Op-Ed: Will San Jose’s City Council Give Landlords More Power or Stand Up for Tenants?

From the looks of it, a massive new Google campus is coming to San Jose, bringing 20,000 jobs to the area around Diridon Station. But the city of a million-plus people is already in the midst of an extreme housing crisis, and even the suggestion of a new Googleplex has sent home values skyrocketing.

The city may get a shiny new company to brag about, but low-income residents are leaving the city in droves and it’s beyond time for our elected officials to protect them.

Diana Salazar

Zillow released a study last week that showed San Jose home values increased by more than $200,000 last year. It’s the equivalent of your home earning you $99.51 an hour, all because you were privileged enough to buy it a decade or more ago.

That’s far more than the national average of $7.09 per working hour, and the highest value increase in the country—far beyond San Francisco. In the meantime, huge numbers of San Jose renters, who are disproportionately people of color, are spending their entire paychecks on rent. Or, they’re being pushed out to the Central Valley, even after a lifetime here. That’s not what a high-functioning city looks like.

At a rally outside the Google headquarters in Mountain View this past week, Rosa V, a community activist and local parent, described how she’s seen other families at her public school leave the city altogether because it’s unaffordable.

“The rent is already too high, and with Google coming, it will only get worse,” she said. “I already got pushed out when I lived in Los Angeles, and now it will happen again. This is all happening right now, just with the potential of Google coming.”

In the midst of all this, you’d think our City Council would be scrambling to protect its most vulnerable low income renters. But this housing crisis has been around for a while now, and council members like Dev Davis, Johnny Khamis, Lan Diep and Chappie Jones have voted against strong renter protections time after time, as has Mayor Sam Liccardo. San Jose leaders love to claim the diversity of our city But when it comes to defending and protecting the very same communities, they fall short.

It’s enough to make you think that the people in power don’t mind, or that they’d prefer a San Jose made up only of the rich. But the council can do something to help renters as soon as April 24, when they revisit the Tenant Protection Ordinance and the Apartment Rent Ordinance for what may be the last time in a long time.

Instead, Liccardo seems poised to push for more policies that will hurt all renters and have especially pernicious consequences for low-income renters of color. A memo he released on the subject is unnecessarily complicated even though the issues up for debate on April 24 are pretty straightforward.

Basically, the issue is this: will council members give landlords more power to deny people the basic human need of housing, or will they stand up for tenants?

For decades the city has allowed landlords to violate the law and pass unmetered utility charges on to tenants. This creates instability for renters who have to estimate what their next monthly utility bill will be. One month it can be $50 and the next $200. It’s the sort of thing that could displace you from your rent-controlled home, which would be very convenient for your landlord who could then charge the next tenant market rate rent.

Our immigrant neighbors are under attack and some landlords use threat of deportation to jack up rent and refuse to complete even basic repairs. It’s illegal in California for landlords to threaten to call immigration agents on tenants. We should make sure people know that right by requiring landlords to inform tenants by putting up notices on their property in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

It’s also time to end discrimination based on source of income. Spend five minutes in the housing section of Craigslist or other online rental listings and you’ll see “No Section 8,” meaning landlords won’t accept subsidized housing vouchers that tenants have waited years to obtain. The vouchers run out within 120 days if a tenant can’t find a place to stay, leaving many renters effectively homeless if landlords turn down their legitimate (and guaranteed) method of payment.

The council has the power to make such discrimination illegal, and now is the time.

Renters who have called San Jose their home even before the tech-boom are feeling the impacts of policies and practices that prioritize profits over people. Instead of caving to landlords, who already earn more on their buildings than anyone else in the country, the council has a chance to step up and put people first.

Diana Salazar is a community organizer at Sacred Heart Community Service. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Interested in writing an op-ed? Email pitches to [email protected].

4 Comments

  1. Ms Salazar,

    Please consider we live in America, a capitalistic country where you have the right to not only profit from property, but take massive losses.

    “Zillow released a study last week that showed San Jose home values increased by more than $200,000 last year.”

    In 2009, 2010 almost all homes in the bay area lost over $200,000.

    Welcome to adulthood, sometimes you do well, sometimes you don’t. However, if you did not have the right to own property, we would not be free, no one would make a profit, and if that was the case, there would be no incentive to invest. With no incentive to invest, there would be far less housing than exists now. This is the inconvenient truth of human nature that is obvious to everyone who does not believe in utopias.

    “It’s enough to make you think that the people in power don’t mind, or that they’d prefer a San Jose made up only of the rich.”

    No, they prefer a San Jose made up of people who can afford to live here. If half the people who are getting paid low wages leave, the other half that stay will have higher wages and much cheaper rent. If you want more affordable housing and everyone to stay, outlaw open spaces, build a wall under the Golden Gate Bridge and fill the bay to create land to build houses on, and give tax incentives to developers. You can’t protect the “most vulnerable” and consistently limit development and hope to have affordable housing. If you can’t afford to live here, you would be far better off moving to E. Washington or such, those that stayed here would also be more successful. Rent for a 3BD in Western Idaho is $750, and unemployment is about 3%.

    Regarding RUBS. The reality is RUBS is a way to limit the usage of water and other unmetered costs that the property owner has no way to control otherwise. If you can use all the energy you want and not pay the consequence of a high bill, you won’t conserve. If that cost is passed to the tenant, there is at least of a disincentive to waste energy, water, etc. You can’t levy massive fines on landlords for water usage and give them no way to limit the tenant from using it. Now, you have a point, that with Rent Control a property owner has a massive incentive to get existing tenants out. This, to me, is so much more of a threat to the poor than any rent increases. If there is a $300,000-$400,000 incentive to get a tenant out, which is only possible in a Rent Control environment, it is only human nature to rationalize getting the tenant out. Anything else is wishful thinking.

    Additionally, Section 8 is not a source of income and the program is explicitly defined by HUD as opt-in. Section 8 is a subsidy paid directly to the property owner and requires a three-way contract with the Federal Government, and it cost much more to administer and manage than a non-HUD unit. Additionally, if all the units were opened up to Section 8, the poor who do not have a voucher would have to pay higher rent. Only so many houses and more people that can afford to pay rent means there is more demand, so rent would be higher, much higher.

    I am very disappointed that economics is no longer taught in school or critical thinking, which is clear from your op-ed. Yes, it is hard to see poor people suffer, these initiatives do not and will not make their life better, it will make it far worse.

    Please read 20th Century History, Stalin, Mao, dekulakization, the great leap forward, land reform, etc. You steal people’s property right, you destroy the engine for production and people have less of what you want them to have. Government coerces utopias do not work.

    • SJ Kulak- Yeah, I’m sure you developers would love to see low income, hard working people leave the Bay Area. Then you could build your ridiculous overpriced badly made homes/condos/townhouses/and apartments while destroying our neighborhoods.

      Your post is filled with misleading information, especially about Section 8 Housing, and the Voucher Program. God, how do people like you sleep at night? Wow.

      • I am not a developer and my comments on Section 8 HUD are informed from actual implementation. I service many Section 8 tenants in states across the West and am familiar with the cost, delays, etc inherent in dealing with HUD. And it is explicitly an opt-in program. Even Section 42 properties in some states require approval from the state in the owner capacity to adhere to the requirements. Dealing with the government is a complicated and slow process a mom-and-pop will have difficulty in managing.

        While it is understandable that there is an emotional reaction to the current situation, one must always consider if the initiatives will actually do the good they claim. The programs this op-ed proposes, in actual implementation, are counterproductive, as I point out. You can lodge ad hominem attacks and question my integrity, but I know what it takes to house people, across many socioeconomic strata. Ms. Salazar and many of the housing advocates have no idea what is actually involved in supplying housing. This ideology will harm low-income residences and in many cases help slum lords.

  2. Ms Salazar writes:

    San Jose home values increased by more than $200,000 last year… the equivalent of your home earning you $99.51 an hour, all because you were privileged enough to buy it a decade or more ago.

    It’s also the equivalent of your home earning $99.51/hr, if you bought it just 12 months ago. But arithmetic is tougher than Civics or Econ for some folks.

    This article is just another example of the emo-hatred we see all too often from the Left. Ms. Salazar says:

    …huge numbers of San Jose renters, who are disproportionately people of color, are spending their entire paychecks on rent.

    A couple questions: Whose fault is that?? Plenty of ‘people of color’ are homeowners.

    Why do people like Salazar always resort to race-baiting? This is not a race issue, since there are literally tens of thousands of “people of color” who have bought homes here. If they can do it, others can, too. So race is a bogus issue.

    We’re in the midst of the most vibrant economy in recent memory; unemployment is at record lows, interest rates are astonishingly low (I recall 18%+ home loans), and anyone with a pulse who is motivated to be a homeowner can become one. But whining about it won’t get you there.

    Back in the day (the day of 18% mortgages), I was a real estate broker. The problems for first time home buyers were essentially the same as now: it was *very* hard for most folks to buy their first home. They’re often forced to share the expense (two or more buyers for a house or duplex). They often have to buy their first house far away from their job, and it is never what they really want.

    It gets their foot in the door. But they have to do without just about every pleasure while they’re working and saving, and they often have to work more than one job for years while they rent a sleeping room, saving up for their first house (I worked at a tough job to save for my first down payment: six 12’s and an 8, for a year and a half and with no time off, while renting a cheap room in a co-worker’s house to save my $3.36/hr pay for a down payment.)

    Did I mention motivation? For those with no other options, EVERYTHING must take a back seat to the desire for owning a home. And very little entertainment of any kind that costs money (there are free libraries and parks, you know). And having a kid will add years to the already tough goal of being a homeowner.

    But it can be done. I’ve sold scores of homes to buyers who overcame what at first appeared to be impossible obstacles, and who finally reached their goal of home ownership (and those are the folks whose homes made $200,000 in a year—while the whiners whined about it).

    In fact, when someone’s goal is to buy a house no matter what it takes, they invariably succeed, and better than they expected. I’ve honestly seen no exceptions; where there’s a will, there is a way. It’s like the stories you occasionally read, about someone feeding themselves on $2 a day for a year. It can be done. But it’s tough; very tough.

    I know that almost anyone can be a homeowner, because I’ve seen plenty of people overcome what appeared to be impossible obstacles when they started. But the ones who lacked the gumption to start were like Ms Salazar. They want other peoples’ earned incomes to be expropriated by the government, and then given to them so they don’t have to make the necessary effort to get what they crave.

    Ms Salazar attempts to official justify gov’t theft by using this strawman argument:

    …you’d think our City Council would be scrambling to protect its most vulnerable low income renters.

    May I translate? She’s really advocating theft:

    The City Council should confiscate the money honestly earned by other workers, and hand it over to the people who aren’t willing to expend the effort necessary to get what they want themselves.

    Isn’t that about it?

    In other words, Salazar wants the government to take money from honest workers, and give it to Salazar’s whiners and complainers. If that isn’t what she’s saying, then where else will the money come from? Santa Claus? The Tooth Fairy?

    Where will it come from, Ms Salazar?

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