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Santa Clara County looks at bond measure for affordable housing

SAN JOSE — Santa Clara County supervisors aren’t yet ready to put a $750 million affordable housing bond measure on November’s ballot, but they were encouraged Tuesday by a consultant’s poll showing some support for the idea.

The poll, conducted by EMC Research, found that concerns among likely voters about housing have reached new highs and that a possible bond measure might get the two-thirds approval required. Housing was cited as a top-mentioned issue by 31 percent of those polled — above transportation, education and public safety concerns.

The telephone poll of 805 voters was conducted between March 23 and April 3, and has a margin of error of about 3.5 percentage points.

“It shows that most people in our community can see the need for housing for all members of society,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

The board Tuesday asked for a report in June on possible uses for the bond money, which would be financed through a property tax increase and be restricted to “brick-and-mortar” efforts such as acquiring land, construction or renovations.

Homeless advocates said that while the county provides services to its poorest residents, there is a critical need to add more affordable housing.

“We have a crisis, and we’re seeing a great deal of actual sympathy for these people,” said Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home. “We have an opportunity to actually do something.”

Board President Dave Cortese said that “if we proceed down the action path, we want to know what that looks like.” Supervisor Ken Yeager said he has questions about the county’s role.

“Do we do the building?” he asked. “Do we leverage dollars with other builders? How do we work at distributing the housing through the 15 cities?”

County Executive Jeff Smith cautioned that he has some “angst” about expectations.

“The public shouldn’t get the impression that we are able to become builders and developers,” he said. “We don’t have that ability.”

But San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Tuesday reiterated his support for the idea, saying he is “pleased to join Supervisor Cortese in exploring a countywide bond measure that will generate much-needed funds to advance critical housing strategies.”

Chavez said that if approved by voters, the money would help extremely low income or very low income residents, as well as seniors, the disabled and foster youth.

“The purpose is going out there and having a conversation about the people who are in our wheelhouse, who we’re responsible for,” Chavez said.

The bond measure would be financed through a property tax that would cost the average homeowner $84 a year, said county Assessor Larry Stone, who supports the idea.

“We know homelessness affects property values,” Stone said. “Is it worth $84 a year to you to seriously take on homelessness and housing affordability when you know that the lack of that initiative is going to impact residential property values?”

Initially, the board considered a sales tax to fund affordable housing. But there are already two sales tax measures in play: San Jose’s Measure B, a quarter-cent tax for public safety and street repair on the June ballot, and a proposal by the Valley Transportation Authority for a half-cent increase for November.