (similar to Craigslist or e-bay). Here, the truly compassionate can page through the various “clients” and personally pick out one to adopt, provide employment for, or give a monthly donation toward the care and upkeep of the chosen individual.

    With the likely 99.99% failure rate of the “Solutions Center” and the “wino-website”, the remaining alternative would have to be a Quonset hut village designated “Camp Desperation” (An 80’ X 80’ Quonset hut, with doors, windows and insulation, sells for about $60,000; cable TV and wi-fi could be donated or provided at tax payer expense).“Camp residents” will be provided with portable showers, toilets, and food rations. Clients who wish to do so and are not too overweight,drug dependent or lazy to do so, may even choose to grow their own food (marijuana cultivation would be officially prohibited but not strictly enforced). For a nominal fee, members of the “compassion community” would be allowed to visit these inhabitants, feed and groom them and possibly interact with them in a supervised “petting zoo” enclosure.

    This seems to me to be the most practical “Final Solution” to the homeless problem. It will lessen the financial and tax drain on the working public, those people who do the work on in contrast to those who won’t do any, and will allow the City to maintain infrastructure like filling street potholes with asphalt instead of filling homeless ones with public assistance money, too often transformed into cigarettes, fortified wine and drugs.

    And finally, at the entrance to “Camp Desperation” there should be something that would help preserve their dignity and remind us all of the (real or imagined) contributions that the homeless have made to our society. At the Camp entrance, there should be a monument: “The Tomb of the Unknown Wino”. Here, there would be an eternal flame, fueled by the constant combustion of illegal drugs, cheap wine, and most importantly, an endless stream of tax dollars.

    There should also be a plaque that would honor the memory of all those homeless men and women who died of alcoholism and drug overdoses, particularly those who purchased the latter substances with public assistance money. Next to the plaque, there should be a statue of a disheveled homeless man laying face down in a puddle of his own urine, with a unavoidably noticeable brownish stain on the back of his pants, while a somber policeman looks sadly over the unfortunate soul, next to the words “Because We Didn’t Care Enough”

    • J.S. Robillard,

      Your comment was tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a lot of truth there.

      In the early decades of the 20th century, there was only one government benefit for immigrants: freedom. But they came here by the millions for that. They knew they’d have to work for a living.

      Their support network was family, friends, churches, etc. That works infinitely better than gov’t assistance, for one reason: friends and family have a limited amount of patience. They will help — but you had better be willing to work, save money and pay them back. Or help the next guy. That fostered a very polite society, because if you didn’t show some appreciation for their generosity, you wouldn’t get help.

      But that was then, and this is now. Multi-millions are flooding in, at an accelerating pace. Why? For free taxpayer MONEY, and lots of it.

      Now the government gives immigrants money, housing, medical care, food stamps, etc., and etc. Forever. Once you’re on Section 8, for example, your voucher is renewed every year. It pays 75% of your rent, in many cases for life. Why? The gov’t should not be paying anyone’s rent. But since they do, it should be limited to one year. That would provide a big incentive to work, no?

      You can buy a house in Detroit for $1. The reason rents are high here is because there are lots of employment opportunities here. Jobs are here, if someone wants to work.

      And get rid of the minimum wage!! Only econ illiterates believe that is a good idea. [Bastiat is a good starting place to cure the ignorance: http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html ] The minumum wage bars a free exchange between two parties. Why make freedom illegal?

      Anyway, I liked the petting zoo idea.

      Next, Aqeel says:

      These roads need a road diet, not widening. Have the developer put in bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

      This is the real world, Aqeel. There are very good reasons why those roads are wide. Try to figure it out.

      Regarding ‘bike lanes': bicycle riders are major freeloaders as it is. They should have to pay an annual registration fee the same as car owners. Maybe 25% of the average registration fee for bikes. How about that idea? They’re so obnoxious in San Francisco that they will not hesitate to damage your vehicle if they ‘feel’ that you’re too close to a bike lane. Or for any reason. They truly believe they are special, just because they ride bicycles.

      So, let’s get an intitative started: Bicycle registration! Licence plates, just like cars and motorcycles, only smaller. Really. I can’t wait to hear the squealing and moaning.

  9. > For a nominal fee, members of the “compassion community” would be allowed to visit these inhabitants, feed and groom them and possibly interact with them in a supervised “petting zoo” enclosure.

    I like it! A WIN-WIN solution.

    That’s what I call “thinking outside the box”.

    I can only add to your proposal by suggesting that the land for your “Solutions Center” be acquired by eminent domain from the most eminent members of the Big Heart class.

    Maybe the Village Blacksmith would offer to do some “pro bono” work in his foundry and create an elegant plaque for the Solutions Center:

    “Former Home of Sam LIccardo, graciously donated to the San Jose Community to provide affordable housing for illegal immigrant child victims of Bush policies who desperately want to vote for Democrats someday”.

  10. We’ve seen this movie before. What will be different this time? CityTeam’s Julian St. closure was promised to restore St. James Park. it’s more inhospitable than ever for anyone not homeless. Ditto for every other shelter and program expansion in SJ.

    Housing’s program for “chronic” St. James Park homeless housed less than 50% of capacity for homeless 1.5 years after begun. Appliance theft, evictions due to unsanitary conditions, drug peddling & prostitution, noise, and abandonment were given as reasons occupancy was low.

    Homelessness runs the gamut from people temporarily down on their luck to “chronic” street crazies. Stats show that temporaries bounce back within a few weeks without aid. Virtually all of the cost of $500+ million / year attributed to SCC homeless are from the chronic cases – and no cost-benefit data to believe that giving them “two hots and a squat” will make any tangible impact to public costs.

    Also troubling is excessive concentration. Like public housing projects of the 1960’s launched with great promise, the homeless hotel proposal seems destined to become another slum. Again, housing has no answers as to what will prevent this.

    • > We’ve seen this movie before. What will be different this time?

      > Again, housing has no answers as to what will prevent this.

      Excellent analysis, Mr. Taxpayer.

      How would you describe the facial expression of your local big heart activist politician when you explained this to him?

      A. Vacant grin
      B. Deer in the headlights.
      C. Orangutang with a plastic banana
      D. Chicken looking in a mirror

      • I would expect s smug, “I am more compassionate because I have a bigger heart, because I am better and smarter than you,” look.