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SENSITIVITY AND COMPETENCE IS REQUIRED IN ADDRESSING SAN JOSE HOUSING CRISIS

February 29, 1992

By Yolanda Reynolds

La Oferta Newspaper.

ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, (a regional planning association) concluded that the City of San Jose will need 16,000 low income dwelling units by 1995. At present, the City of San Jose is far behind that recommended schedule.

In 1990. the U.S. Congress passed the Cranston-Gonzales National Affordable Housing Act. That legislation seeks a “national goal that every American family be able to afford a decent home in a suitable environment.”

That goal seems to be particularly to many Americans. According to the local Student – Homeless Alliance in this Valley, over 14,000 people are on the County’s Housing Authority waiting list for low income housing.

The San Jose Mayor’s Task Force on Housing (in 1988 before the recession) reported that, under Federal guidelines, 42% of all San Jose households are low or very low income. In San Jose, where living expenses are very high, many more families actually have a “low and very low income” experience.

Besides providing the needed housing, the legislation seeks to assure that that housing be “decent” and “suitable.” That goal is very important when not attained severe problems can result. For example, an apartment complex in San Jose. Santee, recently came to the attention of city officials because of the drug infestation and many code violations there.

The nearby community, fed up with drug activity and the generally run down condition of that apartment complex, had successfully brought the City’s “Project Crackdown” to the neighborhood.

The City is attempting to clean up the whole area not only of drugs but also with respect to the many code violations and general disrepair of the apartment complex.

According to housing advocate Sophia Mendoza, this effort at improving conditions at that complex while sincere, is actually adding to the problems of many of its current residents.

The City entered into negotiations with the apartment owner for cleanup. State and Federal laws require that when families might become displaced because of government action there is to be a “last resort housing plan.” Mendoza that the City has neither of these for assistance of the residents of Santee and most of the other areas where households will become displaced due to government (City Hall) action.

Mendoza says that at least 49 households at Santee will be displaced as the repairs to the complex proceed.

Mendoza says that the tenants have only been told that they qualify for the City’s Section B Housing. (HUD subsidized housing).

Mendoza says, however, that “by law. the tenants must be told instead that they have three options.” The other two options are to receive a rent differential or to take a lump sum payment. Some households choose this last option and move to a place where affordable housing is available.

Mendoza was a leader in forcing the City to abide by the Federal governments guidelines when many families were displaced by the Guadalupe Auzerais project area (San Jose Convention Center).

Section B Housing, dwelling units for which very low income persons can receive rent assistance, are scarce and in much demand.

Many, if not most, low income people are buffeted daily with almost overwhelming problems and obstacles. One of which appears to be bureaucratic inefficiency. Currently, one of the largest complexes which provides low income housing. “Rancho Verde” apartments is accepting applications for some anticipated vacancies.

The applications, most of whom work (at minimum wage employment), and others, single head of household women with and disabled are finding the process to be cumbersome, demeaning and wasteful.

Several men, one single and another married with two children. Said that they have had to sleep out at the complex’s office in order to assure receiving an application. First, they must stand in line to get a number which puts then in priority for an application form; Why the process is so cumbersome is not certain.

The Rancho Verde “staff person’ that this writer spoke to says that part of the reason is that they are only able to process 21 people a day, since they only work on applications for two hours. The application offices are open from 9 am. to 11 am.

According to the applicants, “Marcelino” and “Jose,” the process is very cumbersome and has required both to lose time from work. Jose said that it has been two weeks since he has been able to go to work. It was not until he suggested to the staff that they give people numbers that it was done. Previously the people were crowding ahead of each other and there was general disorder.

Many hoping to obtain housing, sleep overnight by the Rancho Verde offices on Checkers Drive in order to protect their place in line. This includes mothers with children, the elderly and disabled. For them, the wait and tension is enormous, because restrooms and food are not readily available.

This writer called the Rancho Verde Apartments headquarters in Los Angeles to ask why the application process could not be simplified and was told, after a long wait and a second call, that the spokesperson, a Mr. Jonathan White was unavailable.

The affordable housing crisis in San Jose seems to be worsening daily as more people lose better paying jobs and are then employed in minimum wage work.

In a publication of the City of San Jose’s Housing Department it is stated that “only 3% of the Bay Area (1991) population can afford a median priced home.”

In that same report it is stated that the City assisted in the construction of only 1,357 affordable dwelling units from 1989 through September 1991. These new dwelling units include such housing as Avenida España (84), Bridgeport Court Apartments (28), Curtner Gardens (180), Hoffman Court Handicapped Housing (12) and Keen (Rincon, 137) rental apartments. all “affordable” units, among others.

Sofia Mendoza says that what is needed is better coordination among and between the various agencies and departments that make the decisions that impact housing. She says that regulatory laws MUST be honored.

Those laws were adopted to insure protecting of the people. Bureaucracies have a tendency to forget the primary purpose of their existence – the client. © La Oferta Newspaper.