San Jose wants to wrest control of its subsidized rent programs from the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, which has long frustrated city officials with an alleged lack of transparency and timeliness.
Come Tuesday, the City Council will consider a recommendation from San Jose Housing Department Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand to end or renegotiate its contract with the agency, which is a standalone entity not under county oversight.
The housing authority has managed the city’s rent vouchers—commonly called Section 8—since 1976, and the contract hasn’t been revised since 1996. Under the current terms, San Jose has little say over day-to-day operations and budget decisions, board appointments and other developments.
Katherine Harasz, who heads the housing authority, defended her agency and said dividing the Section 8 program into multiple bureaucracies would likely cost more taxpayer money and complicate things for tenants.
“Both the county and the city’s interest in the housing authority, its operation and its funding is understandable given the affordable housing crisis in our community,” she said. “But the bottom line is that there are many more people in need than we have funds to respond to, so it’s important that we work together to address that.”
The city and housing authority have butt heads many times over the years, according to a memo by Morales-Ferrand. In 2007, San Jose asked the authority to increase the number of vouchers for the chronically homeless from 500, which fell far short of the need. It wasn’t until four years later that the housing authority designated an additional 200 vouchers and created a direct referral program with the county.
San Jose tried to renegotiate its contract with the authority back in 2011. In a letter to the housing agency, the city outlined a list of concerns: a lack of transparency, incomplete data, delays and unanswered questions about funding. The city’s push prompted the county to consider forming a joint powers structure to address those frustrations—but the plan never materialized.
Last fall, however, the county Board of Supervisors revisited that discussion and directed staff to drum up ideas about how to improve the housing authority’s governance structure. Supervisors voted against a joint powers arrangement, which would have given the city more of a voice.
Instead, the board of supes is considering whether to maintain the status quo or assume direct oversight of the housing authority. If supervisors opt for the latter option in a vote expected sometime this month, they would also create an advisory board that includes a representative from the city.
But San Jose wants to play more than just an advisory role.
According to Morales-Ferrand, the housing authority has burned San Jose in the past by making major decisions on pensions, land buys and public housing closures without the city’s consent. San Jose has also been kept out of the loop on financial reporting, even when the housing agency uses city money to pay for the authority’s other programs.
The housing authority has also entered into agreements in San Jose’s name without asking the city for its express approval, city officials said. All the while, per the city memo, the housing authority has fallen far short of San Jose’s transparency standards.
“While the [authority] has improved public noticing, it does not follow the city’s strong sunshine requirements, making it difficult for both the public and the [city] to have sufficient time to review and provide meaningful input,” Morales-Ferrand wrote in her memo. “Given that no progress has been made on addressing these concerns, it is time to renegotiate a new agreement.”
If the council agrees to end the housing authority’s contract, the city would have a year to either renegotiate the terms of its relationship or to find a new partner altogether.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for March 13, 2018:
- Skyrocketing real estate prices have made the land beneath San Jose’s mobile home parks a gold mine for property owners, which puts 35,000 residents at risk of displacement. To prevent the loss of vital affordable housing stock, the city tried to come up with a way to incentivize mobile home park owners who stay in business instead of selling their land. But two years of deliberations have led to an impasse, and now the council will have to decide whether it’s worth continuing the discussion or dropping the idea.
- In a related item, the city will consider other ways to prevent mobile home park closures, such as through zoning. The city suggests bringing the ideas back for discussion at the next council priority-setting session. In a joint memo, however, council members Don Rocha, Raul Peralez and Sergio Jimenez said the city must act quickly. “We adamantly oppose the notion of this item being brought back for a third time to priority setting,” they wrote. “Further delays will only exacerbate our housing crisis and create uncertainty for residents.”
- San Jose has teamed up with the East Side Union High School District to provide free WiFi to students. The project has already had a huge impact, according to staff reports, and the school district plans to kick in another $2 million in bond funding.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260
This article has been updated to include comments from Katherine Harasz.