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County makes 'significant' progress in homeless housing

New report claims more than one-third of goal has been realized or is in progress

Santa Clara County has made considerable strides toward reaching its goal of creating 6,000 units of new, affordable housing for homeless individuals and families, according to a report released Tuesday.

Since January 2015, the county added 1,449 new housing units for homeless persons. It has another 840 in the pipeline, according to the Office of Supportive Housing's Ending Homelessness: The State of the Supportive Housing System in Santa Clara County 2017 report. The study is the first in a series of 10 annual reports regarding homelessness and focuses on supportive housing, the $950 million 2016 Measure A affordable-housing bond and progress toward the county's 2015-2020 Community Plan to End Homelessness.

In 2017, the county had an estimated 7,394 recorded homeless persons. Of those, 74 percent were unsheltered -- meaning they had no protection from the elements. But the problem is much greater. A 2015 county study, Home Not Found, identified 46,225 residents in the county who experienced homelessness at some point in 2012 alone and received some form of county medical, behavioral health or other social service. Serving these individuals has been costly. The county spends $520 million annually in support services for homeless persons, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

The rental market and lack of income are the primary barriers to regaining housing, according to the county's 2017 Homeless Census and Survey. Sixty-two percent said they can't afford rent, 56 percent had no job or income and 23 percent had no money for moving costs. Job loss and eviction were among the leading causes of homelessness. Evictions are the primary cause, rising by 11 percentage points from 2011 to 2017, according to the survey.

The cost of housing has far outstripped wages in the county -- particularly for extremely low- and low-income renters. According to the county report issued Tuesday, an affordable unit for an extremely low-income renter (in which the household pays no more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs) would be $628 for an individual, $716 for a two-person household and $885 for a four-person household.

The county 2017 fair market rent averages $1,773 monthly for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,200 for a two-bedroom apartment, however. Housing costs in Palo Alto are far worse. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,620 and a two-bedroom unit is $3,617, according to the online trend tracker RentCafe.

Voters approved the nearly $1 billion Measure A bond measure to help fill some of the need by providing funding for approximately 4,800 affordable-housing units. So far, the county has approved six developments with housing designated for persons leaving homelessness, but none of them are in the northern section of county. The locations include three developments in San Jose and one each in Cupertino, Gilroy and Morgan Hill, which are scheduled to open between May 2019 and February 2021. Another 134-unit development in San Jose, Second Street Studios, is expected to be completed by this September.

The county plans to support a total 120 developments through the next decade, according to the July report. Of the 1,449 housing units built as of Dec. 31, 2017, 946 are permanent supportive housing -- housing that provides social, medical and other services -- and 503 are rapid rehousing, which gets people off the street quickly. Housing currently in the pipeline will supply an additional 655 units of permanent supportive housing, 87 rapid-rehousing units and 62 others of which use has not yet been determined.

But data in the county's July report supports a June 21 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury finding that Santa Clara County cities are not supplying adequate housing -- particularly of the type that helps keep people from homelessness.

Palo Alto ranked dismally when it came to meeting its 2007-2014 Regional Housing Need Allocation, a state-mandated process Bay Area counties use to identify and project the number of housing units needed to meet the needs of people of all income levels in each county. Palo Alto issued building permits for just nine low-income units, or 2 percent, of its 543-unit allocation, and 156 permits, or 23 percent, of the 690 units for very low-income housing. For the 2015-2023 cycle through 2017, it has added 58 low-income units, or 13 percent, for low-income housing; and 20 units, or 3 percent, for very low-income residents, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments.

A large part of the report is dedicated to support services that help keep people in housing by providing case management, job assistance, medical and mental health services and other needs. These programs are provided in both short-term and permanent housing. The report points to the overall success of such programs. Since the county implemented the 2015-2020 Community Plan to End Homelessness, 5,154 people have found permanent housing through various programs.

Of the clients in permanent supportive housing, 90 percent remained stably housed for at least a year between July 2011 and the end of 2016. Only 6 percent of all clients who left permanent supportive housing for other permanent housing in 2015 had returned to homelessness within two years (four out of 65 persons). And 72 percent of clients who were in short-term housing programs in 2017 went on to obtain permanent housing.

New programs aim to build on those numbers. In 2018, the Special Needs Direct Referral program will work to house people with medical or behavioral needs who don't meet federal standards for chronic homelessness. Santa Clara Valley Medical Center's Supportive Housing Program also helps medically fragile persons who are identified as high users of county emergency services. The program is a collaboration to provide housing, case management and high-quality health care. Enrollment, which began in November, will serve 70 clients.

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