County Should Build Permanent Supportive Housing at the Old San Jose City Hall

Open Letter from Formerly Unhoused Organizer

Editor's Note:

Santa Clara County has a plan to convert the old San Jose city hall site into a new Civic Center Campus. Activists are calling on the County to build temporary housing. Formerly unhoused organizer writes that voter approved Measure A funds should be used to build permanent supportive housing so desperately needed.

Dear Members of the County Board of Supervisors:

In the nearly five years since I've been housed, I've seen this Board take some daring and unprecedented steps to fulfill its commitment to staving off poverty and eliminating homelessness in our county. From financially daring ventures like outbidding the field in order to save the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park from the hands of greedy developers. With intrepid diligence, no plot of land was left “un-eyeballed” in this Board’s quest to procure a site to replace the north county cold weather shelter. The Board showed keen insight and well deserved faith in its constituency by placing measure A on the ballot. And while advocates have not always agreed with every decision the Board has made or has avoided making, all sides at the table must acquiesce that the pendulum of progress has swung further to the positive mark in these few short years than it has ever moved in the two previous decades! Yet still there is work to be done and bureaucratic obstacles to be overcome if this Board is to continue to honor its obligation to ensure that housing is both available and affordable to all in Santa Clara County.

Building temporary units is belittling - it's belittling to the people who would occupy them, for they know that they are living on borrowed time. It is belittling to the process that plans and funds these endeavors which do little more than put a steady paycheck into the pockets of a developer. It also belittles the Permanent Supportive Housing staff who will man these buildings; knowing that their efforts are barely funded and their facilities are barely adequate can be a  combination that has a high potential to make an employee feel that they barely want to be there. This is not the way. Be it from the dias or in public meetings, the County has centered on very low income and extremely low income housing and people experiencing homelessness. I believe each of you has said that the county can and must do better by all of its marginalized citizens, including those struggling to hold their heads above the waterline of poverty in a county flooded with wealth. If those words truly have meaning and this Board still carries a commitment in which housing its most vulnerable citizens is still a priority, then talk of using dilapidated buildings must be set aside in favor of actions that show the commitment and innovation that this part of the country is famous for!

That is why the board should direct the appropriate staff to have this building demolished in its entirety. While also directing staff to seek out an equal amount of square footage in the plans for the future Civic Center County Campus and hand that parcel to the nonprofit developer who places the most sound bid (within the FRP process) for an 8-story permanent supportive housing complex that would provide homes & services for populations such as LGBTQ community members, single women (whether exiting from domestic violence or not), transitional age youth, seniors, veterans and those returning from incarceration and utilizing the reentry process.

If the county wants to reaffirm its commitment to helping the most vulnerable members of our community then it must demonstrate that through its own municipal works. And what better manner to do so than to erect a structure in its own backyard. The use of Measure A funds to build this structure coupled with other developmental funding, such as Cap and Trade dollars, would save the County some money when it comes to logistical tangents such as stoplights and landscape cost. If the Board were to move forward with such a courageous plan, then what will be erected will be more than just housing units. Once constructed this complex will become a shiny monument. One that not only shows this Board’s commitment to erecting housing that is both available and affordable, it will also demonstrate sound and decisive leadership to city lawmakers throughout the County. It would curb the false narrative stated by some city officials, who constantly lament on how their city has done so much in this regard and always point to the County to “do its part.” It would help to deafen the sometimes overbearing roar of a NIMBY contingent that seems to grow in size despite the flaws of its existence. When talk of very low income, extremely low income and permanent supportive housing development is brought up in other cities across the County, this site will be the crown jewel that makes all negative words on the issue lackluster.

Anthony T. King,
Organizing Fellow, Silicon Valley De-Bug
Public Liaison/Member of Lived Experience Advisory Board of Santa Clara County

Show your support on Tuesday Sept. 11 at 9:30 am
70 West Hedding Street, San Jose

Call (408) 299-5001 and email the Board to Support building permanent supportive housing at the old city hall. 

Supervisor Mike Wasserman: [email protected]
Supervisor Ken Yeager: [email protected]
Supervisor Joe Samitian: [email protected]
Supervisor Dave Cortese: [email protected]
Supervisor Cindy Chavez: [email protected]

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