In a 2020 tweet — that really could have been a sound byte from any platform in the last century or so — a former U.S. president claimed a victory that “people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream would no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”
It was sadly no great shock at the time given the source, but in many ways it perfectly encapsulated generations of housing discrimination into a pithy jab with a tidy character count. Far from the 1968 Fair Housing Act’s laudable goals of creating diverse, inclusive communities for all, by and large we have done too much over the years to limit options for where our poorest neighbors can live.
Fortunately, there’s a real chance now to start anew. In the coming months, the city of San Jose will bring forward an Affordable Housing Siting policy that should help the city affirmatively further fair housing consistent with federal and California fair housing laws while also delivering new affordable housing opportunities throughout the community.
If everything goes well, this policy should provide a guide for San Jose to identify more high opportunity areas in the city to build affordable housing and offer strong incentives, funding and flexibility to develop more of those homes in places where historically the door just hasn’t been open. Creating affordable housing in such areas offers a way to both prevent further segregation and poverty concentration and open up access to educational and economic resource-rich areas.
What this policy shouldn’t be, though, is another way to say no, not here, not now. The truth is we need more affordable housing everywhere. With the lack of developable residential land in the city, one of the most competitive housing markets ever and rents raging out of control, we must create more availability, not less.
We also need to make sure that areas facing displacement aren’t left out of this equation. These neighborhoods, frequently communities of color, aren’t very often deemed as “high resource” but have residents who need options to avoid displacement to stay in the places where they have raised their families, built their professions and lived all of their lives. These places also need a lot more investment in their schools, roads and parks, too, so living in high resource areas can be a reality for everyone.
The good news is that this affordable housing siting policy, with the right direction from our elected leaders, can actually help us build back better.
For high opportunity areas, where affordable housing will be encouraged, we need to make more land available for development at higher densities. And we need to streamline the entitlement process in these designated places, so that opposition isn’t allowed to derail the greater good of creating amazing places to live for people who have been denied that experience for far too long. The city should resolutely commit to make housing as easy as possible here and get every roadblock, excuse and impediment out of the way.
For communities with less resources, affordable housing could and should still be built whenever possible. But, as the proposed policy already outlines, this housing should be developed in coordination with plans to fund all of the other assets necessary to lift up the quality of life for residents. And speaking of the people who live there, the work to allow for anti-displacement preferences in affordable housing units also needs to continue to be a top priority for the city, so at least some portion of the new homes help people stay in the places they have known and loved for years.
As it is, it is too hard right now just to find a decent place to live in San Jose. A policy that promotes more affordable housing in more places and deep investment to improve the communities to create opportunity is the only way forward.
Without it, we’re just going to be looking at a map with no direction home.
San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Operating Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at [email protected] or follow @rbramson on Twitter.