Lawmaker pushes for affordable housing in tech-heavy north San Jose
Fourth Street Housing, an affordable housing development in North San Jose, is pictured in this file photo.

    Tech heavyweights like PayPal and Cisco Systems call North San Jose home, along with Google’s San Jose offices and hundreds of smaller tech startups. But local leaders are saying another type of development—affordable housing—is missing in the white-collar heavy district.

    Councilmember David Cohen, who represents North San Jose, wants an increase in affordable housing in the area—20% low-income housing in each new housing project—and more development near the neighborhood’s BART station and light rail lines to make transit more accessible to residents. The city’s current policy requires projects to have 15% affordable housing or pay a 20% “in-lieu” fee to fund affordable housing projects.

    “Our real goal here is to build a vibrant, walkable, livable community for everybody who is in North San Jose,” Cohen said on Friday.

    Cohen has teamed up with local affordable housing advocates and community organizations, including Silicon Valley at Home, Eden Housing, SPUR, the Green Belt Alliance and California YIMBY, along with Santa Clara Councilmembers Anthony Becker and Suds Jain to push for an agreement between San Jose and Santa Clara to build more housing along their border.

    Cooperation between the neighboring cities to meet affordable housing goals is unusual. The cities for years have feuded in court over inadequate housing and the strain on each city from bordering mixed-use developments, such as Related Santa Clara and Santana West.

    “Santa Clara and San Jose should not be fighting each other, we should be helping each other,” Jain said. “Each of us has tens of thousands of units that we’re trying to develop. We want to get those units developed as soon as possible.”

    Local affordable housing experts believe that denser housing development along mass transportation lines—especially low-income units—will make jobs and transportation more accessible to low-income residents. San Jose and Santa Clara elected leaders believe that North San Jose, which borders Santa Clara, is an advantageous place to build affordable housing due to its proximity to the Berryessa BART station, Valley Transportation Authority light rail lines and the hundreds of tech firms in the area, which would put many workers a quick public transit ride away from their jobs.

    According to Mayor Sam Liccardo, no new units have been built in North San Jose for over half a decade. One of the most recent affordable housing projects to open in the area, Fourth Street Apartments, owned by housing development nonprofit First Community Housing, opened in 2012.

    Both San Jose and Santa Clara have butted heads over development in San Jose several times in the past. The two cities resolved two recent lawsuits that delayed for more than a year two large development projects—one near the border of each city.

    In the first lawsuit, San Jose sued Santa Clara in July 2016 over its Related Santa Clara project. San Jose officials cited concerns that the project would bring 6.5 million square feet of commercial space, but fewer than 1,400 homes. They feared San Jose would have to provide most of the housing for prospective residents.

    A San Mateo County Superior Court judge in November 2017 ultimately sided with Santa Clara in the suit, allowing the massive project to move ahead. It is still currently under construction.

    Santa Clara filed its own suit in September 2016 against San Jose for the latter’s approval of the Santana West development, claiming that San Jose didn’t thoroughly explore noise and traffic impacts. San Jose eventually had to cough up $6.2 million as part of a settlement.

    A separate 2006 lawsuit brought up against San Jose by Milpitas, Santa Clara and the county forced San Jose to divide its northside plan into four phases, in which developers can build roughly 8,000 new homes for every 7 million square feet of new commercial space.

    City officials haven’t specified when or how residents can expect new housing developments in North San Jose. Cohen said he wants to see projects come to the employment center once he’s certain there will be no more threats of litigation.

    Some say the legal battles between the two cities might have played a role in scaring developers away from the area.

    “This is an area for a long time the city has identified as a good place for development,” said Aaron Eckhouse, regional policy director at California YIMBY, a statewide affordable housing research nonprofit. “With the legal issue hanging over things, developers just don’t feel confident taking out a loan to break ground if they might get sued.”

    Nearby areas have already seen some development around the BART station since it opened in June. A new shopping center anchored by a Safeway is set to open later this month, and developers are looking to build up to 3,400 apartment units and 3.4 million square feet of commercial space on the San Jose Flea Market site, less than a mile away from the station. City leaders are hoping the transit center will spur development that will continue in North San Jose.

    “I’m very excited about the possibilities of what we can do in North San Jose,” Cohen said. “It can become the epicenter not only of our economic engine in San Jose … but also a center for housing.”

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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