Ramson: A housing plan with no future

A few weeks ago I was in a conversation with an elderly woman from Honolulu.

She has lived in Hawaii all her life, but her husband passed away recently and due to a set of horrible circumstances right towards the end of his life, almost all of their life savings have been emptied. With her income from Social Security alone, she was unable to meet the mortgage payments on her home.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of affordable housing on the islands, she really did not find anything else to rent either. Now, quite alone and with little chance, she was on the verge of homelessness at age 73.

This story is much more common than you think. And in California, one in three households in our state does not earn enough money to pay their bills and provide for their basic needs. Decades of underproduction, coupled with eviction policies, have left millions of California residents without the housing supply needed to keep a roof over their heads.

Here in Santa Clara County, it’s the worst. There are over 279,000 households of local tenants. A fair rent in the market for a one-bedroom apartment is $ 2,558, but a family with a particularly low income (30% of the median income in the area) can afford to pay only $ 1,135. This means that all of these people who fail to find reasonable options end up with very heavy rents, salary for unpaid wages and one failure from losing their homes.

What is difficult to understand is that we are well aware of the implications of this terrible financial equation. Across the country we have seen that when people spend more than a third of their income on rent there is a direct correlation to a rapid increase in the homeless. If people do not get more money or housing costs do not go down, the most vulnerable areas become the focus of the uninhabited crisis. We have all seen the evidence firsthand.

Obviously we need more housing now. California’s new housing program calls for 2.5 million homes by 2030, which is more than double the production target from the previous cycle. But planned and built are two completely different things.

While many communities continue to meet their production targets in the market, the development of affordable housing is still sadly left behind. Restrictive land use policies, complicated and limited funding options, and fierce community resistance have made it difficult, if not impossible, to move enough housing forward in too many communities. There are a lot of virtues that signal that we need to build more homes, but that just hasn’t translated into enough action on the ground.

There were some spaces. Over the past few years, legislation like SB 330, SB 35 and AB 2162, have all effectively accelerated approval times and demolished walls that restrict or prevent the development of affordable new housing. The state has even intervened in a number of cases where housing has been blocked, and now has the power to strike whenever necessary.

And thanks to the work of elected leaders and the people’s vote, funding measures like affordable housing bonds for 2016 (size A) and San Jose’s real estate transfer tax (size E) have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to produce thousands of affordable homes in the coming years.

But everything is still not enough.

We need to choose local leaders who put affordable housing at the top of their cards and mean it. We need the state to dig even deeper, put more money, resources and legislative amendments into action to build housing now. And we need practical plans of how we are going to carry out this work. Otherwise, we will continue to repeat the same sad story over and over again.

The columnist for the San José Spotlight, Ray Bramson, is the chief operating officer of Destination: Home, an organization that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray B. [email protected] Or follow @rbramson on Twitter.

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