Homeless in San Jose
May 18, 2018

Silicon Valley Business Journal: How Santa Clara County supervisor candidates view Bay Area housing and homelessness issues


Silicon Valley Business Journal reporter Jody Meacham attended the District 4 supervisorial candidates’ forum organized by Silicon Valley at Home (SV@Home) and Destination: Home, where the six candidates vying to replace Ken Yeager as Santa Clara County supervisor answered questions about homelessness and housing as part of Affordable Housing Week 2018.

See the original story at the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

How Santa Clara County supervisor candidates view Bay Area housing and homelessness issues

By Jody Meacham

Two Bay Area housing nonprofits, SV@Home and Destination:Home, hosted a forum earlier this week for the six candidates still in the race for District 4 Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager’s seat.

It focused on the housing crisis, which all the candidates — business owner Mike Alvarado, Campbell City Councilmember Jason Baker, San Jose Unified School District President Susan Ellenberg, marketing and public relations executive Maria Hernandez, former San Jose City Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio and current City Councilmember Don Rocha — believe is real and that the county has a role in solving.

The questions from the former homeless members of the “lived experience” advisory board to Destination: Home and the public produced the most interesting answers. Here’s a selection, edited for length, in Part 1 of a two-part series that will conclude Monday.

If you were to become homeless tomorrow, what is the first thing you would do?

Baker: I’d go to Old Orchard Road, with the Boccardo center, and I’d talk to those folks about trying to find a meal, and solutions for getting services. As a councilmember and mayor, I’ve been working on this issue for 2013, and usually who I go to is Leslye (Corsiglia of SV@Home) and Jen (Loving of Destination: Home) and the folks who are professionals at this. But being on the streets without those resources I’ve had the opportunity of taking advantage of, it’d be awfully tough.

Rocha: First step would be friends and family. Second step would be somewhere in terms of calling Leslye or Jennifer to help me.

Ellenburg: I’m assuming that the premise of the question is that I don’t have family or friends or someone to turn to. So if I really did find myself homeless and alone, I’m terrified, and I think my first temptation would be to turn to local law enforcement or the fire department because I would feel completely unequipped to know what to do.

Oliverio: I would lean on family and friends, quite simply, if that were the circumstance for myself. If family wore out, I would be couch surfing or whatever scenario it was to get by. … One place I would go to in San Jose is to a place of worship because one of the things I championed on the City Council is getting the rules changed or the ordinance to allow any place of worship to house the homeless by right. No going through a permit process where the neighborhood had to show up, and everyone was in fear about who might be sleeping at that church, and are they on the drugs, and what’s their condition. That’s gone.

Hernandez: I was homeless at one time in my life after my father died. And I was homeless in Mexico, Guadalajara. Here, however, I think that there are more resources helping people, so I hope I never be in that situation again. But the first thing would be family and friends. Well, friends, I don’t have family here. But go to my friends, and if I don’t have any support from them, I would come to places that usually serve homeless people and put my name down there. I’m very aware that there are lists, people waiting for that, but that would be my first step.

Alvarado: I think probably the car, I would probably head to a Walmart. I’ve heard they allow overnight parking. I would try to take advantage of any churches that had like a soup kitchen, like St. Anthony’s, things like that. Try to get some referrals. In the past, we had some really bad recessions after the dotcom bust in 2000. Personally, I had a McMansion in Campbell and I thought I was on the way to becoming rich. We had to sell that house, and we had to move out of the area for a couple of years. It was tough. We weren’t homeless, but we had to really downsize our existence. Then I kind of made some of the same mistakes again, and I overextended. Then we had another recession in 2008. I moved to Gilroy for five years, and I had to leave that house. And I’ll be honest, we lost it. And I learned a lot, I really learned a lot. So, thankfully I had family that was able to help me out, but it’s really tough. Really tough.

In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a ruling that any landlord who discriminates against a person who has a criminal background is actually in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. As a county supervisor, would you be opposed to using the Fair Housing Act and other federal statutes to combat some of the NIMBY-ism that goes on here in this county?

Alvarado: Yeah, I think everybody deserves a second chance. I think part of the things I was advocating for was jail reform, and I think just because somebody has a criminal record, I don’t think they should be marginalized and kept out. Remember, everybody’s going to be coming out of jail sometime. And when they do come out, they could be your neighbors. So, you could have a hardened criminal who went through the draconian system where they’re just getting worse and worse and learn how to be a better criminal. Or you could have people where you really do something genuine and positive and change their lives for the better. I think everybody deserves a second chance, and I don’t think we should discriminate people because of their past — their past mistakes.

Hernandez: I would support it with certain reservations because I understand where most of the people come from. I know that when you have a criminal record, it’s really hard to find not only jobs but to find housing. However, when there’s a person that was convicted of a violent offense, we also need to think about the safety of the people renting out to them. It is not to discriminate, but at least I think that everybody deserves protection.

Oliverio: Appreciate the question, but I also find it a little vague. Are you talking about sex offenders, domestic violence, child molestation? Ultimately, people need a place to live. And unfortunately, when you have a criminal record, it can stay with you. Sometimes it’s not justified, other times, it might be the right thing. What I do know is the county, even if it acted on this, only 4 percent of the population of Santa Clara County lives in unincorporated county areas. So, the county can’t pass laws and then make San Jose enforce it, or Campbell or Santa Clara. It’s up to those individual cities.

Ellenburg: I think that there are probably two root causes of NIMBY-ism. One is that desire to protect what we, whoever the “we” is, have — the low density, the lovely lawns, the space, the familiar faces of the neighborhoods — and the other aspect is the fear of what people don’t know. And I think there’s a very unfortunate and pervasive presumption that if we are building low-income housing, it must in some way be a bad element that’s coming in here, whether it’s a presumption that everyone that’s coming into this low-income housing must have some sort of criminal connection or other unsavory piece or will somehow make the neighborhood less safe. I think it’s really a display of tremendous ignorance. So the question is: How can we work with the neighborhoods understanding what their fears are, whether or not we think that they are legitimate or well-founded.

Rocha: In principle, absolutely, yes. I can share a little bit what I’ve done on the City Council. We just joined an amicus brief at the request of the attorney general of New York challenging HUD, and actually (Secretary) Ben Carson in terms of not enforcing Fair Housing. What’s happening is the federal government under the Trump Administration is not enforcing some of these laws. Oftentimes it’s happening more in the Midwest and the East Coast, not in progressive states which is California. But we voted, and it was unanimous. I really appreciate my colleagues’ support in that. So yes, I agree in principle. I think it’s a very interesting and a very creative approach.

Baker: Yes, I don’t think people should be discriminated against in housing because of their prior criminal history. I think that where I would start is with Judge (Stephen) Manley. He’s doing amazing work in his courtroom helping out some of the hardest people to house, especially around these issues. But his courtroom is too full, he’s having to deal with too many people, so I would clone Judge Manley, first of all. And then I would give him more resources and tell him, “Look, the county will back you if you’re having problems with certain providers of housing. At the end of the day, you’ve got county counsel behind him enforcing federal laws even if the federal government won’t.

Yes or no question: Are you willing to station an encampment until permanent housing is made available for folks who want housing?

Everyone answered yes.

— The first question in Monday’s coverage of this event will be on rent control.