San Jose Officials Challenge Mayor’s Move to Divert Affordable Housing Funds

San Jose Neighborhood, affordable housing

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan has found himself in hot water for trying to divert funding away from affordable housing programs toward more short-term housing options for people exiting homelessness.

The crux of the disagreement rests on how San Jose should spend the dollars captured by Measure E, a property tax plan that voters approved in 2020 that only applies to sales or transfers of properties valued at $2 million or more.

Overall, the city has about $136 million of Measure E funds to spend over the next two years. Mayor Mahan has proposed allocating just $53 million of those funds for long-term affordable housing projects instead of the $106 million that was previously planned. San Jose city council members David Cohen and Sergio Jimenez have proposed a plan to spend about $86 million of Measure E funds on long-term housing projects instead.

The dispute also indicates how divisive the affordable housing funding topic has become in San Jose.

Mahan has said that building shelters is a key priority for helping people move off the streets. However, housing advocates have argued that diverting money from projects funded by Measure E would prevent several projects from being completed.

“These projects are ready to go, but the city keeps delaying funding, and then the cost increases to build,” Ray Bramson, COO of Destination: Home, a housing advocacy group, told San José Spotlight. “Affordable housing development is going to be on pause for an indefinite period of time.”

Affordable housing and homelessness have become hot topics in San Jose over the past few years.

The city’s median home price has climbed from around $1 million in April 2020 to more than $1.3 million as of April 2023, a more than 28% increase. Meanwhile, federal one-night count data found more than 1,900 people living on San Jose’s streets in 2022, representing an increase of nearly 20% since 2019.

In response, Mahan proposed a $1.5 billion budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year that he described in March as a plan to go “back to the basics” of focusing on crime, homelessness, and blight.

Part of that plan included moving 1,000 unhoused residents into “managed environments” by the end of the year and a one-time doubling of Measure E funding for homeless prevention programs.

By May, Mahan had reallocated Measure E funding from affordable housing projects to homeless services instead of taking funds from another budget line item. That plan caused some commotion inside city hall.

“We definitely need emergency interim housing, but we also need to make sure that we’re dedicating dollars for the development of affordable housing,” Councilman Peter Ortiz told the California Globe. “Measure E is one of our only sources for that.”

Mahan’s office told San Jose Spotlight that they are working to strike a balance with city council members. However, some city councilors say the move seems almost entirely political.

“The mayor made this process more political than it should have been, which I expressed to him on several occasions,” Cohen told San Jose Spotlight. “I was focused on finding solutions that address our priorities rather than politics.”

While the debate inside city hall rages on, unhoused residents of San Jose continue to face sweeps or city-sanctioned encampment cleanups.

Most recently, a group living near Coyote Creek was evicted from their encampment by “a small army of backhoes, earthmovers, garbage trucks, and police cars,” reported.

The city said the sweep was necessary because of a flood control project scheduled to begin soon. However, some unhoused folks and advocates described the sweep as traumatizing and said the city needs to do more to offer unhoused folks alternative places to go.

“There should have been more done to make sure the most fragile and the most traumatized, and the most at-risk people, the unhoused, were protected first,” advocate Shaunn Cartwright told San José Spotlight.

How You Can Help

Now is not the time to be silent about homelessness in California or anywhere else. While blaming a single politician for today’s housing struggles is easy, the truth is much more profound.

Poverty and homelessness are both policy choices, not personal failures. That’s why we need you to contact your officials and tell them you support legislation that:

  • Streamlines the development of affordable housing
  • Reduces barriers for people experiencing homelessness to enter permanent housing
  • Bolsters government response to homelessness

Together, we can end homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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