To address a burgeoning housing crisis, San Jose is considering some controversial solutions.
A couple of years ago, Mayor Sam Liccardo unveiled a plan to add 25,000 homes — 10,000 of them affordable — to the city’s housing stock by 2023. But so far, fewer than 1,000 of those units are occupied, and officials have had a tough time getting developers to build.
“We have much work to do,” said Rosalynn Hughey, the city’s planning director, during a housing panel at the San Jose office of the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on Wednesday.
To encourage more housing development, San Jose is looking into a range of options, including rezoning single-family neighborhoods to allow for things like duplexes or town homes where the city has plans for urban villages, and replacing several outdated community centers with mixed-used developments that include both gathering spaces and housing.
“There are going to be people who come unglued,” Hughey acknowledged of the rezoning possibility, noting that Minneapolis recently voted to get rid of single-family zoning. But she implored attendees at the packed SPUR event to support initiatives that would result in more housing. “We need support to move this forward.”
Neither of those ideas is likely to become reality overnight — the city won’t even say yet which community centers it’s eyeing — but they are part of a broader effort to address a shortage of affordable housing that is compounded by rising labor and construction costs and a slight softening of market-rate rents.
When it comes to affordable housing, said the housing director, Jacky Morales-Ferrand, the city is “nowhere near what we need.”
One major challenge, both Morales-Ferrand and Hughey indicated, is that people will often vote for affordable housing ballot measures, but then oppose projects in their neighborhood, filing appeals that can stall and even kill plans altogether.
Ultimately, Morales-Ferrand said, the city faces a $528 million funding gap that no amount of budget reshuffling alone will fix.
“We just can’t do it without additional resources,” she said.
The city received funding from the nonprofit Destination: Home to pay for a planner specifically focused on projects aimed at very low-income residents, the goal being to help more projects navigate what can be a confusing and convoluted path to getting shovels in the ground.
The San Jose City Council has also taken a number of other steps, including relaxing the rules governing accessory dwelling units, or granny flats. That, Hughey said, has resulted in a 400 percent uptick in permits being issued.
In the coming months, the city wants to develop a database of sites suitable for affordable housing to help developers. Officials are putting together a cross-department “housing catalyst” team to improve coordination at City Hall, and studying the possibility of a commercial linkage fee — a charge on new commercial development that could be used to pay for affordable housing — and a housing bond in 2020.
“We have a full plate of activities,” Morales-Ferrand said.
The changes come as Google moves forward with a massive campus near Diridon Statoin, just west of the downtown core. The tech giant is slated to build not only office space for thousands of workers, but affordable housing, retail and public amenities like parks and art in a formerly industrial area.
Leslye Corsiglia, the executive director of the housing advocacy organization Silicon Valley at Home and the former director of housing for San Jose, said during the panel discussion that she appreciated much of what city leaders are doing. But she also raised concerns that in trying to balance the need for housing and the ability to attract developers, the city will give up too much ground. For instance, the commercial linkage fee makes sense, she said, but not if many properties are grandfathered out of having to comply.
“It won’t help if there are all these exceptions,” Corsiglia said.
She also added that she’s concerned that a discussion about the possibility of changing affordable housing fees slated to take place this fall at City Council, will result in a reduced commitment to affordable housing.
“I think things are happening, but I think we need to be bolder,” she said. “It’s an emergency. We need to treat it that way.”
By EMILY DERUY