San Jose Project Roomkey Motel Tenants Can Stay, California Housing Officials Say

The city of San Jose must immediately halt its plans to increase rent at the SureStay Hotel, which houses some of the most vulnerable residents in need of shelter, according to California state housing officials.

Instead of the $627 flat monthly fee proposed to start Oct. 1 for a room near Mineta San Jose International Airport, the city’s Housing Department staff must now recalculate and charge rents that don’t exceed 30% of each tenant’s income.

“What?!” tenant Cheryl Fleming exclaimed, hearing the news alongside a few of her SureStay neighbors on North First Street late Wednesday night, in between a few “woos,” first pumps and tears. “We won the war, we won the fight. When we went to [protest at] the 12th floor of City Hall Friday, we won. We've been going through so much.”

Fewer than 10 residents were fighting for a more reasonable rate to be able to stay, while 50 others were already evicted for not being able to afford the flat fee. Many told stories of hotel management repeatedly pounding on residents’ doors with veiled threats and intimidation—a catalyst for uncertainty, anxiety, anger and sadness waiting to see if the city would listen to their pleas to stay.

For many of the residents—who are disabled, seniors or both—the original $627 bill would have claimed closer to 66% of average Social Security Insurance payments. That figure is two to four times the amount indigent adults collecting General Assistance receive from Santa Clara County.

Budgeting $300 or less for food, bills and other expenses each month would have been a nearly impossible task, residents say, after shelling out checks to their landlord: the city San Jose.

“Oh, good, now I don't have to sell my truck!” said one new tenant recently accepted into the program, who goes to daily dialysis, and was expecting to put 69% of his $900 monthly income towards SureStay's rent.

That was why California’s Department of Housing and Community Development slapped San Jose on the wrist for the now-dead housing program. The negative attention is new for the city, as HCD usually appears in headlines about cities like Cupertino and Palo Alto punting on building new housing projects and bemoaning mandates as a loss of local control.

The update about SureStay came hours after HCD met with San Jose’s Housing Department Wednesday, according to an email from State Assemblymember Alex Lee’s office, who met with residents during a tour of the motel Saturday.

Lee agrees with HCD’s position, arguing the city’s idea runs counter to the building’s intention as part of Project Roomkey, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s experimental program that has sheltered more than 42,000 unhoused and vulnerable Californians in hotel rooms across the state.

Instead, Lee says transitioning a hotel of extremely low-income, disabled seniors into “permanent affordable housing” accomplished the opposite of the goal of housing people.

“Well, from my point of view, the city was acting too brashly,” Lee told San Jose Inside. “They should not have been imposing restrictions on the tenants and basically forcing them out, because we have parameters in our Roomkey funding that disallow that.”

However exciting the rent change might be, it’s too little too late for some of the two dozen members of the community that lived there for the past year, bonding while hunkering down through Covid. One resident was moved out to another motel on the other side of Downtown San Jose, while another brought their dog to the pound, unsure of how to manage caring for the pup—physically and emotionally—during the eviction.

Advocate Shaunn Cartwright is frustrated it took a state agency to step in and rectify the situation, which she says was exacerbated by failed communication and disrespect from city staff.

"The Housing Department owes every displaced endangered and current SureStay resident a sincere apology for all the unnecessary stress and trauma they've caused them," Cartwright says.

None of the households should be displaced from this site, HCD says, adding that Roomkey will continue providing services for any households that may end up needing relocation or rehousing services.

“Housing folks and ending chronic homelessness: that is a stated goal of the state government and San Jose,” Lee continued. “That is why we created and funded programs like Roomkey and provide that funding. But that funding is not just a blank check for localities to do whatever they want.”

HCD has been on a roll when it comes to monitoring jurisdiction’s housing missteps, which may or may not be connected to Gov. Gavin Newsom's recent unveiling of the department's new “Housing Accountability Unit.”

Advocates learned the news Wednesday night, after crying foul against the extremely steep increase for months.

The reason behind the change only came to light last week: the city attempted to create a brand new category of housing. SureStay was planned to transition from “permanent supportive housing” to “permanent affordable housing”—charging 30% of the area medan income, instead of the standard 30% of tenant income at places like Second Street Studios and Villas on the Park.

Retorts offering unhelpful advice to “just get a job” or ignorant requests that people who can’t afford the Bay Area “move away,” fail to take into account that most of the people living at SureStay have lived in the South Bay for decades and credit their current housing situations to costs connected to deaths in the family, disabilities and other medical issues, such as malpractice injuries. Their disabilities and ages also hinder some residents' abilities to maintain employment.

City staff claim the brand new concept for housing attempted to “fill a gap” for unhoused people who may not otherwise have access to housing options, especially if they score lower on measures of vulnerability living on the streets.

However, Raymond J. Ramsey, co-founder and president of the Second Street Tenant Association, argues that even unhoused people who could “afford” those higher rents are often left with little money for food and other basic necessities; he says the fear of returning to the streets may stretch residents beyond their means—likely setting themselves up for failure.

Lee says that's one reason why it's vital to have housing advocates on the ground, like Ramsey and Cartwright, at the table when governments craft and implement decisions about homelessness; first-hand experiences and insights about being unhoused are often the reasons mistakes like San Jose’s are caught in the first place.

“They know what’s going on and how to best address these issues, and oftentimes those voices are sadly neglected," Lee says. “[SureStay] is a big place where people are building community, and it really challenges the narrative—the stigma of what homelessness is—when we’re able to have more success stories like this.

"I'm really hopeful that in the next days and weeks San Jose clears things up, gets people housed and hopefully brings back the folks that should have been housed this whole time.”

15 Comments

  1. “‘permanent affordable housing’—charging 30% of the area [median] income, instead of the standard 30% of tenant income”

    This may be something that is finally made more clear to many people, to distinguish formal “affordable” incomes and rents from lower-income category incomes and 30% rents when we get word of “affordable” housing units.

    Now, imagine courts requiring the change to 30% of actual incomes, or of a standard amount such as the poverty level or somewhat higher (since it’s too low, leading to substitute measures, just as Social Security is too low). How will the money be found to make up the difference between limited rents and market rates, if courts make widespread orders or a ballot measure is passed limiting rents to typical incomes?

  2. “slapped San Jose on the wrist” … “bemoaning mandates” …

    “Retorts offering unhelpful advice to ‘just get a job’ or ignorant requests that people who can’t afford the Bay Area ‘move away,’ those retorts doesn’t take into account how most of the people living at SureStay credit their housing situations to costs connected to deaths in the family, disabilities and other medical issues, such as malpractice injuries. Their disabilities and ages also hinder their abilities to maintain employment.”

    Leave opinion and editorializing out of news stories. Clean up the English, too.

  3. This is WAY more in line with other subsidy programs for your elderly and disabled, like the Section 8 program. I believe the local Housing Authority can go up to 35% (and currently have it at 32%) of a tenants income that can be put toward rent shares – but not more than that. To create a flat rent at that amount based on AMI, as opposed to income in such a high-cost area for a bunch of tenants on a fixed income (usually between $800 and $1200 per month) is just poor programming, especially for “leaders in affordable housing.” Because the program didn’t create affordable housing with that method (which should be acknowledged more clearly), if the intent was to charge 2/3 of a tenants income (or, if that was the outcome) – it created an unsustainable situation for some elderly and disabled folks. Personally, I think the literally homeless elderly (using 55 as the age for elderly) and disabled (more specifically someone who is both elderly and disabled) should be prioritized for every housing opportunity at this point, then families with children (particularly single parent households). It’s sad how many elderly live on the streets. Unacceptable. I also think there should be larger shelters, divided by sub population (i.e. families, elderly, etc.) while we wait for the permanent housing to be built.

    If you’re going to move toward this “permanent affordable housing” model and apply it to people who need “permanent supportive housing” (how are elderly and disabled scoring “low”, if that was the case? On a vulnerability score) – then a HUGE opportunity for rapid-rehousing clients (who many of these folks are not) is being missed.

    Good for these folks though – best of luck to them. Now, it’s a matter of ensuring ongoing maintenance, inspections and effective property management remain a priority, in my opinion.

  4. But what did these so-called ‘homeless’ do with all the Government Entitlements that they have collected since they were provided a ‘FREE’ apartment (ie. taxpayer funded – nothing is free) for the past 1 1/2 years?
    “Tenants have lived at SureStay for FREE since it opened in April 2020”
    “Project Roomkey…has sheltered more than 42,000 unhoused/ vulnerable CAs in hotel rooms across the state.”

    Did they make any move to save some of that money for their future needs?
    The responsible person would have been able to save up a little sum over the past 1.5 years.
    Stimulus Rebates – $$$ thousands
    Social Security
    Food Stamps
    Food Banks
    Medical Coverage

    None of these taxpayer funded Handouts should be ‘Free’ – Tie any & all Handouts to soberness, work, productivity, and governments payments.

    —————-Why CA Keeps Making Homelessness Worse————-
    According to …experts, CA has made homelessness worse by:
    1. making perfect housing the enemy of good housing,
    2. by Liberalizing DRUG LAWS, and
    3. by Opposing Mandatory Treatment for mental illness & drug addiction.
    Other states have done a better job despite spending less money.

    CA’s leading homelessness advocates (GRIFTERS wasting Taxpayer$$$$s) insist that the current crisis is due mostly to a housing shortage.
    Homelessness Experts Disagree.
    “I’ve rarely seen a NORMAL Able-Bodied, Able-minded Non-Drug using homeless person who’s just down on their luck,”
    L.A. street Doctor Susan Partovi said.
    “Of the thousands of people I’ve worked with over 16 years, it’s like 1 or 2 people a year.
    And they are the Easiest to Deal With.”

    Rev. Bales agrees: “One hundred percent (100%) of the people on the streets are MENTALLY Impacted, ON DRUGS, or Both”

    Most of the time what people mean by the homelessness problem is really a DRUD PROBLEM and a Mental Illness Problem.

    “The ACLU will come after me if I say the Mentally ill need to be taken OFF The Street,”
    said Dr. Partovi.
    “…things worsened 10 years ago when L.A. and other CA cities rejected drug recovery (treatment) as a condition of housing.”

    Why CA Keeps Making Homelessness Worse
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/09/12/why-california-keeps-making-homelessness-worse/#68a7149d5a61

  5. I just want to thank God for Sandy Perry and Shawna Cartwright for being there for us and for stepping up for helping us for scanning buys and believing in us as homeless people get down on our luck making the time in the effort thank you from the bottom of my heart Laura

  6. “I think the literally homeless elderly (using 55 as the age for elderly) and disabled (more specifically someone who is both elderly and disabled) should be prioritized for every housing opportunity at this point”

    “how are elderly and disabled scoring “low”, if that was the case? On a vulnerability score”

    You are prescient. Just wait another 10-20+ years as society ages and more and more elderly (and increasingly disabled) people are in need. I have been stating this for a long time, too, and include casual references to elderly and sometimes disabled when I refer to lower-income or other special-purpose assistive housing. There’s also the potential for abandoned schools in the future to become elderly (and disabled) centers instead (as with maybe one or more malls in larger metro areas) and it’s a shame people in government and activists, too, neglect this so badly, since it’s so obvious even though the real need has yet to materialize, as with the problems with pensions and other public employee retirement costs.

    Social Security has never been intended to be a sole income source, and even the most ambitious “leveling” oriented raise-the-floor schemes by liberal Democrats wanting to spend more on the program won’t raise benefits high enough to function as a sole income source in most places in the United States, never mind in particularly expensive locations like the South Bay or the Bay Area. Governments may have to look at developing such lower-income facilities in their respective hinterlands or third-tier downward cities and pay to relocate people. That’s true for the coming elderly and disabled and with the homeless, and others who can’t afford to house themselves in top-tier sites or are prohibited for other reasons (felons, sex offenders, etc.), where a public role is essential since it doesn’t pay or pay enough in the private sector.

  7. Thanks to Ms. Lauer for continuing to cover the travails of the houseless and poor in our community.
    While I have not had any sustained interactions with houseless people in San Jose or elsewhere and, therefore, cannot in any way speak on anyone’s behalf, I can provide a more nuanced view of who they than the blather provided by the libertarian bots above. Such a view is based on the last biennial county census of the houseless conducted in January 2019 (https://www.sccgov.org/sites/osh/ContinuumofCare/ReportsandPublications/ Documents/2015%20Santa%20Clara%20County%20Homeless%20Census%20and%20Survey/2019%20SCC%20Homeless%20Census%20and%20Survey%20Report.pdf. This point-in-time count provides insights that are routinely ignored, downplayed or concealed by too many involved in the issue of houselessness. (The 2021 census was postponed for one year due to COVID-19 conditions. See https://sanjosespotlight.com/could-canceled-homeless-count-in-santa-clara-county-affect-funding/).

    The 2019 census arrived at a total County headcount of about 9,700, a 31.2% increase relative to 2017. Three-quarters were 25 years old and above with 17% between 18-24 and 8% under age 18. About 62% were men, 36% women and 2% transgender. The data on racial composition indicates that 44% were White (including those of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity who identify racially as White), 24% were multi-racial, 20% were Black and 8% were American Indian or Alaskan Native. Ethnically, 43% identified as Hispanic/Latino.

    Some 81% of the houseless resided in the County prior to their recent houselessness with 15% having previously lived in other California counties. Only 4% of the houseless resided outside the state before they became houseless. About 86% had resided in the County for one year or more, with 69% resident for at least 5 years, prior to becoming homeless. At the time of the census more than two-thirds had been homeless for at least one year and another 27% for 1-11 months. The houseless are clearly not “nomadic” migrants seeking the most generous social safety net, as libertarian and neoliberal sociopaths suggest.

    A lost job (30%), alcohol or drug use (22%), divorce or separation (15%), eviction (14%), fallout with family or friends (12%) and incarceration (11%) were the six most frequently cited events or conditions leading to houselessness. While about 90% indicated they would take permanent affordable housing as soon as they can get it, the most frequently cited obstacles to such housing were rent affordability (66%), a lack of a job or income (56%), the unavailability of such housing (40%) and a lack of money for moving costs (35%). About 70% of the houseless reported receiving assistance of some type with meals (73%), bus passes (36%), community drop-in center (25%) and religious-based services (13%) being the most common. The houseless are, thus, people with low or precarious incomes, who have difficulty finding or holding jobs and who have had marital or domestic problems in their former households.

    These are neighbors, friends and community members caught in the tangle of a precarious and inequitable socio-economic system characterized by lopsidedly-distributed income and wealth, by a tiny minority that devours the vast bulk of resources, where more than two-thirds of the population lives paycheck to paycheck (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/number-of-americans-living-paycheck-to-paycheck-on-decline-despite-pandemic-301134207.html), and where the political stratum is captured by the primary beneficiaries of the social order. That is the objective side of their reality, as it is ours; substance use/abuse, domestic disputes and/or mental health challenges are the subjective side, as it is ours to a lesser or greater extent. As such, the houseless are the early warning system that foreshadows what may come to the exponentially larger mass surviving on the margins of sufficiency among us.

  8. Hope no one is looking down the road because it’s not looking pretty. Stock market is already having serious trouble. This will bring back to the front the cost of all these feel good programs as California revenues drop back to serious recession levels. We’ve already tossed down the toilet the windfall from the feds and they’re not going to be able to print any more money soon to hand out to states again as interest on what they owe already gobbles up more and more dollars. It’s truly amazing how the politicians were able to blow up and exploit the pandemic to create such a once of a lifetime windfall for themselves and their pet projects. It was a masterfully executed plan. And it’s why they won’t let the pandemic panic go. They see there’s still money to be found by having an endless pandemic. I bet if we instead took all the handouts from the feds and didn’t squander our windfall from pandemic relief printed money stock market boom we might have been able to put a serious dent in the looming public pension crisis. Instead we did things like this…

  9. Completely agree with CA Patriot. What happened to dignity? Demanding work, or at least volunteering, in return for entitlements? This attitude that you are owed a free life when you contribute nothing to society has to stop.

  10. 30% of zero income is zero dollars

    why does anyone pay any rent when Cartwright can just orchestra a public debasement guilt trip and her media tools cover it no questions asked?

    You people keep falling for this con, goodness

    ladies, it’s 2021, you don’t get to claim the weak sex, you want equality, that comes with responsibility

    pay your way or move to a place you can, you can live in any number of states for 500 a month, just not in one of the most expensive places to live in

  11. My wife’s family came to this country 40 years ago with only a few souvenirs. They sold most of their jewelry to buy food in the refugee camp which they shared with others. She was already a homeowner when I married her 30 years ago. She and three other siblings have university degrees although it took them 6 to 8 years to graduate while working at the same time. How was this possible?

  12. JOE SMITH, a number of us do look down the road and otherwise ahead, and no, it won’t look pretty. Not that it’s pretty now, inflation included, which was wholly predictable once the money supply began being amped after 2008, even more than with minimal-interest-rate policy and big government spending. There are still people who want inflation as if it’s their drug, even though former proponents in government are saying it’s getting too high now.

    To come later, the state, local, and federal public employee pension and other retirement costs ballooning, among other things, eating into budgets while Social Security and Medicare deficits (and redemption of bonds) eat progressively more into the federal budget.

    Good luck finding money for public housing in expensive locations.

  13. Many live on fixed incomes – and previous reports stated many of these tenants have fixed incomes…maybe social security (including disability). So, they have an income – it’s just not enough to pay nearly $700/month. I get your point – but many, many homeless have monthly fixed incomes – they are just too low to afford housing, which is why there should be a commitment for no senior or disabled person to go homeless. We will all be old and disabled at some point – unable to work, and it’s a shame that so many elderly have nowhere to go.

  14. Econoclast:

    Nice to see you poke your head into the asylum.

    Been brushing up on your Italian again?

  15. Well these people will soon have to move on down the road as too many Americans are occupying these shelters that undocumented democrats need.

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