April 13, 2024
5 things to know about San Jose's interim housing strategy

On Monday, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan led a call to streamline the construction of the city’s interim housing options to under a year, hoping to clear away what he and other elected officials see as bureaucratic red tape that blocks the rapid development of pop-up sites that can shelter San Jose’s roughly 4,400 residents who live on the streets.

Councilmembers will vote this month on whether to adopt a shelter crisis emergency declaration that would allow the city to bypass building codes, land use laws and procurement decisions. Currently, it takes nearly two years to get the city’s interim housing options up and running.

Here are five things to know about the city’s interim housing strategy.

WHAT DOES “INTERIM HOUSING” MEAN?

Interim housing, as opposed to permanent affordable housing, is one of a number of strategies that California has adopted in attempting to combat the growing number of unmanaged homeless encampments made up of tents and RVs, which often overlap with visible mental health and drug addiction issues.

The term covers a variety of different shelter options, including tiny home-style housing, safe parking sites for vehicles and RVs and converted hotel rooms — many of which are operated by nonprofits chosen by the city. In San Jose, the interim shelters have case management teams that offer services like mental health treatment. On-site security is also present.

HOW MANY OF THESE HOUSING SITES DOES SAN JOSE HAVE?

The city is still in the early stages of building out its interim housing portfolio.

Currently, San Jose has 493 tiny home-style units operating across six locations and 42 safe parking spots at a Valley Transportation Authority station in the southern part of the city. In addition, the city has 213 converted hotel room units, as 90 spaces became available last week after the opening of the Arena Hotel near downtown on The Alameda.

More sites are expected to open soon, including a safe parking site in 2024 that would be the largest of its kind in San Jose’s Berryessa neighborhood with enough space for 85 vehicles.

WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST THESE TYPE OF SHELTERS?

Advocates say the strategy helps those who are not immediately ready to live in a home entirely on their own — and offers a variety of choices for those who are trying to get off the street. Mahan, a major advocate for the sites, claims that half of the interim shelter occupants eventually graduate to affordable housing while 70% end up staying indoors. In addition, proponents argue that getting the sites up and running is much faster than permanent affordable housing.

Critics argue interim shelters don’t get at the heart of the issue of housing affordability. In addition, they assert that the model is less financially sustainable than permanent affordable housing, which requires residents to pay rent that can go back into funding operational costs.

IS THERE ANY POLITICAL PUSHBACK TO THIS STRATEGY?

For the most part, San Jose’s elected officials are on board with building out the city’s interim housing sites, with some projects receiving unanimous votes from councilmembers.

However, where much of the disagreement remains is how much money to devote toward the strategy.

This year, Mahan called for shifting millions of dollars away from permanent supportive housing and to interim shelter construction. Though the mayor was able to get some funds shifted, it was not as much as he originally proposed, and the plan riled permanent supportive housing advocates who accused Mahan of getting in the way of earnestly combatting homelessness.

HOW MUCH DO THE SITES COST?

Costs vary for each type of interim housing shelter, but the sites generally require about $15 million to get up and running. From there, it costs the city around $3 to $4 million to keep the shelter operating with on-site services.

A major difference compared to permanent affordable housing is that the city must absorb any ongoing expenditures in the years ahead — and there is no revenue like monthly rental payments to offset costs. In June, city budget director Jim Shannon estimated that funding around 1,400 interim shelter units will cost the city $60 million by 2030, an expenditure he described as “difficult” for San Jose to cover considering its historically tight budget. But Mayor Mahan says he is confident the city will find external sources of revenue to cover, including a proposed regional housing measure that would pump billions into combatting homelessness.

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