Priority 1: 

Reduce the Cost of Housing & the Extent of Homelessness 

Many people can’t afford to live in San Jose. It costs way too much. The two biggest reasons: wages are too low for some people and housing costs are too high for everyone. Housing is too expensive whether you’re a homeowner seeking to buy or a renter scraping by. No parent should have to see their child move away because they can’t afford it, no young person should not be able to afford rent in their hometown, and no grandparent should have to leave the region when they sell their home here. 

We must have more housing in San José. Dozens of my friends and loved ones have left our community because they can’t afford housing here. Meanwhile, the high cost and low availability of housing are forcing more and more people into homelessness. 

San Jose’s housing shortage is the greatest threat to our city’s future.

And our city government is working hard on this issue, implementing a lot of essential, successful programs. Yet it’s not enough.

Having spent nearly a decade working in-depth on housing & homeless issues, I have practical plans composed of 6 pillars for addressing these overlapping issues:

 

Pillar 1: Travel Upstream to Better Solve Problems Pillar 4: Housing that Benefits the Broader Neighborhood
A. Eviction Protections Questions I’ll Ask Developers
B. Right to Counsel Community Engagement
C. Empty Homes Fee Community Benefits
D. Incentive to Rent Avoid Builders Remedy
E. Discourage House Flipping Fairly Pay & Protect Workers
F. Deter Housing Owned by Corporations Google
  Prioritize Transit-oriented Development
Pillar 2: Protect Vulnerable Renters Ensure More Sustainable Development
A. Expand Rent Stabilization  
& Tenant Protections Pillar 5: Assist Our Homeless Neighbors
B Tie Rent Stabilization to Income Permanent Supportive Housing
C. Prevent Premature Eviction Extend Interim Housing
D. Protect Mobilehome Residents from Displacement Sanctioned Encampments
  Mental Health Care
   
Pillar 3: Build More Housing, Especially Affordable Housing  
  Pillar 6: Measurable Results
Fund More Housing & Accountability
More Homes Benefit Taxpayers Success Equals
Longevity of Affordable Housing City Staff Focused on Outcomes
Inclusionary Housing  
Zoning Reforms  
Encourage Mass Timber  
   
   

 

Pillar 1: Travel Upstream to Better Solve Problems 

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.  

Bolstering early interventions like San José's new eviction diversion program and other homelessness assistance programs can prevent renters from being evicted and thus becoming homeless in the first place. Increasing funding for these programs will save money compared to paying $60,000 per homeless person to get them housed after they get evicted. Someone evicted today is a lot more likely to be homeless tomorrow.

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.


Pillar 2: Protect Vulnerable Renters

For two and a half years, I lived in a corporate-owned apartment building on The Alameda. During that time, my rent was raised 39%. When San Jose renters get their rent suddenly raised, one of the first questions we ask in a city as expensive as ours is: “Can I still afford to live in San Jose?” I was fortunate I could afford another apartment in my neighborhood. Many others are not so lucky. We need to protect renters so they don’t get displaced from our region and can save money while they live here. Today’s renters can become tomorrow’s homebuyers. But only if they aren’t constantly faced with rapidly rising rents that outpace their wages and inflation. 

Expand Rent Stabilization & Tenant Protections: Currently, only buildings of more than two units built before September 7, 1979, are eligible for rent stabilization. I believe more renters should have stable rent. So I propose changing this by expanding rent stabilization to include duplexes. I also propose the City’s Tenant Protection Ordinance include all rental homes in San Jose so that all renters are protected from being removed from their homes without cause.

Tie Rent Stabilization to Income: The goal of rent stabilization is to protect renters from regular or sudden rising rents they can’t afford. The City’s current policy allows anyone to stay in a rent-stabilized unit as long as they want, no matter their income. But what if the renter makes $300,000 a year? I believe this policy should change to focus the ordinance on the renters who most need help.

Prevent Premature Eviction: In District 6, when a new development was proposed in 2019, the new owner swiftly evicted eight families living in affordably-priced, older housing already on the land. But the development wasn’t approved by San Jose’s City Council until four years later. And it’s not clear the developer has any immediate plans to actually build the approved project. As a result, these eight families were displaced from their homes years before they needed to be. San Jose should allow tenants to stay on a redevelopment site until demolition or construction is ready to begin.

Protect Mobilehome Residents from Displacement: San Jose has the largest number of people living in mobile homes of any California city, estimated at over 35,000 residents. Many San Jose residents found their home in one of our mobile home parks. These homes need protections too. Any developer willing / wanting to redevelop and increase density of mobile home parks must provide to mobile home park residents:

  • A first-right-to-return after the new housing is built
  • Stabilized rents for returning tenants in the new housing for up to 25 years
  • Rent subsidies for tenants if they’re displaced from their home

Pillar 3: Build More Housing, Especially Affordable Housing

If we want housing prices to go down, we have to build a lot more homes. In the last 8 years, San Jose exceeded our goal for building market-rate housing yet the city only built 26% of the affordable housing goal.

Fund More Housing: To build an apartment building in San Jose – factoring in how expensive land, labor, government fees, and construction materials are – it can cost nearly $1 million per unit. The best way to ensure affordable housing gets built to address our housing crisis homelessness is to help fund more affordable housing. I plan to do that by advocating for:

More Homes Benefit Taxpayers: It costs much less to build up on existing land than out on new land. That’s because the government has to pay more for new infrastructure in rural areas and travel farther to provide ongoing services there. Building too few homes on a piece of land loses San José taxpayers money. In contrast, when building more homes on a project – at least 40 to 45 homes per acre, which is three to four stories – that generates positive revenue for San Jose. When we allow new development, developers pay more city fees to cover city services, rather than us as taxpayers. More city revenue leads to better city services. 

Longevity of Affordable Housing: For projects receiving San Jose’s Measure E funding, I recommend we raise the number of years the housing will be guaranteed affordable from 55 to 75 or 99 years.

Inclusionary Housing: For decades, we’ve allowed San Jose to be a racially and economically segregated city. But we can change that. Having people from different backgrounds live together in integrated neighborhoods makes our communities more harmonious. Inclusionary housing requires developers building market-rate housing to include affordable homes in the same project or building. Affordable Housing is defined as affordable for residents making 120% or below of our Area Median Income. The high cost of living in our area means that a developer can build “affordable housing” in 2023 in which a household of four people making up to $217,560 can qualify. But $200k isn’t “affordable” for so many people. I support inclusionary housing policies. I also support reforming San José’s policy in the following ways:

  • Get rid of the in-lieu fee that functions as an excuse not to build.
  • Alter the policy to require market-rate housing to include at least 10% affordable housing on-site with market-rate housing.
  • Change the definition of affordable housing to only include homes below 80% of the AMI or require projects building 81-120% of the AMI to include 20% affordable housing on-site.
  • Ensure developers commit to their levels of affordable housing before the Planning Commission and City Council vote. 
  • Lower the minimum threshold in which the ordinance takes effect from 20 units or more to 10 units or more.
  • Eliminate the Communication Hill exception to the policy. 

Zoning Reforms: Reforming San José zoning regulations will open up opportunities for thousands of new homes and better development. Zoning reforms I propose include:

  • Like Mayor Mahan, Councilmember Cohen, and Assemblymember Alex Lee, I oppose reducing the number of homes at the Berryessa Flea Market site from nearly 3,500 homes in mid-rise buildings to 900 townhomes. This lower number of homes isn’t good for San José. It’s especially bad next to VTA’s Berryessa Transit Center and a BART Station, where we need higher densities to ensure higher public transit usage. This mutated development plan is why the City should pass policies for precious land like this that include minimum density requirements.  
  • Many of us love having neighborhood amenities like shops or restaurants on the corner of intersections because they make neighborhoods more walkable and vibrant. But they’re hard to find in San Jose. I suggest we change the zoning of parcels on the corners of streets to allow for up to two-story buildings by right with ground-floor commercial. 
  • Some of our buildings sitting empty aren’t just homes, they’re offices. That’s why I suggest we revise the City’s General Plan to reduce the permitting required for the conversion of office buildings to residential. 
  • There are new types of housing that emphasize housing that is owned by multiple people or nonprofits. Examples include co-housing and community land trusts. The City should incentivize co-housing models/developments by prioritizing their processing and making them easier to build in our code.
  • Extend impact fees to developers who build single-family homes to fund community benefits like parks. Increase those fees proportionally higher for more expensive homes and teardowns. 

 

Encourage Mass Timber: Part of what makes taller buildings above seven stories expensive is they traditionally require steel, which is more expensive than wood. Modular housing is one new construction method that is improving the odds of construction commencing and getting completed quicker. An emergent method called mass timber also has the potential to upend these conventions and limitations. Benefits of mass timber include:

In Oakland, a Bay Area developer called oWow is using mass timber to build a 19-story building. And they constructed 16 stories in only 61 days. This kind of innovation and efficiency is what we need in San Jose. San José doesn’t have a single mass timber project. I’ve been encouraging oWow to build in San Jose. Yet the pace of change isn’t fast enough. That’s why I promise an incentive program for any developer that commits to mass timber construction in projects between 9 and 30 stories by January 1, 2027. 


Pillar 4: Housing that Benefits the Broader Neighborhood

We need more housing to keep San Jose families together. New homes can benefit more than just new residents. Responsive development can benefit the entire community. 

Questions I’ll Ask Developers: Developers should build in a way that does the most good for the most people. I will ask every developer proposing a project in my district these four questions:

  1. How many homes are you building?
  2. How many of them will be affordable and how affordable will they be?
  3. What is your community engagement process to hear community input and build community support for the project?
  4. What community benefits will this project provide to benefit the broader neighborhood?

 

Community Engagement: Developers proposing projects in my District seeking my support will be urged to implement a thoughtful, responsive, inclusive community engagement plan to not just hear community input, but incorporate it. When the community is involved and invested, new development can increase neighborhood pride and trust in decision-makers. I will take a hands-on approach by offering to facilitate meetings between a developer and the community to ensure the community’s voice is heard.

 

Community Benefits: As part of the community engagement process, I will push developers to ensure projects include amenities and benefits to the broader neighborhood (in addition to the residents or workers of the new building). Examples of community benefits include retail, restaurants, coffee shops, childcare, a community room, a community garden, public art, and streetscape improvements. This can bring homes closer to businesses, offices, and green spaces, which will benefit us all.

 

Avoid Builders Remedy: The City of San José needs to swiftly pass a realistic, equity-rooted Housing Element so that developers don’t build projects that are out of step with city policies, which they’re able to do because of the “builders remedy.”

 

Prioritize Transit-oriented Development: We must emphasize multi-story buildings next to public transit centers like Diridon Station and along major San Jose streets, which in District 6 includes Bascom Ave, Meridian, West San Carlos, and The Alameda. These  housing projects, especially if on public land like VTA-owned TOD sites, should ensure that the developers provide multi-year free transit passes to some or all of the occupants to encourage more people to ride public transit. This is especially important for affordable housing projects because these residents are most likely to need and use public transit.

 

Ensure More Sustainable Development: We must move towards greater sustainability in all parts of our city, including housing development. I recommend:

  • The City of San Jose raise the requirement on all new multi-unit development from LEED Silver to LEED Gold (or the equivalent third-party certification). 
  • New policies to further encourage energy-efficient buildings, sustainable building materials like low-carbon concrete, energy storage and smart grids, and solar panels.
  • legislation reducing fees for buildings that activate their rooftops for services such as parks or other usable places. 
  • changing San Jose’s ordinance code to more easily allow or encourage rooftop gardens.

Pillar 5: Assist Our Homeless Neighbors

Homelessness and housing insecurity are shown to negatively impact physical and mental health, education, and other key factors. Addressing the housing crisis will particularly benefit African Americans, Latinos, women, children, families, and other vulnerable populations.

 

Permanent Supportive Housing: With 96% of folks in permanent supportive housing still housed a year later, San Jose needs to double down on this solution by advocating more homes per project throughout San Jose because the best long-term solution to homelessness is more homes.

 

Extend Interim Housing: Expanding upon city staff’s recommendation, we should enable unhoused residents to extend stays in emergency interim housing with supportive services (such as tiny home villages) longer than a few months. I propose up to 2 years. Kicking someone back out onto the streets doesn’t help anyone.

 

Sanctioned Encampments: Many of our homeless neighbors live along trails, sidewalks, and creeks, creating health, safety, and environmental concerns. To address these overlapping issues, I propose creating clean, safe, open, and monitored places for unhoused people called sanctioned encampments that can be a  “first step” to help homeless people return to housing. Sanctioned encampments should:

  • Create centralized locations for providing vital services like mental health counseling and housing assistance Provide toilets, showers, and dumpsters to dispose of trash properly
  • Include the regular presence of San Jose community service officers
  • Allow unhoused residents to live in a safe environment while maintaining their  belongings and dignity
  • Be spread out in different parts of San Jose simultaneously and rotate through council districts every few years
  • Be ideally located near government services and/or transit
  • Work in partnership with other entities to be located on privately donated or public land owned by the City or other government agencies like Valley Water, VTA, Santa Clara County, the state, and the federal government.

 

Mental Health Care:  Many homeless people living on our streets need mental healthcare. I support CARE Courts, a last-resort measure that treats folks with untreated severe mental health conditions who may be unable to help themselves. We need the County to begin implementing this as funding becomes available. 

 

Pillar 6: Measurable Results & Accountability

Building off of the audit authored by State Senator Dave Cortese, ensure every city homeless program has measurable outcomes. Programs falling far short of these metrics are discontinued or heavily reworked so our taxpayer dollars go to the most cost-effective solutions.

 

So what does success look like, Alex?” – That’s what District 6 voter Jonathan asked me. 

 

Success equals:

  1. The city cost per unhoused person drops by at least $10,000 by 2028.
  2. The ratio of households in housing compared to those becoming homeless drops below 1.0 during my four-year term (in 2022 in our county, for every 1 household we housed, 1.7 more became homeless, which means homelessness increased last year).
  3. San Jose’s overall homeless count is cut in half from the most recent count to 2032.
  4. San Joseans no longer cite homelessness as their top quality of life concern.

 

Together, let’s implement policies that spend public money efficiently and ensure everyone has a roof over their head to fix the biggest issue of our generation.

 

City Staff Focused on Outcomes: Working smart and achieving outcomes means focusing on our highest priorities. In most jobs, that means a higher-priority task can leapfrog a lower-priority one, even if it comes later. That’s how planning should work too. 

  • City staff must take a more active role in ensuring San Jose meets our City’s annual housing goals by encouraging developers on projects to maximize the number of homes and maximizing the number of affordable homes.
  • We fell way short of our affordable housing goals in the last eight years. We can’t afford to do so again. City staff can’t control the economy; they can influence where and how much housing gets built. They need to take a more active role in ensuring we meet our state-mandated goals. Let’s hold each other accountable for this failure and do better in the future.
  • The City’s planning department should maintain all the development projects in a tracking document. Regardless of when the permit was filed, projects that come closest to meeting city goals – such as emphasizing innovative transportation solutions or including lots of  affordable housing – are moved to the top of the list for staff to work on first.