We are facing a housing crisis in San José. The supply of available housing units is far outpaced by demand -- pushing prices up and forcing people out. Over the past decade, the average San José rent has increased by 74% while home prices have jumped 124%. High housing prices are directly correlated to high rates of homelessness; a study out of Los Angeles found that even a 5% increase in rent can push 2,000 additional people into homelessness.
As such, on any given night in San José, over 6,000 people sleep on the streets. This figure has likely grown considerably, as the last official count was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. This humanitarian crisis is caused, fundamentally, by a lack of housing.
Of course, while the housing crisis is the underlying reason for our large unhoused population, secondary factors such as mental health issues and drug addiction contribute to homelessness and make getting out of homelessness harder. As of 2019, 42% of unhoused people in San José self-reported suffering from a psychiatric condition and 25% reported drug addiction as a main reason for their homelessness. These numbers may be even higher than reported.
Solutions to homelessness are not straightforward, and few please everyone. It is clear that in the long-term, as a City we must build a lot more housing. San José, and the Bay Area as a whole, is decades behind on housing production. Right now, for every 5 jobs that are created in Santa Clara County, only 1 home is built. There are a series of reforms we should pursue to build more market-rate housing, many of which are described in Councilmember Mahan's Medium post "Our Housing Shortage Deepens Racial Inequity." Beyond privately developed housing – of which we are severely lacking – publicly funded affordable housing options are also vital for our lowest income residents, . Councilmember Mahan has expressed skepticism of the efficacy and results of Measure A, the County's $950 Million fund for affordable housing development, though he acknowledges the County's and City's role in providing for our most vulnerable.
Our unhoused and housed residents alike cannot wait decades for developments to spring from the ground; relief is needed immediately. In the short term, Councilmember Mahan believes in an "all of the above" strategy to reduce street homelessness. We should continue to iterate and experiment as a city when addressing this problem. New ideas should be embraced and piloted. As a silver lining of the pandemic, the City has demonstrated an increased sense of urgency to build shelter and pursue innovative solutions – building emergency housing faster and cheaper than ever before.
Councilmember Mahan's first memo, submitted to and approved by City Council in January 2021, involved conducting geographical analyses of vacant CalTrans sites to build emergency shelter. You can read more about this effort here. There are roughly 2,000 shelter beds in the entire City, falling far too short of our 6,000 person unhoused population. We must do everything possible to increase that number. It's also important to note that our shelters have an occupancy rate of roughly 85% – meaning that in addition to building more shelter, we also must strategize ways to entice, or under limited circumstances compel, people into receiving existing shelter offerings.
In the absence of more housing and shelter options, as a City we must proactively conduct encampment management; as long-term strategies are at work, encampments will continue to exist in neighborhoods. Abating or "sweeping" encampments is an imperfect solution. When an encampment is abated, the unhoused people simply move into the adjacent neighborhood, or come right back to the original site within days or weeks. Abatements do make sense in certain situations – when there is an extreme public safety risk, or when they occupy sensitive public space – and we must conduct them strategically.
In February 2021, Councilmember Mahan proposed an encampment management strategy to City Council, which was passed as the City's number one new priority for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. He led the way on a policy of "setbacks and services." Essentially, the City will examine enforcing setbacks – a radius of a certain amount of feet where encampments cannot exist – around sensitive public spaces such as schools, parks, and creeks, paired with basic hygienic and sanitary services to large encampments not in these sensitive areas. This policy has begun with a pilot of setbacks around schools, and the District 10 office will continue to monitor the progression of our encampment management strategy throughout the 2021-2022 fiscal year. You can read the full proposal here, or read a summary here.
Councilmember Mahan also believes there is much more that can be done regarding substance abuse and mental health treatment. Those on our streets struggling with these issues are not receiving the help they desperately need. Our office was instrumental in getting Laura's Law passed, legislation which will compel severely mentally ill individuals to receive outpatient mental health care. You can read more on Councilmember Mahan's position and advocacy in his op-ed and press conference.
The solution to homelessness is intuitive: more homes. The means to achieve that end are difficult, complicated, and vital to figure out. Please reach out to our office with your questions, concerns, and ideas at email@example.com.