Op-Ed: It Takes Community, Collective Commitment to Solve Homelessness in Silicon Valley

About three months ago, before the global pandemic struck and locked us all down, we were among the dozens of people standing together on a sunny Friday morning to celebrate the grand opening of Villas on the Park.

Built by Affirmed Housing and PATH Ventures, the new development created 84 apartments with all the amenities: a spacious rooftop garden, a fully outfitted computer lab, generous community gathering spaces and a host of onsite services for all residents.

As with most grand openings, it was a time for elected officials, neighborhood leaders, and business owners to celebrate a beautiful new building.

Yet for the two of us —one of whom helped plant the initial seeds for this project years ago, and the other who has now found a true home at Villas on the Park—the day represented something much bigger.

It marked an important step towards bringing our most vulnerable neighbors home.

You see, when Santa Clara County voters approved the $950 million Measure A housing bond in 2016, this was the dream. High quality, affordable housing developments for people in our community to live in and thrive.

And it took more than just money. It took courage, will, and vision to get us here.

The passing of Measure A was all about our collective commitment to build places for the folks who had nowhere else to go.

But Villas is really just the beginning of this story, as many of our other brothers and sisters are still on the streets. And, despite 2,900 apartments being funded in seven cities across the county over the past four years, it’s a story that just won’t be finished soon.

We know it takes time to build this housing. We know it takes land.

We also know it takes people coming together to demand that we do more now, or nothing will get done. But when we all get to come home each night to a warm, clean, safe home, we know that it’s worth it.

Ericka Avila is a resident of PATH Villas on the Park. Leslye Corsiglia is the executive director of [email protected] Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches and letters to [email protected].

9 Comments

  1. If you can’t afford to live here then MOVE.

    I just solve the homeless problem and made it the problem for somebody else

  2. > the new development created 84 apartments

    Why is 84 people “collectively” building one house for 84 people better than 84 people each building the house that each of them would like?

  3. There you have it. It takes “courage”, “will”, and “vision” to plunder $950 million from your fellow citizens.
    Thank you so much you two for having these qualities in such abundance and for not being shy about bragging about it.

  4. how much did the 84 units cost and what are the recurring costs?

    would a room in the fairmont be cheaper?

  5. I’m pleased with the outcome, though to be honest, now there are always people loitering, meeting up and smoking right outside there – that spot isn’t as nice now – feel kinda bad for the neighbors across the street because there are people constantly sitting on the steps of their stoops now. I’d be annoyed with people sitting right outside my door and talking loudly. People are now always are sitting on the bus bench across the street as well – maybe the building should create its own seating/smoking area so that they don’t take up the area to wait for the bus.

  6. Is there any doubt that in San Jose and California generally the single largest expense in building housing is land costs? Therefore, the quickest way to reduce housing construction costs is to dedicate publicly-owned lands to allow non-profit organizations–or the City government itself–to build housing. In addition, the city could use eminent domain to expropriate privately owned land from the largest landowners for affordable housing construction.

    Take the example of Helsinki, the Finish capital city and the most successful European municipality in combating homelessness. The Helsinki municipality, like the San Jose municipality, has a monopoly on zoning but also owns 70% of the land in the city, as well as 60,000 housing units in a metropolitan area of 1.3 million people (somewhat bigger than San Jose which has 1 million).

    One in seven Helsinki residents live in city-owned housing. In addition, the city owns and operates its own construction company and has a current target of 7,000 new housing units every year (including units sold to private owners). In other words, the publicly-owned construction company competes with private builders to keep housing costs low (which keeps real estate developer profits low). The city builds and provides housing more or less at cost (since the city owns the land underneath the housing and continues to own it in perpetuity).

    In newly developed districts, the city requires city-owned housing to be 25% of all units; subsidized-purchase housing to be 30% of all units and private housing to be 45% of all units. Thus, the rich and the poor and the middle all live in the same district and with all those groups able to apply for city-owned or city-subsidized ownership units, i.e. in true universal fashion, even the wealthy can qualify for city-owned property or city-subsidized ownership units (https://getpocket.com/explore/item/it-s-a-miracle-helsinki-s-radical-solution-to-homelessness).

    Presently, in a country of 5.5 million people, there are about 5,500 officially “homeless” people, more than 70% of whom currently live with family or friends on a temporary basis while they wait for publicly-provided or subsidized housing. That is, one-tenth of one percent of the population are regarded as homeless, even though more than 70% of these are actually living with roofs over their heads. By inference, this means there are about 1,700 people living on the streets in Finland, 3 hundredths of 1 percent of the population (https://getpocket.com/explore/item/it-s-a-miracle-helsinki-s-radical-solution-to-homelessness).

    By contrast, with upwards of 10,000 people living on the streets, about 1 full percentage point of San Jose’s population has no roof over its head with an unknown number of people sharing living quarters with family and friends but who are effectively homeless.

    If we want affordable housing for all, we should use publicly-owned property and, through eminent domain, progressively expand the stock of publicly-owned property over time and dedicate public resources to build such housing. Rather than selling 10 acres of publicly-owned land to Google, and allowing Google and its real estate partners to gain control of land around Diridon Station, the city could have used that land and its zoning and regulatory powers to build real affordable housing for thousands of people in perpetuity.

    We don’t have to be held hostage by landowners and private property developers–the very same special interest that dominates City Council politics. Let’s harness the powers of the public sector for the direct benefit of the public.

  7. it would be interesting to learn what percentage of the homeless are truly from this area and how many are migrating here because of weather, generous benefits, and free housing. will we become the “dumping ground” for the rest of the country?

    Here is how SF solves the homeless problem – – put them up in swank hotelshttps ://www.city-journal.org/san-francisco-hotel-motel-plan-for-homeless

    another option might be the cruise ships sitting empty. some of those boats can house up to 4, 000+ people

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