New survey: Quality of life has ‘fallen’ in San Jose
Downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Kyle Martin.

A new city survey shows San Joseans say their overall quality of life has dropped to record lows and only 44 percent would recommend San Jose as a place to live.

“While two thirds of residents expected to remain in San José over the next five years,” the report said, “ratings for the overall quality of life have fallen.”

The National Citizen Survey, now in its 8th year, polled more than 3,600 residents on 35 community characteristics, such as housing, health services, employment opportunities, transportation and more. Overall quality of life dropped to 43 percent, the report found, down from more than 60 percent in 2011.

About 67 percent of respondents plan to remain in San Jose, a drop from more than 81 percent in 2011, and 44 percent of residents would recommend San Jose as a place to live, down from more than 80 percent.

The report marks the first year home values in San Jose have topped $1 million, at about $1.2 million, and average rents at about $2,500. More than half of the city’s homes are owner-occupied while 43 percent are rented out, the report said.

The vast majority of residents surveyed rated cost of living, availability of affordable housing, traffic and variety of housing options as poor.

Annual household incomes average about $105,000, the report said. About 16 percent of household incomes were less than $35,000 and 17 percent of the population receives supplemental income or public assistance.

“Despite being the most thinly-staffed big city in the country, we’ve worked hard to reverse San José’s historic budget challenges to invest in the services our residents want and deserve,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in an email to San José Spotlight. “Though we have much work to do, I’m encouraged by the demonstrable progress we’ve made — adding 250 officers to our police department, repaving 200 miles of streets, returning our emergency response times to meet standards, and working furiously to push thousands of affordable homes into the development pipeline.”

Residents’ top priority over the next two years included a focus on the “overall feeling of safety in San Jose” and economic health. A wide majority of residents rated things like emergency medical services, fire services and city libraries as “excellent” or “good,” while city code enforcement and street repair got the lowest ratings.

The highest rated city characteristics included shopping, volunteer and spiritual opportunities and events.

The report echoed what residents have known for years — the region’s lack of affordable housing makes San Jose “one of the least affordable cities in the country.” Fewer than 6 percent of those surveyed listed affordable housing availability as good or excellent.

Andrew Lee rents half of a garage in a neighborhood near the East Foothills. The garage, which he found on Craigslist two years ago, was converted into a two-bedroom living space with a shared kitchen and bathroom space. Rent for the two-bedroom space is $1,650, Lee said, which he splits with a roommate who lives in the other bedroom.

Lee, 28, said he spends about half of his income on housing, while working earning $15 per hour as a waiter in Santa Clara. He’s lived in San Jose for five years.

“The thing is, everyday when I’m driving to work I see people, more and more, camping on the on-ramp to the freeway,” Lee said. “It makes me feel lucky to have a roof over my head, but that makes me angry. I work as much as I can, but it’s hard to get enough hours.”

Eli Edwards, a Santa Clara librarian living in Downtown San Jose, says her quality of life is fairly good — but “that’s because I’m married to a tech-person.”

“Between my husband and I, we make a comfortable living,” said Edwards, 49. “The fact we can splurge occasionally instead of rarely is something we keep in mind.”

Splurging, she said, is a “nice dinner out,” away from their $3,000-per-month, 1,000-square-foot downtown condo.

In 2010, Edwards moved from the East Bay to Seattle for a few years before moving back to Hayward and finally to San Jose last year.

“One reason why I love living in California, and why I came back, is because I love the diversity,” Edwards said. With her combined household income, Edwards can choose to live in diverse Silicon Valley.

But will they stay in San Jose?

“We’ll have that discussion later,” she said.

Contact Kyle Martin at [email protected] or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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