As he approaches a year leading the 12th largest city in the United States, Matt Mahan says he is troubled by the slow pace at which San Jose is building shelters for homeless residents leaving encampments, an effort on which he made it a key goal of his campaign. for the mayor and which could define his legacy as he heads towards re-election without any political opposition in 2024.
The mayor is racing against time to meet his goal of building 1,000 new homes before June 30 next year, a goal that has been hampered by a battle with other council members over the course of the year. t was about how homeless funds should be allocated and then pushed back six months after city staff said an end-of-year timeline was not feasible.
Since his inauguration, Mahan has focused on stop-gap solutions, which he says offer the best opportunity to reduce San Jose’s unsheltered homeless population by providing the right balance of stability for those seeking permanent housing and scalability versus permanent options. . The strategy has general support on the City Council, although some critics of the solution say it doesn’t solve the housing affordability problem.
Since the start of the year, the city has added 275 units of small house-style shelters, secure vehicle parking and hotel rooms, as well as 207 permanent supportive housing units, according to the latest figures provided by the mayor’s office. That means San Jose has just six months to build nearly what it has achieved over the past year if it wants to meet the mayor’s pledge.
“We have to treat this as a crisis,” Mahan said in an interview Wednesday. “Today, people are dying in the streets. We have over 4,000 people who have nowhere to go in San Jose alone. And treating this as a crisis means we don’t over-engineer and over-engineer solutions. We don’t take 18 months to set up a site. (We) don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I have real concerns and frustrations. We still overcomplicate things.
Despite concerns about the numbers, there are some metrics that indicate the interim strategy could have an impact: San Jose’s latest homeless count in May showed an 11 percent drop from last year.
But the temporary sites have a significant waiting list: about 400 people are trying to get a spot, according to city officials. The city currently operates about 500 small house-style shelters, 200 hotel rooms and 42 secure parking spaces. Four more tiny house sites, as well as an expansion – totaling 788 sites – are currently in the works.
More recently, Mahan has attempted to cut red tape to speed construction of interim housing by no longer requiring certain land use provisions, building codes and procurement decisions. As an even more immediate solution, he now suggests that the city create permitted encampments around San Jose.
Although plans are in their early stages, the mayor said he envisions a site or two with about 100 sites each where homeless residents could set up tents on wooden pallets and provide security – a plan which, he recognizes, will depend on “political will”. .” He said he was inspired by the recent opening in San Diego of a 400-space sanctioned encampment.
“Ultimately, we need speed and scale,” Mahan said. “We need a lot of placements. And we need it quickly.
The mayor’s efforts have faced obstacles this year. In June, he sought to shift funding traditionally intended for permanent housing to his interim strategy, but did not get as much as he had initially asked for. And when city staff expanded its housing goal, they blamed land access issues, among other obstacles that were delaying efforts.
“Those were still very difficult goals to achieve by the end of December,” Jim Shannon, the city’s budget director, said of the homelessness goal. “It was always going to be a huge challenge.”
“The nature of these efforts is that they are complex and multifaceted. And they require many partners,” said Deputy City Manager Omar Passons.
There were also political successes for Mahan, namely the city’s ability to convince affected workers at a Valley Transportation Authority construction site that they should support a nearby outlay for 200 tiny homes provided by Gov. Gavin Newsom. But timing, once again, could become an issue after the Sacramento Bee reported in October that the governor’s tiny house plans had been delayed.
Questions have also been raised about the cost of the interim housing strategy. The city is currently spending $36.4 million on its interim options portfolio – with money coming from one-time allocations from the general fund, state and Measure E taxpayer dollars.
But in just four years, costs to the general fund could reach $70 million, according to the budget director’s preliminary estimates. That’s about $15 million more than the projection presented in June.
The mayor says the cost is worth it, considering the price of human suffering on the streets and the strain on emergency services who are regularly called to unmanaged encampments – as well as the hope of finding external funding in the years to come.
The council is also exploring ways to reduce spending on future projects, including an upcoming secure parking lot in the Berryessa neighborhood, which elected officials recently expressed skepticism about its nearly $20 million opening costs.
California Daily Newspapers