An aerial view of downtown San Jose. File photo.
An aerial view of downtown San Jose. File photo.

    What makes San Jose great? The verdant parks, wild spaces and plentiful sunshine. The diversity and richness of its culture and history. The boundless innovation and abundance of some of the world’s most creative and thoughtful people and companies. There’s no shortage of possibilities, which is why our city consistently ranks as one of the top places to live in the country.

    The other side of this desirability, however, is an undeniable force creating a place of disparity, inequity and rapidly increasing unaffordability for the essential workers who propel the Capital of Silicon Valley forward. To pay the rent in an average two-bedroom apartment in Santa Clara County, you need to be making $57 an hour. For those keeping score, the minimum wage in San Jose currently sits at $15.25.

    Unless there’s an amazing upswell for the universal basic income movement or some other way to get more cash into the hands of workers performing all of the necessary tasks that every city needs to function, this problem is not going away anytime soon. Unless, we finally start funding and building affordable housing that is truly affordable to our low-income neighbors at a scale that actually matters.

    To do that, we need money. The good news is there is a very real way to find those dollars now: the Commercial Linkage Fee (CLF).

    Without getting buried in the detail, new jobs require more housing – not only for the those who will take the jobs, but also for the baristas, janitors, barbers and countless other people who provide services for the new workers. A city can choose to study this impact and figure out exactly how much affordable housing demand is created by the new commercial development. Then, that same jurisdiction can figure out how big the CLF can be without totally destroying any possibility for future growth.

    On August 25, San Jose City Council will consider adopting a CLF after years of discussion, research and pontification. At this point, there shouldn’t be much left to talk about. We’re the only major city left in Santa Clara County not to have such a fee in place. The city’s own feasibility study shows that we can absolutely support a robust fee — and even the biggest commercial interests seem to acknowledge that this is an inevitable and necessary part of our future.

    The CLF is also one of the last hopes for sustainable revenue for affordable housing left on the horizon. Take a quick look around and you’ll see that we’ve tapped pretty much every other funding source out there. The CLF will generate tens of millions of dollars every year to build permanent homes for our most vulnerable neighbors, while only having a one-time impact on development that can be simply built into an already profitable project’s proforma.

    So, when our elected leaders take to the virtual dais to debate this topic at the end of the month, let’s get this done quickly. We should demand the highest fee feasible and do so with confidence, knowing it’s a proven approach that will work. It won’t stifle commercial development, either.

    Because at the end of the day this is a great city and people want to be here. We just have to make sure we take the steps required to keep the doors open for everyone.

    San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Impact 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.

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