Residents gave the Santa Clara Valley Water District a fiery and frustrated response Wednesday night to a proposal that would allow homeless residents to occupy homes in the Waverly Park neighborhood, making for a raucous meeting with shouting, testy exchanges, and eventually, a police presence.
Starting last year, the water district launched multiple efforts to address homelessness in Santa Clara County, citing both an obligation to help the county's most vulnerable residents and a need to keep waterways clean and clear of encampments. The most controversial of the proposals calls for the water agency to use 19 district-owned residential properties along Stevens Creek to house the homeless.
The district bought the properties between 1974 and 1989 and has since rented them out through a property management agency at a time when creek erosion was a serious problem. The district determined that buying and maintaining the properties would be an environmentally sound and cheaper alternative to a major construction project to install a concrete-lined channel and high retaining walls.
Under the new proposal, the water district would refer any home that becomes vacant to the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing, which would determine whether the dwelling would be appropriate for housing the homeless.
Many neighboring residents, some living in the district-owned houses themselves, used the meeting as an opportunity to voice an avalanche of opposition to the plan. Chief among the concerns was that the single-family homes in a low-density neighborhood are uniquely unqualified, since the neighborhood is far from public transportation, grocery stores and homeless services.
More than 100 people packed the Feb. 15 meeting, held in the multipurpose room at Huff Elementary, demanding information about a proposal for which they had few details. There was no clarity, they argued, on whether the occupants would be homeless families or a handful of unrelated homeless men, and there was no explanation of what kind of vetting process would be used to determine who was a right fit for the neighborhood. Details were scant on what kind of services would be available for those dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems.
Jonathan Pharazyn, a Waverly Park resident and former teacher, said the families currently living in the district-owned homes are charged at below-market rates, and wondered how beneficial it would be to take an affordable rental property off the market essentially taking away one solution to the housing shortage in favor of helping the homeless.
Other residents laid into the water district staff for failing to properly explain was being proposed, leaving many in the dark about the very plan they were supposed to be giving feedback on at the meeting.
Water district representatives argued that homeless housing in Waverly Park was part of a larger mission to get homeless encampments out of the county's waterways, but several residents said there appeared to be a mismatch between the water district's goals and what was actually being suggested. The county's selection of homeless residents suitable for the properties doesn't pluck homeless people directly out of the creeks, and instead comes from a more broad selection process by Santa Clara County.