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Interview August 26th, 2021
Cities • Delivery • Innovation
Guadalupe Gonzalez Analyst, City of San Jose
Rebecca Ierardo Senior Associate, North America
Kate Stenclik Program Manager, North America

Preventing residents from falling off the 'eviction cliff' in San José: Interviews with Guadalupe Gonzalez and Fred Tran on their TOPcities sprint

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.@CityofSanJose participated in the 2021 cohort of #TOPcities, an initiative of @CPI_foundation & @BeeckCenter, which supports #localgovernments to transform public data into digital tools that address local challenges

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“The research phase of #TOPcities honed in on the fact that people need information, there’s a lack of information, and we need to understand what information we can get out right now." Guadalupe Gonzales @CityofSanJose

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"Innovation gets created by going beyond what your normalcy is. It doesn't have to be rocket science, but just having another scenario or another option that’s viable to help as many people as possible." Fred Tran @CityofSanJose

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The City of San José participated in the 2021 cohort of TOPcities. TOPcities supports local governments to transform public data into digital tools that address pressing local challenges. TOPcities is an initiative of the Centre for Public Impact and Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, made possible with the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Google.org.

Read the 2021 cohort report for more information about Saint Paul and San José's TOPcities sprint, dedicated to addressing housing-related challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To implement a TOPcities sprint in your community, be sure to download our TOPcities sprint toolkit!

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COVID-19 caused widespread economic hardship in communities across the nation that will continue to affect Americans’ day-to-day lives for years to come. Now more than ever, we need new models for working together toward data-driven solutions to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the Centre for Public Impact and the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, have founded The Opportunity Project for Cities (TOPcities) - an 18-week innovation sprint that brings together government changemakers, community leaders and volunteer technologists from Google.org to better understand and address the problems facing their communities.

As part of the inaugural TOPcities cohort, the City of San José’s Rent Stabilization Program, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County (Catholic Charities), and Google.org volunteers, came together to form a sprint team that sought to address the impending “eviction cliff” in their community. After more than a year of financial difficulties, millions of Americans are still not caught up on their rent or mortgage payments, risking eviction and homelessness, and communities of color face the greatest hardship (CBPPP). To keep their communities healthy, safe, and housed, the San José sprint team worked together to develop new, innovative, and inclusive solutions to pressing housing challenges, and build trust within their communities. 

The City of San José’s Rent Stabilization Program, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County (Catholic Charities), and Google.org volunteers, came together to form a sprint team that sought to address the impending “eviction cliff” in their community.

Through TOPcities, the City conducted community research that helped them develop a new understanding of the eviction cliff through talking to residents and property owners. The City, Google.org volunteers and Catholic Charities developed dual solutions: they stood up pop-up eviction help centers that offered hands-on support with rental assistance applications at trusted community organizations and developed a complementary digital Rental Assistance Finder for the City of San José website, a guided questionnaire that directs residents to the right aid for their specific circumstances. Read more about San José’s sprint experiences, and learn how to run a TOPcities sprint in the TOPcities Report & Toolkit.

We spoke with TOPcities participants, Fred Tran, Rent Stabilization Program Division Manager for the City of San José, and Guadalupe Gonzalez, Rent Stabilization Program Analyst for the City of San José, about how they worked with their community to understand how resident experience the eviction crisis and jointly design a solution that addresses this challenge. Below is a summary of the conversation.

Why TOPcities?

TOPcities fosters effective cross-sector partnerships and provides all participants with the training and resources they need to really impact their communities. Gonzalez credits the TOPcities program for revealing the true root of the impending eviction cliff crisis in San José, “The research phase of TOPcities really honed in on the fact that people need information, that there’s a lack of information, and we need to understand what information we can get out right now." Because of the research conducted, the sprint team identified that residents' inability to access rental assistance was a huge concern among members of the San José community, and were able to take the first steps towards a sustainable solution. 

Understanding and overcoming resident distrust

The research phase revealed that resident distrust in government was deeply ingrained in the San José community, which made residents less likely to seek out, or even know about, rental assistance from the government that could prevent eviction. Instead of simply acknowledging that distrust, the City of San José leveraged the relationships they’d built with trusted community groups and organizations such as Catholic Charities to help bridge gaps in communication and trust. “We may not be able to communicate it directly, but they are. They’re able to offer that trust and that relationship from a more solidified standpoint and ultimately that’s what gets these people engaged into the process and gets them the resources that they need,” said Tran. 

Pairing community resources with technology solutions 

With these insights in hand, the sprint team set about designing a product to improve resident access to rental assistance. However, the City soon realized that if they were to create innovative technological solutions that would have maximum impact on their communities, they’d have to leverage their strengths as well as those of community organizations, "We have to start understanding that as a city government, there are areas that we do well and there are areas that Catholic Charities does well. By working together in a project like TOPcities, it shows the community that not only can we work together well, we are building up that rapport, building up that trust together,” Gonzalez explained. It was with this in mind that the City and Catholic Charities proposed a dual approach to their problem: a digital Rental Assistance Finder on the City website, supported by in-person eviction help pop-up centers run by Catholic Charities.

Innovation gets created by going beyond what your normalcy is. It doesn't have to be rocket science and creating something that is so beyond, but just having another scenario or another option that’s viable to help as many people as possible.

According to Tran, when the goal is to help as many people as possible, you have to think outside of the box, “You definitely have to explore. If you don’t, then you won’t know what's out there. Innovation gets created by going beyond what your normalcy is. It doesn't have to be rocket science and creating something that is so beyond, but just having another scenario or another option that’s viable to help as many people as possible.” 

Key insights for reducing evictions and strengthening communities

Knowledge gives us the power to change, innovate, evolve, but how will we ever receive that knowledge if we don’t listen? The TOPcities process provides government changemakers with the resources and training needed to create positive impact in partnership with their communities. “Understand your community. Do that research. If you don’t understand your community, if you’re not hearing from your community, if you’re not centering your vulnerable community, then that is going to have humongous ripple effects," Gonzalez said. By truly listening to their community and building lasting relationships, TOPcities participants are better able to develop solutions that meet residents where they are and ultimately prevent evictions. 

What’s next for San José?

To complement the local pop-ups established by Catholic Charities during the TOPcities sprint, the City of San José will establish an in-person Eviction Help Center where they also plan to offer residents hands-on support with rental assistance applications. Initially, staff will use the Rental Assistance Finder to help walk-in clients and eventually spread the tool to other community organizations and residents. 

The City has also partnered with Catholic Charities on two additional projects, highlighting the influence of the TOPcities process on how the City is partnering with community organizations moving forward and forging new pathways to increase resident trust.

Download the TOPcities report and sprint toolkit

Does your team want to build data-led solutions to pressing community challenges? Download the complete TOPcities report and sprint toolkit for step-by-step instructions to run a TOPcities sprint in your city.

Click here to read the sprint toolkit and report online.

Get the PDF

Written by:

Guadalupe Gonzalez Analyst, City of San Jose
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Rebecca Ierardo Senior Associate, North America
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Kate Stenclik Program Manager, North America
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