This morning, Congressman Mike Honda led a round table discussion on homelessness in Silicon Valley at the new Onizuka Crossing homeless housing project in Sunnyvale, featuring HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Santa Clara County Supervisors Board President Dave Cortese, Sunnyvale Mayor Glenn Hendricks, and many of the organizations leading the fight to end homelessness in Silicon Valley (MidPen, HomeFirst, Downtown Streets Team, and others). The event featured several homeless veterans who will become residents of Onizuka Crossing in a matter of days.
Onizuka Crossing was chosen as the location because it is an innovative and impressive example of how agencies can (and must) work together to support affordable housing in the most aggressive real estate market in the country. To refresh your memory, this came out of the Base Reuse and Closure (BRAC) process for Onizuka Air Force Base. Sunnyvale had worked for years to develop a use for the Onizuka property, but we’d become hung up on the notion of an “auto row”, something that was the most popular of unpopular options. But the previous City Manager, Gary Luebbers, had a casual discussion with the leadership of Foothill-De Anza College, learned of its interest in expansion, and developed a complex plan from that that involved transferring the priority claims on Onizuka property by homeless housing providers to the Armory site, selling the bulk of the old Onizuka AFB property to FHDA, and gaining 4.6 acres of unencumbered land for the city to use however it wants. The City Council’s reaction to this plan was “well, of course!”. FHDA loved it, the federal government loved it, and the homeless housing providers loved it.
So the City of Sunnyvale pulled the deal together in record time (given the complexity and number of agencies involved), and we’re a much better city for the effort. The City of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara County provided affordable housing funds to help make the project viable. The federal government bent over backwards to expedite the BRAC process and make the land swap happen.
The Armory property has been divided in half, with Charities Housing building and managing the Parkside Landing portion and MidPen building and managing the Onizuka Crossing portion. Parkside Landing is completed and fully occupied, with half of the units providing homeless housing (including families!), and the other half providing low income housing. Parkside Landing also includes 24/7 onsite support services for the residents. Onizuka Crossing (named so as to continue honoring NASA Astronaut Ellison Onizuka, killed in the Challenger explosion in 1986) is almost completed, and the first residents will be moving in very soon.
The round table discussion today served to help educate Secretary Castro about the boots-on-the-ground difficulties that local governments in Silicon Valley experience when trying to make affordable housing a reality. Supervisor Cortese pointed out that the County spends about 10% of its budget, some $500+ million, on support services and law enforcement services necessary because of homelessness in the County. Mayor Hendricks pointed out that income and rental issues in Silicon Valley make HUD vouchers ineffective in Silicon Valley. Congressman Honda discussed the funding and legislative efforts towards addressing homeless (particularly veterans’ homelessness) – and Congressman Honda is senior on House Appropriations, which matters a lot towards funding projects like this.
But in addition to the obvious challenges to addressing homelessness, there are some more subtle ones. The big one is the negative influence the Republic Congress has in addressing homelessness. Sunnyvale has seen its HOME Funds and other affordable housing funding steadily decrease since the imposition of sequestration, and the Republican majority’s “do nothing” approach to governance only makes it more difficult to get things done. Locally, creative opportunities like this are threatened by the so-called “Sunnyvale Public Lands Act”, which would have required a public vote on the Onizuka land swap, according to an independent analysis of the initiative’s impacts. Imposing either a 2-year delay for a general election or the massive costs of a special election would have killed the Onizuka deal (and the special election required by law to replace Councilmember Dave Whittum is now priced at $772k). Local governments in Silicon Valley need to remain nimble, with the active support of all higher levels of government, if we’re going to be effective at ending homelessness in our cities.
The meeting was productive and showed the seriousness that all parties bring to the issue. In particular, the County has devoted significant resources and attention to ending homelessness in the past couple of years, and much credit goes to Ky Le and his co-workers in Santa Clara County. Supervisors Cortese and Simitian have really stepped up in this effort too. The City has been hugely successful in making affordable housing projects like this or the ones on Persian Drive possible, and we’re looking at even more opportunities, such as possible use of the newly-purchased Charles/Iowa properties. But it still comes back to money, and we need a continued commitment of federal dollars in this effort, and Secretary Castro demonstrated an understanding and support of that aspect of our efforts. I’m glad that he had the opportunity to see exactly what’s possible (and in Sunnyvale no less!).
And we all offered our condolences to Secretary Castro for the loss that his beloved Spurs just recently endured…