The San Jose legislature proposes a revolutionary social housing coverage

February 6, 2021

Housing advocates say an ambitious bill tabled in state law this week to establish “public housing” is the right approach to the California crisis, but it also faces numerous obstacles.

Congregation member Alex Lee, whose district includes part of San Jose, tabled a bill on Tuesday calling on the state to develop successful housing solutions worldwide, including public housing.

The concept of social housing differs in many ways from most models of public housing in the United States. A government agency would own, manage, maintain, and maintain real estate forever for affordable housing.

Social housing also includes residents of different incomes and is not limited to the poorest residents of an area.

“With the ultimate goal of accommodating as many people as possible from all incomes, public housing programs will invest in affordable living costs and property maintenance,” Lee wrote in a tweet. “In contrast to private developers, we can build without having to make a profit.”

I featured AB387 today with @BuffyWicks to help establish social housing for California
Social housing is the way we offer housing as a human right
Publicly developed, maintained and owned housing for Californians of all socioeconomic levels is key to solving our housing crisis pic.twitter.com/D7dLQnax5D
– Alex Lee @ (@ VoteAlexLee2020) February 3, 2021

Part of the proceeds from rent payments or house payments can be used for the maintenance of the property.

Housing advocates love the idea, but say a nationwide initiative like this would require huge government investment and government scrutiny. Sandy Perry, president of Santa Clara County’s Affordable Housing Network, said there was “no question” that something had to be done similar to Lee’s idea.

“The resistance will be political,” said Perry. “And it comes from the highest levels of government. The opposition is that it will take a huge amount of money out of the hands of the big banks.”

Perry said to do something like this, “it would practically take a revolution.”

Ray Bramson, Chief Operating Officer of Destination: Home, said the biggest hurdle is funding what the state is currently lacking.

“I think it comes down to the investment,” said Bramson. “This is a strategy that can and will create great housing opportunities on a large scale, but it will take a substantial financial investment and commitment from the state to make it viable and feasible.”

Lee’s AB 387 bill does not yet contain a funding mechanism.

“While I really love and support the concept of social houses, they are most successful in countries where the tax structure is much more focused on effective social programs,” said Bramson, who also writes a column on housing and homelessness for the news organization. “Funding is the beginning and the end of it.”

Perry said the savings and other benefits outweigh what such a program would cost.

“Social housing is cheaper than private housing,” he said. “The point is, it’s economical. What would you rather do, pay 40% of your income for housing or pay 5% tax and have your housing free?”

Lee points to the success of programs in Vienna, Austria and Singapore as role models for what could happen in California. In Vienna, 62% of residents live in social housing, while, according to the Singapore Housing Authority, around 81% of Singapore’s residents live in social housing.

There are also smaller examples of public housing in the county’s backyard. While Measure A, the $ 950 million affordable housing bond, affects affordable housing, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority is even closer to the idea, Bramson said.

“They develop and maintain and operate buildings and have a portfolio of real estate in addition to the Section 8 program,” said Bramson. “(Lee’s) legislation speaks of a government agency that would direct and maintain all of this, and it is similar in Santa Clara County, which is a local government agency that develops and maintains the properties over time.”

Lee believes the pandemic is not a bad time to launch the idea, but rather the best opportunity to do it.

“With home assignments and social distancing guidelines, the pandemic has underscored the importance of having access to safe, stable, and affordable housing,” Lee said. “Affordable housing will be critical to our economic recovery and a fairer California for all.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, Director of Destination: Home, serves on the San José Spotlight Board of Directors.

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