Alex Shoor, a former Santa Clara County policy aide who’d been mulling a run against Councilwoman Dev Davis in San Jose’s District 6, has accepted a job as the first-ever executive director of pro-housing nonprofit Catalyze SV.
“One way to serve the city is through the city council; another way is trying to solve the housing crisis directly, making sure that we get more housing and create better development projects,” Shoor says. “This is an organization that I co-founded and I feel called to do this work.”
The San Jose native says the public needs to be more engaged in housing development to address the dire shortfall of places to live in Silicon Valley. But too many residents are left out of the planning process because of practical barriers, such as City Council meetings being held while many people are at work.
Catalyze SV aims to bridge the information gap between the agencies making planning decisions and the people affected by them.
“The community engagement process in cities across the valley isn't working that well,” Shoor says. “If you attend a community meeting or city council meeting, many times you will see a lot of familiar faces. You are not creating a fully inclusive community engagement process if you are only hearing from folks who don’t represent the full diversity of silicon valley.”
The public’s feedback is crucial to helping local governments and developers create housing developments that accommodate to their needs, he explains.
“If you live in a neighborhood where there's is not enough drug stores or restaurants, how do you ask the developers to include this in the development?” Shoor asks.
His goal at Catalyze SV, he says, is to address those barriers to engagement by—among other things—hosting meetings with community members, developers and government bureaucrats to ensure that everyone has a say in how their city grows.
Shoor says he also believes that companies like Google need to step up efforts to address the housing crisis as they expand their footprint in San Jose and other localities.
“We need the corporations to play a bigger role—through taxation, philanthropy, or in building housing themselves,” he says.
Just as, for example, Google is doing as it becomes a major player in downtown San Jose. This summer, the search-and-advertising giant committed $1 billion to build at least 15,000 new homes throughout the Bay area. As part of that pledge, it promised to pay $250 million to incentivize developers to build at least 5,000 affordable homes, and another $50 million to nonprofits to address homelessness and displacement.
As Shoor sees it, the source of the problem lies in a dearth of supply. “All developers—of market-rate and affordable housing—should be urged to build projects that provide the most number of homes,” he says. “That's the only way to solve the crisis.”