Lardinois: Stop fear mongering about Opportunity Housing
A single-family home in Willow Glen is pictured in this file photo.

Reasonable people can disagree on San Jose’s Opportunity Housing proposal, which would allow up to four residential units on lots zoned for single-family homes. While I support Opportunity Housing as one of many tools in the toolbox to address housing affordability in San Jose, I can of course respect opinions to the contrary.

San Jose is a big city, housing affordability is a big problem, and there’s no single right way to address it.

What I don’t respect is the recent fear mongering pair of op-eds by my Planning Commission colleague Pierluigi Oliverio that intentionally distort the issue and lean heavily on segregationist dog whistles instead of expressing concrete concerns about the proposal.

San Jose is in the midst of a housing crisis. The typical yardstick for housing affordability is a renter paying no more than 30% of their income in rent. By that standard, a San Jose renter would need to make $108,920 a year to afford a typical market-rate two bedroom apartment.

In reality nearly half of San Jose renters pay more than 30% of their income in rent, and a quarter pay more than 50%.

Home ownership is even less accessible; a prospective buyer would need to make $224,395 a year to purchase a typical home.

Building more housing is one of the many strategies we need to employ to address housing affordability — and Opportunity Housing would allow more housing to be built in more areas of the city.

Opportunity Housing is not an attack on single-family homes, and it is not going to be an overnight, citywide “process of converting single-family houses into fourplexes,” as Oliverio warns. Ninety-four percent of San Jose’s residential land — 1.7 billion square feet — is zoned for single-family housing, higher than any other major city in America.

Let’s remember that all Opportunity Housing does is allow fourplexes. Actually acquiring a property and converting it into a fourplex is a significant investment, so it will only happen in areas where it’s economically viable. What we’ll likely see is fourplexes lightly peppered throughout the city.

Neighborhoods where a fourplex is surrounded by single-family homes have existed in San Jose for decades. They exist in Willow Glen, where Oliverio lives. They exist on the west side, where I’m from. They exist downtown, in Cambrian, and on the east side.

Mixed-density neighborhoods are not new to our city; they’re not any less welcoming, friendly or safe than exclusively single-family neighborhoods; and they’re not the threat Oliverio is making them out to be.

But the policy debate isn’t Oliverio’s focus. The centerpiece of his op-ed is the vague insinuation that allowing more housing and thus more people will “hurt home values,” create “chaos and conflict,” and “damage neighborhoods.”

That’s dangerously similar to the language used by mortgage lenders and the government in the postwar era to justify racial segregation and redlining across the country and even here in San Jose.

Oliverio never directly invokes race, but he doesn’t need to. You can read between the lines.

As Planning Commissioners, Oliverio and I have been entrusted with a lot of power and a lot of responsibility. We absolutely don’t have to agree on policy issues. But we owe it to San Jose to do our best to dispel fear and division — not create them.

Justin Lardinois is a San Jose Planning Commissioner, former housing commissioner and  longtime resident of District 1. Opinions expressed are his own.

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