The Housing Crisis Is a Crisis of Our Own Making

No one who has a basic grasp of the situation is arguing against getting unhoused people into some form of “roof over their head” solution. Study after study has shown there is an extremely high public cost to deal with the problems associated with homelessness.

A comprehensive study conducted by Santa Clara County in 2015 calculated that the public cost of homelessness came to $520 million per year, and was a  significant factor leading to the passage of Measure A the following year, providing $950 Million for permanent, affordable housing.

Two years later, the City of San Jose launched a Housing Crisis Workplan, with a goal of building 25,000 new housing units over the next five-year period.  In the face of even higher homeless counts, San Jose voters approved Measure E in March 2020, a general tax to be used for a range of affordable housing projects and homeless prevention programs.  Yet our creeks, underpasses, parks and public streets provide ample evidence that homelessness continues to be a serious, unsolved problem.

'Housing first,' or 'rapid build'?

Some argue that the “housing first” approach is wrong and efforts should be redirected to “rapid build” or emergency “interim” housing, and expanding shelters in the name of both moral imperatives and cost efficiencies.

Others argue that without a continued commitment to permanent, affordable housing, these “interim” solutions will only prolong the problem and end up costing more in the long run.

Still others point to the overly bureaucratic, time-consuming and costly process involved in not only building affordable housing, but providing essential supportive services that have proven critical to the success of long-term stabilization of the most vulnerable elements of the homeless population.

One very harsh statistic is the growing number of homeless who die on the streets in our county every year:  250 in 2021 and 246 in 2022. Faced with complaints about the millions of taxpayer dollars being spent and with little evidence of progress, state politicians, including former County Supervisor and now Sen. David Cortese, have called for an audit.

Why is this problem so intractable? How did we get to the point where we are debating whether the next dollar of tax money should go to a long-term investment in permanent housing which will take years, or to a “quick build” box on a fenced-off asphalt lot with minimal amenities?  Either way, it is clear we cannot provide enough housing to meet demand. How did we get here?

For starters, we can look to long-standing housing and zoning policies dating back to the 1880s that made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for certain demographic groups to own property and acquire equity. As a direct consequence, a significant number of our population were relegated to being renters.  (See Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein).

Fewer apartment mean higher rents

Since the amount of rent that can be charged is directly related to the availability of housing units for rent, a shortage of available units inevitably results in higher rent.  Federal policies aimed to increase the percentage of home ownership enacted in the early 2000's led to risky “subprime” mortgages, millions of foreclosures, and the subsequent recession.  As the country emerged from this crisis in around 2015, we witnessed a massive shift in wealth, with thousands of people living in tents, broken down RVs and without any health care or support.

Going back to only 1950, the California Real Estate Association, forerunner of the California Association of Realtors, launched a successful initiative against "low rent" public housing, adding Article 34 to the California Constitution.  This unique provision prohibits government agencies from building "low rent" housing without a majority vote of the public. A lawsuit in 1970 resulted in a declaration by Federal Judge Robert F. Peckham that this Article to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it had a disparate impact on persons of color, particularly Hispanic families in San Jose and Black families in San Mateo. But the ruling was immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the City Council of San Jose, and Judge Peckham's ruling was overturned.  Efforts to repeal Article 34 have been defeated multiple times. Ironically, the Federal Courthouse in San Jose is named in honor of Judge Robert Peckham.Arti

More recently in time, the City of San Jose, faced with what is known as a “jobs-housing imbalance,” actively sought to restrict new housing construction in favor of preserving land for industrial use.

During this same time period, the State Legislature terminated the Redevelopment Agency, which had been supplying 20% of its funds for affordable housing construction.

In another twist, an agreement that would have resulted in the construction of approximately 24,000 new housing units in the North First Street corridor was blocked by litigation from the City of Santa Clara on the basis that the City of San Jose was not funding the necessary infrastructure improvements to mitigate the impacts from these developments.  A partial settlement of this long-standing litigation was only recently announced.

Regional housing needs not met

Meanwhile, the County of Santa Clara managed to build only around 14% of its required allocation of affordable housing units under the State mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for the 5th cycle, and the City of San Jose’s results were even lower.

For the next eight-year cycle, the RHNA requires the City not only to build 62,200 new housing units of ALL types -- affordable, moderate and above-moderate), but to demonstrate HOW it plans to accomplish this in what is known as a “Housing Element.”

The initial deadline for approval of the Housing Element has passed, and the City of San Jose has still not adopted a new Housing Element. This is scheduled to go before the City Council on June 20.

Among the consequences if the city does not meet the next deadline: the inability to enforce zoning regulations; loss of eligibility for state funding for housing programs, and restricted ability to prevent developers from taking advantage of what is known as “builder’s remedy,” which effectively will allow development without planning approvals.

For additional perspective, consider that from 2014-2022, the City of San Jose’s target under RHNA requirements was to add 35,080 housing units. During this same time frame, in less than three (3) years between 2017 - 2020, over 30,000 housing units were lost to wildland fires in Northern California. Consequences include even greater restrictions on new housing in areas of high fire severity risk, and the decision by two major insurers to stop issuing new homeowner policies in California.

Despite all of this, people who simply fail to grasp the big picture, or who choose to ignore the combined impacts of poor planning, discriminatory zoning practices, and the resulting complexities required to fund affordable housing projects as a result of Article 34, are among the first to line up at the podium or log on to public hearings and argue passionately how much they feel sorry for the homeless – but just as passionately argue that they shouldn’t be allowed to live in their neighborhoods.

These passionate but misinformed NIMBYs play an outsized role in delaying the implementation of the very programs and plans needed to solve the homeless problem. As Walt Kelly famously penned in his comic strip Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Jeffrey B. Hare is a lecturer with San Jose State University Land Use and Planning Law, Department of Urban and Regional Planning.



  1. A lot of words here – and some are confusing. For example, this author talks about “discriminatory housing” practices. Well, San Jose is currently siting its affordable housing (particularly Permanent Supportive Housing) the old school “public housing” way by concentrating them in the already poor districts like 3, 5, 7. Downtown San Jose is a perfect example of this, where they have hundreds of units designated for Extremely Low Income within a 1 mile radius, and all of the tenants have disabilities.

    On top of that, not only are they siting many affordable housing communities (particularly Permanent Supportive Housing) in close proximity in already struggling areas – they are filling the buildings with 100% of tenants that are very poor AND have disabilities. Then, they have security and cameras in every corner of these places because they are more institutions than they are housing communities. A few examples would be Second Street Studios and Villas on the Park. Both of these places have substantially more calls to police and medical than their neighboring market rate properties – living between two, I see it all of the time. I was initially supportive of 100% Permanent Supportive Housing buildings, but in hindsight, it to me, is a breach of fair housing – as every unit has a poor person with a disability, and the larger community is not reflected in the tenant composition. The County worked around this issue with the City and Housing Authority (I was sadly part of these discussions, but didn’t know better at the time) by ensuring they don’t designate a specific disability be housed in one particular building (i.e., a building where everyone is blind, for example) – but a broad range of disabilities. We researched the Olmstead Decision – and the question to me more-so than ever now is “does building 100% PSH actually integrate people with disabilities into the community, or is it institutionalizing people?” There is a strong case given the security requirements, surveillance and on-site management by publicly funded entities that these ARE institutions falsely identified as housing.'s%201999,with%20Disabilities%20Act%20(ADA).

    So, for me, the issue is much more straight forward. Does Housing First work? Yes, but it does for populations that are NOT severely mentally ill or dealing with severe substance abuse issues. It works for families, the elderly and certain disabilities (i.e., Developmental on fixed income) where money/affordability is the actual root cause of homelessness. Therefore all Housing First resources should’ve and could’ve ended homelessness for families, seniors and people with certain disabilities. Ended it. Instead, we saw a massive increase in family homelessness and the elderly are filling up shelters. Study after study on Housing First shows NO IMPROVEMENT IN PSYCHOLOGICAL OR SUBSTANCE ABUSE ISSUES. Because we aren’t addressing root causes.,who%20received%20treatment%20as%20usual.

    This isn’t the fault of NIMBY’s. Really it’s the fault of the state and local jurisdictions who failed to use any foresight on this issue, and created policies that welcome people from other states/cities to live on our streets. There needs to be a massive change in direction and strategy because the Harm Reduction is resulting in an escalation in overdoses. The County going around giving out syringes, pipes and teaching “booty bumping” is leading to MORE overdose deaths than ever – and that’s because they are moving forward with that model despite the presence of the powerful drug Fentanyl. If you enable addicts, which Harm Reduction does, then more will die. More will suffer.

    Build housing for seniors, families and certain disabilities – solve their homelessness. Then build out an interim system for the many with substance abuse and mental illness issues, and come to terms that they need actual treatment, not a $1 million apartment and PATH Case Manger. Then, we will see the progress.

  2. I know this blog is called San Jose Inside but I am tired of San Jose taking on all the issues of the county. Other wealthier cities that brag about all the high tech headquarters in their cities are not contributing to affordable housing . This has been going on for decades so you can’t blame San Jose for focusing on industrial. They simply are facing the reality that other cities (Palo Alto Sunnyvale Mountain View Santa Clara) have known for years.

  3. “One very harsh statistic is the growing number of homeless who die on the streets in our county every year: 250 in 2021 and 246 in 2022.”

    Actually, “growing” implies that the number is going up, not down. And it went down during the pandemic as our homeless population was exploding with mandated business closures, etc.

  4. While increasing the supply of affordable housing is one approach to the supply/demand imbalance that is driving up prices for homes and rents, it may be easier and quicker to reduce the demand.
    A growing body of evidence highlights the fact that unregulated capitalism is largely to blame for the problem, especially outside investors buying up local homes. Whether those investors are Chinese living in China, Wall Street scoundrels, or Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, they are in it for the money, not for the well-being of our community.
    Here are a few ways to restrict foreign/investor ownership include:
    1) raising property taxes for foreign ownership;
    2) restrict resale of properties to California residents;
    3) limit ownership to 100 units.
    Progressive author and talk-show host Thom Hartmann lays out the case here:

  5. the housing crisis is by design:

    Urban Growth Boundary
    Open Space
    Rent Control
    Outrageous Inclusionary Fees
    Impact Fees
    Incompetent Housing Departments and Code red tape leading to +35% “soft costs” for compliance

    all welfare for the rich, welfare for the property owners, all rationalized by progressives as do-gooderism and good governance.

    Shame on your self delusion.

    Listen – you don’t want more houses to lower your property values – I get it – but stop lying… you are doing real damage to people who should live somewhere else.

  6. There is no crisis, never has been, never will be. Let’s have English competency, and perhaps overdue honesty, please.

    There has been and is a shortage, particularly of affordable housing.

    Demand isn’t limited to people or households seeking new residences.

    The affordability problem in choice metro areas is a global phenomenon.

    Add to it at the same time you pursue the inappropriate, and mass hamster housing galore, actions like the Grand Gesture of Coyote Valley that channels growth of the future in forms not wanted in most places by most to existing residential locations and near them, or downtown, where politicians and others with connections have in the past had established, no doubt ambitious, interests.

    Meanwhile, employment, as opposed to yet more housing, is neglected as usual.

  7. 1. Housing the low income in one location is repeating the ‘Projects’ of the 40’s/50’s. It’s best to subsidize so that low income individuals and families can assimilate with the standard population.
    2. There is a lack of housing because too many people are allowed to come to the bay area without proof of income and available housing. This includes legal and illegal immigrants as well as people from other states that think this is the place to camp out while they look for a ‘high paying job in software development’. Top priority should be long-time California residents and taxpayers, US Citizens. This free-for-all is unsustainable. Let’s start doing what countries that take care of their citizens do.
    3. Expand our prisons and keep the criminals in jail/prison. Any theft of any amount should require prison time. And, they need to pay back the person/business they stole from. No more free rides.
    4. Illegal drug use needs to be illegal. Not just the sale of illegal drugs.
    5. Bring back living wage jobs such as manufacturing, not coffee, fast food, and retail jobs meant for high school and college students. Time to re-implement import quotas. Service economies are not sustainable, especially given they are offshoring our customer service roles too.

  8. It is difficult for the average citizen to detect any rhyme or reason in San Jose’s efforts to encourage new housing projects. The city is approving large scale housing units without any/ or any adequate provisions for parking for the people who will live there on the one hand, and no public transportation infrastructure to allow residents to give up their cars on the other. For one example, if the future residents of the high rise living complex to be built at the former El Paseo de Saratoga in West San Jose has one thousand units but provides parking for only one car per unit, where exactly are the other one thousand cars that will probably be owned by these new residents going to park? In the surrounding residential neighborhoods? If the residents protest, is this what you scornfully call NIMBY? High density housing requires access to public transportation!
    Further, I agree, we desperately need truly low income housing. I like the placement and design of that low-income housing unit at the intersection of Campbell and Hamilton roads, across from Target on the one side and El Paseo on the other. For me, it was a welcome addition to our area and a place I could see myself living. I also am not opposed to people being able to build duplexes or granny add-ons in residential areas. The long-term homeless however are a more complex issue. Many of these individuals have mental illnesses and if their families, the health care system, the social services systems can’t find a solution to their problems is it fair to expect neighborhoods of any economic level to do so? These are not new problems but solving them will require more innovative solutions than any of us seem to have come up with this far.

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