October 1, 2021
The San JosÃ© Housing Department violated a state agreement by setting monthly rents too high for former homeless residents living at the SureStay Hotel. Now the city has to recalculate.
In April 2020, homeless residents vulnerable to COVID-19 received free emergency shelter in hotels in Santa Clara County through Project Homekey, the state program that subsidizes emergency housing run by local governments and nonprofits.
After the city bought the North San Jose Hotel, it converted the permanent supportive housing program to permanent affordable housing. Older residents who are going through the pandemic without rent panicked after the city announced it would charge $ 627 per month in rent starting in October.
âI only get $ 1,000 a month. So if I pay $ 627, I now have to take care of my dog ââand only watch $ 300 for the rest of the month,â said Philip Jimenez, a resident of the hotel since the inception of the program. “I have to pay (gasoline) for my car, then I have nothing left for the end of the month.”
Dozens of hotel residents share Jimenez’s story of having enough fixed income to make rent, but there isn’t much left for other living expenses. About a quarter of the hotel’s 73 residents can afford the proposed rent.
A resident wishing to be identified only as Ernesto said he was willing to sell the low bed truck he clung to despite having lived on the streets over the years.
“It’s the only thing I have left. I was hoping to pass it on to my daughter if anything happened to me,” he told the San JosÃ© Spotlight.
The state intervenes
When advocates rallied local politicians last week to crush the new rent requirements imposed, the California Department of Housing and Community Development stepped in. Representatives from the state’s Housing Department met with their San Jose counterparts on Wednesday at the request of local Assembly Member Alex Lee.
âAs part of the legislative role, we have all of these direct contacts and oversight of departments, so we coordinate with each other all the time,â Lee told the San JosÃ© Spotlight. “I have met a lot of residents. They told me that they were on the verge of being evicted again because of the unfair and very strange increase in the rent of the apartments.”
According to Lee’s office, state housing officials have told the city that rent from Project Homekey funds cannot exceed 30% of a resident’s monthly income, and the city must recalculate its rent rates.
A city spokesperson said the rent rate was designed to be affordable for residents earning up to 30% of San Jose’s average per capita income. The median income per person in San Jose is $ 46,599, according to the US Census Bureau.
What happens now
In an email reviewed by the San JosÃ© Spotlight, Rachel VanderVeen, deputy director of the city’s housing department, said the city received nearly $ 12 million on September 16, 2020 to manage the 76-unit hotel during at least two years as affordable housing.
Council members approved the city’s purchase of the SureStay hotel after the arrival of funds from the Homekey project.
âThe building has been determined to be in a safe and sound condition and has been reviewed and approved by the State of California for Housing and Community Development to receive a grant,â VanderVeen said in the email.
The housing department could claim the hotel is in good repair, but longtime residents have shown San JosÃ© Spotlight large holes in the ceilings under the stairs.
âAbout two and a half months ago these guys came in early in the morning and made the holes,â said hotel resident Laura Lafore. “No one really asked why because it was so early. We were angry because they woke us up.”
Residents said they suspected the holes must compensate for the damage caused by the termites. San JosÃ© Spotlight has not received a response from the city regarding the damage.
Lawyer Shaunn Cartwright, who staged a protest outside City Hall on September 24, helped lead the charge to lower the proposed rent. Among the organizers was Brian Hargrave, a SureStay resident who could afford the initial rent increase.
âI kept telling (residents), ‘You have to get up, get out and fight if you want to continue living here,’â Hargrave told the San JosÃ© Spotlight. “Not all of them did – in fact, some chose not to protest or speak to the media, but what is important is that some people speak out.”
After residents of Project Homekey found out on Wednesday that the city had to lower rents, they began to relax.
As Ernesto stroked his chihuahua outside the hotel, he was hopeful that his truck was going nowhere and his future looked brighter.
âIt gave me all the faith in the world,â said Ernesto. âI feel like I’m not alone here.
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.
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