TENSIONS BETWEEN LOCAL housing advocates and realtors have boiled into threats and ugly confrontations.

A coalition of homeless and housing advocates protested at the office of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors on June 7, six days before the San Jose City Council approved the annual budget. They yelled chants like, “Realtors you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side” and “Everyone deserves homes” because of the association’s support to move city dollars away from affordable housing. But now those chants could result in criminal charges — if the realtors have it their way.

Association employees described the protest as an “invasion” that “terrorized” workers. Nearly 30 protesters from various housing nonprofits entered their building after first gathering in the parking lot with megaphones and handmade signs. Association officials said they are pursuing all legal avenues to ensure protesters never enter their building again.

“We were fine with them protesting out in our parking lot, which is still trespassing, but once it escalated to them coming into our offices that was crossing the line,” Jordan Nunes, association spokesperson, told San José Spotlight. “Some of our employees are really shaken up by it.”

Nunes said one employee went to the doctor to check her hearing after the protest, and another employee Jody Souza said at a recent council meeting that she sought counseling because she was so distraught.

But the homeless and housing advocates who protested at the association’s office said they were nonviolent — that this was a standard protest — but maybe the first time realtors had one on their doorstep.

Loud but not unlawful

Sandy Perry, one of the protesters and president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, said the protesters entered the building to make sure their message was heard.

“We will confess to being loud and being critical, but we were peaceful,” Perry told San José Spotlight. “Also Souza told council she locked herself in her office, but failed to mention that after she came out, she got into our faces and yelled at us.”

Perry said the drama is because the realtors are setting the stage to reduce dollars for affordable housing next year and the legal threats are just to scare off protesters from coming to their office again.

“I’m not surprised that the realtors are blowing this up because they lost the vote. They have been demonizing nonprofits for months and this is another way to do it so they can stop affordable housing development.”

Sandy Perry, Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County

“I’m not surprised that the realtors are blowing this up because they lost the vote,” Perry said. “They have been demonizing nonprofits for months and this is another way to do it so they can stop affordable housing development.”

Tensions between the two groups have been rising for years, but reached a breaking point during budget discussions. Councilmembers voted to spend the majority of tax dollars from Measure E to build affordable housing — a deviation from Mayor Matt Mahan’s plan to funnel the money toward interim housing.

The realtors, who didn’t support Measure E in 2020, backed Mahan’s plan to invest in short-term, quick-build solutions. The protesters, who were from nonprofits including LUNA, SV@Home and the South Bay Community Land Trust, were opposed and wanted the dollars for affordable housing, which they believe to be the root solution to solving homelessness.

Nunes said protesters were asked to go outside several times, but refused until police arrived. However, the San Jose Police Department said there was only one protester left when they got to the offices.

“There were no arrests, or noted damage/vandalism,” a police spokesperson told San José Spotlight.

‘This was a political theater’

Neil Collins, CEO of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors and a columnist for San José Spotlight, said the damage was emotional. His employees were “taunted and terrorized,” which is why he emailed city officials about the protest. His employees are continuing to publicize the protest by speaking out at meetings and through emails.

“I need to protect my employees. This just can’t be something that we can ever allow have to happen again,” Collins told San José Spotlight. “There’s limits to political discourse, and there’s venues for it. This was a political theater that caused real harm to my team.”

Homeless advocate Shaun Cartwright was one of the last people at the protest and said to imply protesters terrorized the association is “laughable.”

“This was by a group made up largely of people who were over 50 years old with walkers, canes, various other disabilities and others who were previously or currently homeless,” Cartwright told San José Spotlight. “For the realtors to say they have compassion for the unhoused and then use the word terrorize to describe them is not compassion, it is judgement.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.