October 16, 2018
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SIMITIAN URGES COUNTY TO STRENGTHEN EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE FOR HOUSING DISPLACEMENTS
SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to explore providing relocation assistance services to victims in the case of building-wide displacements whether by virtue of redevelopment pressures or natural disasters.
Proposed by Board President Joe Simitian, the action directed County staff to report back to the Board with options for ways to provide displacement mitigation assistance, including the option of strengthening existing partnerships with emergency assistance network (EAN) providers.
Simitian noted that, “Whole buildings full of folks are losing their homes to redevelopment or changes in use, with often painful consequences. We need to partner with local cities and nonprofits so we’re ready to help when bad news arrives. The County can’t do it all, but I really do think that working with others – if we all do our part – we can be better prepared to help.”
“And it’s not just economic pressures,” said Simitian. “Sometimes it’s a natural disaster. In 2016 there was a fire in Sunnyvale that put more than 160 of our neighbors out of their homes, and the County, along with other community partners, stepped up to provide relocation assistance,” Simitian said. “I thought, when we have a tragedy like this, there should be a countywide program to make sure that we can do our share, responding quickly and efficiently to get folks back into housing, rather than dealing with these events on an ad-hoc basis.”
The existing Emergency Assistance Network (EAN) provides a variety of services to prevent homelessness and act as a safety net for residents facing eviction, utility disconnection, and hunger. EAN providers help families and individuals recover from emergency situations, often providing case management and financial education, as well as food assistance, rent and mortgage aid, and other services.
“When entire buildings full of people are displaced, it can overwhelm the agencies that people in precarious housing situations turn to for help,” said Simitian. “Working with our nonprofit partners in the Emergency Assistance Network, we can make sure that there are resources available for folks who suddenly find themselves with nowhere to go.”
As housing prices continue to escalate, property owners and developers are finding new opportunities to maximize their return on investment. This sometimes means they evict existing tenants to do a large-scale renovation, and then re-open the building charging rents no longer affordable to prior tenants; sometimes even opening in a new use class. For example, in Palo Alto an apartment building may be on track to become a hotel and in Mountain View there’s at least one proposal to tear down apartments and replace them with condominiums.
“Without finding new, local housing, people who find themselves suddenly out of a home will either become homeless or have to move to a remote location and commute in to jobs, which makes our traffic situation even worse,” said Simitian. “With additional assistance, similar to that already provided by the Emergency Assistance Network, it may be possible to prevent or mitigate these unfortunate outcomes, especially in cases where entire buildings full of people are involved and the needs quickly can outstrip existing resources dedicated to this effort.”
Currently, there may be city-based programs in place to provide some assistance, but as development pressures grow and the number of displacements increases, the problem quickly grows beyond the ability of any one entity to manage.
“As a member of the emergency assistance network we know first-hand how difficult it would be for the network to absorb a sudden rush of displaced renters,” said Sujatha Venkatraman, Associate Executive Director of West Valley Community Services, in a letter of support sent to the Board. “Developing a systematic approach to plan for such occurrences will provide greater stability for all involved when these situations do happen.”