About half of the million-plus people living in San Jose are considered by city officials to be low income, which means hundreds of thousands of residents are at risk of displacement as rents spike and neighborhoods gentrify.
While San Jose’ housing division tries to sound the alarm about the need to build more places to live, it’s also in the midst of shaping an anti-displacement policy to protect San Jose’s most vulnerable communities from getting pushed out from their current homes. To do that the city will focus on what it calls the three “P’s” of displacement prevention: production, protection and preservation.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, elected leaders heard the preliminary nuts and bolts of the policy, but there’s still work left to be done as officials finish analyzing a survey and convene with community members and other stakeholders. The finalized policy will make its way to the council this winter after running through various city commissions.
The biggest takeaway from this week’s study session was that the city needs to focus its limited resources around transit corridors. Anna Cash, program director for UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project, said neighborhoods around transit hubs are more likely to undergo gentrification and displacement than those elsewhere.
“Where there’s an investment in transit, there seems to be a direct correlation to housing displacement,” Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco explained. The East Side representative was particularly concerned about the impact that the San Jose BART extension would have on residents who live in and around its path.
While San Jose already has a number of anti-displacement policies in place, such as rent control and just cause eviction protections, they don’t apply to everyone.
For example, San Jose’s law excludes duplexes from being eligible for rent control. Victor Vasquez, the community organizing program manager at nonprofit SOMOS Mayfair, said that’s a problem. Especially when the areas prone to gentrification and displacement, like the Mayfair neighborhood, are largely made up of duplexes.
Nadia Aziz, directing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, seconded Vasquez’s idea during a panel discussion, saying the city needs “real” rent control.
“We have to start with the value that everyone deserves to stay in San Jose,” she said. “Whatever policies that we come up with have to be community-centered.”
The expansion of rent control was among the protections laid out in the anti-displacement framework debated by the city this week. Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand and Economic Development Director Kim Walesh also listed supporting population-specific strategies to remove barriers to housing for vulnerable people and increasing funding for homelessness prevention as other possible protections. Morales-Ferrand and Walesh also added that they’d like to “evaluate [the] effectiveness of [a] legal fund for tenants facing evictions.”
“We do need legal support for our tenants,” Vasquez remarked. “We do not have that kind of money. When San Jose says we want to make sure everyone stays here, you got to back it up with your funding.”
Panelists Jeff Zell, a property manager, and Shawn Milligan, a partner at developer KT Urban, focused on the production aspect of the “Three P’s” by saying they want to build “housing, housing and more housing.”
“We need to look at other funding sources such as a commercial linkage fee,” Milligan said. “It’s very important that we keep the commercial linkage fee at a rate that retains economic competitiveness.”
The impact fee, which is currently under study, would charge a fee on commercial development to help fund affordable housing. Milligan also added that the city needs to look at bringing back another affordable housing bond measure. Last year’s Measure V failed by a narrow margin at the hand of San Jose voters. Zell took the fee reduction stance, saying that San Jose needs to work on creating tax breaks to help developers get shovels in the ground in the first place.
To spur housing production, and in turn prevent displacement, Morales-Ferrand and Walesh want to focus on new public and private funding sources, exploring the feasibility of community land trusts and develop strategies to buy and hold property.
Councilwoman Pam Foley also recommended focusing on production, and potentially partnering with schools to build below-market-rate housing for teachers.
“The challenge with teacher housing is that many of the teachers don’t qualify for low income programs,” Morales-Ferrand responded, citing that many educators make just enough to not be considered low-income.
Council members Maya Esparza and Raul Peralez said that through the process, they didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that building more market-rate housing wouldn’t help the poorest of the poor. In 2018, San Jose permitted 94 percent of its market-rate housing goal and only 61 percent of its affordable housing goal.
“There is no way we’re going to build enough market rate housing to have a trickle down effect,” Peralez said. “We have to be able to build our way from the bottom.”
The last of the P’s—preservation—is one on which the city has done the least legwork, according to Morales-Ferrand, who cited challenges over a lack of funding for preservation of existing affordable housing.