Council lends support to county homeless initiatives

Mountain View City Council members agreed to two resolutions Tuesday night declaring homelessness a “crisis,” and vowing to boost affordable housing in the city by 2020.
Santa Clara County officials have spent the last month seeking support from cities for find new ways to house homeless individuals and low-income families struggling to find an affordable place to live. Mountain View council members unanimously supported a resolution by the Santa Clara County Housing Task Force stating that cities need to ramp up efforts to increase supportive and affordable housing.Mountain View’s homeless population has remained stubbornly high, despite an overall drop in homelessness across Santa Clara County. Between 2013 and 2015, the homeless population in the county decreased from 7,631 to 6,556 — a 14 percent drop. At the same time, Mountain View’s homeless population jumped from 139 to 276. The big increase could be due to the 2014 closure of the Sunnyvale Armory, which served as a cold weather shelter, according to a city staff report.The housing task force resolution includes a long list of suggested actions cities could take to reduce homelessness, most of which Mountain View has already adopted. The resolution asks cities to consider adopting a below-market rate housing ordinance as well as housing impact fees on new residential and commercial development, and look for ways to use city-owned land for new affordable housing development.

City staff pointed to the Franklin Street Apartments as an example of how the city used surplus land — in this case, a parking lot — to add 51 subsidized rental units for low-income families in Mountain View.

Affordable housing funds have been used to construct about 1,200 units in the city for very low and extremely low-income households, with about 243 more units in the pipeline, according to a city staff report.

City Council members also agreed to the Community Plan to End Homelessness, an initiative started by the homeless housing organization Destination Home to encourage cities to work together to build 6,000 “housing opportunities” for the entire homeless population in Santa Clara County.

These housing opportunities include new housing construction or subsidy programs specifically aimed at helping homeless individuals, according to Ky Le, director of the county Office of Supportive Housing. An estimated 60 percent of these 6,000 housing units would likely need to be new construction.

Jennifer Loving, the executive director of Destination Home, said the goal is to get cities to commit to a reduction in homelessness — a 25 percent reduction, for example — by way of permanent housing projects. The Community Plan to End Homelessness has garnered support from several cities, including San Jose and Sunnyvale, as well as the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the county Board of Supervisors.

“What we want to see is a region that supports a measured reduction in homelessness across the board,” Loving said.

The recent overall reduction in homelessness across the county was most significant in cities that pursued housing initiatives for homeless individuals, Loving said. In the last two years, San Jose was able to reduce homelessness by 18 percent, while other cities — particularly in the North County — saw less of an improvement or even an increase in homelessness.

An important part of the resolution, Loving said, is getting cities to work with other agencies on housing solutions for homeless that extend beyond city limits. She said Destination Home has been able to bring the county and the Valley Transportation Authority together to address homeless people sleeping in VTA buses, locally known as riding the “Hotel 22.” She said they have also facilitated an agreement between the county and Palo Alto to support a rental assistance program, but have had a limited relationship with Mountain View.

“We haven’t worked with Mountain View as much as I would have liked,” Loving said. “We would love an opportunity to partner more closely with Mountain View to bring a targeted strategy to house people who have suffered the most in the city.”

Council member Lenny Siegel said he was confident that the city was already on the right track toward building more affordable housing in Mountain View. City planners are considering as many as 15,000 new homes in the city, he said, which could potentially bring in hundreds of new affordable housing units for low-income residents.

“As far as I can tell, we’re probably going to be providing more housing and more affordable housing than any other city in the county other than San Jose,” Siegel said. “This isn’t just a resolution, we are doing things along these lines, and I expect we will hopefully continue to do it.”

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