Raymond Ramsey lived on the streets for the better part of a decade before moving into Second Street Studios earlier this year.
The permanent supportive housing complex marked the first of its kind in San Jose, offering chronically homeless people like Ramsey a chance to get back on their feet. But the cost of building apartments like Second Street Studios is steep—the city of San Jose kicked in $14 million to fund the development a couple years back. And with a multitude of priorities pulling at the city’s purse string, San Jose needs another revenue stream to meet the demand for more affordable housing and services for the homeless.
Last week the San Jose City Council voted 8-3 to place a real property transfer tax on the March 2020 ballot. The tax would be assessed on homes priced above $2 million and would generate $70 million annually, according to city officials.
With the measure heading toward the ballot box, the council on Tuesday voted 9-2 to approve a spending plan authored by Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Raul Peralez, Lan Diep and Pam Foley. Council members Johnny Khamis and Sergio Jimenez cast the dissenting votes.
Ten percent of the funds would be set aside for homelessness prevention and rental assistance, 45 percent would be pegged for permanent supportive and affordable rental housing for extremely low-income households and 35 percent would go to rent subsidies for households making between 30 to 80 percent of the area median income. The remaining 10 percent would be earmarked for below-market-rate for-sale housing and to help moderate-income earners with down payments when buying their first home.
“This will go a long way towards build the kind of housing in which we reside,” Ramsey said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in front of Second Street Studios. “I’m sure if it passes, the measure will change many lives for the better, the way mine changed when we moved in this year.”
During the council meeting, Liccardo emphasized that the spending plan was a “political guardrail” since the tax would go into the city’s general fund and could ultimately be used for something else with council approval.
Piggybacking off of that notion, Khamis, who has been adamantly against the measure, criticized the tax’s general nature. “I know that we’re doing this to inspire people to get behind the tax ... but saying it’s going to homelessness doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to housing or homelessness,” he argued.
Jimenez—who also voted no last week to placing the tax on the ballot—expressed concern that the spending plan didn’t focus on ways to help unhoused individuals while they waited for a stable place to live.
“What we hear often [is] you’re taxing here, you’re taxing here, but we don’t see any sort of product coming out of that,” Jimenez said.
While he agrees that some money should be dedicated to getting homes built, he said he believes that it should also fund initiatives such as tiny homes, navigation centers or hotel vouchers. “The interim step between homelessness to housing consistently seems to get lost,” the District 2 councilman added.
Ramsey agrees with Jimenez’s assessment.
Hours before the vote, he spoke on behalf of Second Street Voices—the permanent supportive housing community’s fledgling advocacy group.
“It is critical that our decision makers be held accountable and that the revenue from the tax is actually spent on affordable housing and the homeless,” Ramsey said. “We also demand that the mayor and council invest a portion of these funds to provide more overnight warming locations, significantly increasing our stock of temporary stay shelter beds and explore establishing sanctioned encampments to avoid the unsafe conditions that many encampments have currently.”
The California primary election takes place on March 3, 2020. For more information about local races, campaign fundraising, how to register to vote and more, visit the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters website at sccvote.org.