I’m outlining an approach I call Upstream Public Policy by which we implement solutions to prevent problems. Not only can this reduce housing costs, it will protect residents from becoming homeless in the first place, saving tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars and the pain for those who would become homeless. Too much of our housing stock isn’t available to local residents. Interventions upstream can change that.
Eviction Protections: When someone falls behind on their rent, their landlord can take them to eviction court. The City has a new Eviction Diversion program that steps in and pays the landlord one-time a small amount of money to keep the renter in their homes. We can cut costs by 75% – saving tens of thousands of dollars per person – by traveling upstream and preventing homelessness.
Right to Counsel: Meanwhile, many landlords have lawyers represent them in court when they are seeking to evict someone. But many tenants do not. Everyone deserves legal representation. By ensuring tenants’ right to counsel when they show up in front of a judge at eviction court, we can make the eviction process more fair and hopefully lower the number of evictions.
Empty Homes Fee: Recently, economists told the San Jose City Council how few projects are breaking ground in San Jose because of these high costs. That’s why we should turn some of our attention to the homes we already have in San Jose. It’s why I’ve proposed since 2019 that the City of San Jose enact an empty homes fee. We have thousands of homes in San Jose sitting empty right now. Some for good reason: the owner is selling, renovating, splitting their time as residents, or in between the old and new renters. Other empty homes have been sitting vacant for years for no good reason, encouraging blight and unwanted squatters. Already passed into law by other West Coast cities, I propose San Jose enact an empty homes fee that will reduce the number of homes sitting vacant. Since housing in San Jose takes too much time and money to build right now, let’s fill up the existing empty homes we already have. It would work like this:
- If property owners want to fill empty houses with residents, they don’t pay the fee and thus they contribute to opening up more housing.
- If they want to keep the extra home empty and pay the fee, they contribute to building more housing.
- Revenue from the fee can go toward the City of SJ’s program dedicated exclusively to building affordable housing.
Incentive to Rent: With an estimated 44 million bedrooms sitting empty in the US, San Jose should offer an incentive program providing a one-time subsidy – say $2,000 – for any homeowner who rents a room for the first time to someone.
Discourage Housing Flipping: Professor Shane Phillips cites evidence that house flippers earned an average return on investment of 49% in 2018. This process of someone buying a home they have no intention of living in, quickly remodeling it, and reselling it for much higher plays a role in driving our housing prices up. Limiting house flipping could help hold down housing prices. I propose a fee on house flipping to discourage skyrocketing housing prices, especially on single-family homes next to transit, with revenues focused on preserving housing.
Deter Housing Owned by Corporations: During this extreme housing shortage in San Jose, homes should be primarily bought and sold by local residents. Our housing should not be bought by giant companies that charge us expensive rents or reserve homes for well-paid executives. I suggest the City either: make the ownership of corporate housing illegal in the City of San Jose or place a fee on corporations purchasing and owning housing as part of their business or on behalf of their current or future employees. The proceeds could go toward paying for the rental incentive program or other housing solutions.