The overly-concentrated affordable housing market in East San Jose could be getting more than 150 additional units.
New plans recommended Wednesday by a city panel call for an estimated 164 low-income apartments spanning a 1.3-acre site in Alum Rock, a neighborhood in East San Jose’s District 5. As part of the project, a vacant 8,200 square foot building that once housed a cafe will be demolished.
The San Jose Planning Commission voted 9-1 to greenlight the project Wednesday. Commissioner Rolando Bonilla, who represents East San Jose, was the lone no vote. Commissioner Maribel Montañez was absent.
The project will now seek final approval from the City Council.
Bonilla said East San Jose already has too much low-income housing and he wants to see more support from the city.
“East San Jose is already under-resourced,” Bonilla said. “So when we continue to put more of this housing that creates additional pressures on this community, are we truly making the situation better for everyone? I understand it’s a good thing to provide affordable housing. But is it fair to make one side of the city provide it?”
But some commissioners, such as Jorge Garcia, said the proposed development will help bring new life to a struggling corridor hit hard by business closures and vacant buildings.
“You hear the concerns about wanting retail, about the current crisis of affordable housing and the current state of that corridor of Alum Rock,” Garcia said. “The quickest way to keep it the way it is is to make it too difficult for developers to develop projects in this area and to put overdue influence and demands. It’s 100% affordable housing.”
The project only needs 0.5 parking spaces per multifamily unit because of its affordability levels and proximity to public transit. That raised concerns among Commissioners Chuck Cantrell and Sylvia Ornelas-Wise about pedestrian safety and parking needs.
City officials said there are enough traffic and safety measures around the project—which is also near a high school—to keep residents safe.
According to a recent San José Spotlight analysis, the city squeezes more than half of its affordable housing into areas with the lowest incomes in the city. District 5, along with Districts 3, 6 and 7, contribute approximately 57% of the city’s share of affordable housing.
The city—like many others in the Bay Area—is facing a severe housing crisis. Despite renewed efforts, the city is falling short of its goal to build 25,000 housing units by 2023.
“The state of housing and homelessness is a humanitarian crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetime,” East San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco told San José Spotlight. “We know that families are living in overcrowded conditions, occupying spaces that can be unsuitable, especially for young families.This development meets the moment and provides desperately needed housing for our low-income and extremely low-income families.”
The 164 units will be part of a two-tower project, with each one rising six stories to 76.5 feet. One tower will contain 119 units, along with 7,000 square feet of commercial space, while the other tower will house 45 units. The proposed project is located at 2880 Alum Rock Avenue, between South Capitol Avenue and South White Road.
Of the 164 proposed units, 92 of them are studio units, 58 of them are one-bedroom units and 14 are two-bedroom units. According to city documents, 16 units are designated for extremely low-income residents, 16 units are designated for very low-income, 33 units are for low-income residents and 97 units are moderate-income units. Two are unrestricted units for management.
Pacific West Communities, part of Idaho-based Pacific Companies, is the project’s developer.
The project also will have a rooftop garden along with on-site health and life skills classes by nonprofit LifeSteps in response to public feedback.
“We had some very meaningful conversations with the community,” said Darren Berberian, business developer with Pacific West Communities. “One of them was asking to add green space to the project. We found a very clever way to add it.”
Some residents who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting believe the project will help bring more economic activity to the neighborhood.
“We have a housing crisis and we do need these affordable housing units,” said Jonathan Koren, an Alum Rock resident. “Alum Rock itself is kind of an eyesore. There’s a lot of empty lots, a lot of abandoned commercial buildings. I do look for this and a lot of other developments along Alum Rock to make this much more of a walkable neighborhood.”
Still, Bonilla says it’s unfair for East San Jose to shoulder the burden of housing the poor.
“The city has turned East San Jose into the place that solves all of San Jose’s social issues, while other parts of the city are able to maintain their idyllic quality of life,” Bonilla said. “What I’d like to see more of are more of these projects in Willow Glen, Almaden, Rose Garden. That to me is what tonight’s vote is about.”
The developer estimates completion of the project to be in 2024 to 2025.
Editor’s Note: Rolando Bonilla is married to San José Spotlight board member Perla Rodriguez.