San Jose officials search for housing crisis solutions

FOX 2 KTVU September 1, 2015

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) -- The San José City Council on Tuesday heard an impassioned debate over the city's housing crisis as officials looked to reduce allowable rent increases.

The South Bay housing crisis is considered among the worst in the country with average rent prices skyrocketing 54 percent over the last five years.

Walking into Thao Le's apartment gives a good idea of what it's like renting in San José. Le lives in a three-bedroom apartment shared among seven people. One of them lives in the living room complete with makeshift walls.

"We feel really trapped," said Le. "I personally feel really trapped knowing that even after we graduate we are going to have to live in situations like this."

The 19-year-old college student lives paycheck to paycheck anxious over an uncertain future, especially since she received a letter from her property manager saying rent is suddenly going up 8 percent. Her story is very similar to dozens of people who packed San José City Hall chambers.

"The housing crisis here in the South Bay is one of the worst in the nation," said San José City Councilmember Raul Peralez. "It's the reality that we face and it's not a secret. It's commonly known and it's not just our lowest income community, our lowest wage earners. That's across the gamut."

According to a city staff report, back in 2010, the average apartment rent was a little more than $1,400 a month. Now, in 2015, it's $2,200 a month. This as the median income rose only 11 percent in the last five years. The city is now looking to adjust its apartment rent ordinance from 1979.

Key provisions include lowering the maximum rent increase, which is at 8 percent as well as a "just cause" for an eviction and a "no discrimination" rule for those with section 8 vouchers. However, not all council members see eye to eye about concerns being expressed by landlords.

"If we merely squeeze out these people out of business, what's going to replace it?" asked San José City Councilmember Johnny Khamis. "Is it going to be more high-density, high-cost housing?"

The biggest worry of landlords is not being able to maintain their properties if allowable rent increases are lowered. Still, Le is fighting for a two percent cap to alleviate fears she'll soon be priced out.

"Sooner or later, even the engineers are going to start struggling to find a place to live and we have to make this stop," said Le.

Another thing that the city council is reviewing, given legality issues, this law would only apply to apartments built before 1979. Officials are reviewing what can be done for apartments built after that. The hope is a new policy will be in place early next year.