The exterior of an affordable housing complex in San Jose
Betty Ann Gardens is a 76-apartment affordable family housing complex near the Berryessa BART Station. Photo courtesy of First Community Housing.

As of May, the average rent for an apartment in San Jose is $2,526 per month — 67% higher than the national average. The average cost to buy a home? Almost $1.5 million.

Although California is among the most expensive states when it comes to housing, affordable housing and the opportunities that come with it are needed everywhere. The recent opening of a mobility hub at Betty Ann Gardens, a 76-apartment affordable family housing complex near the Berryessa BART Station, provides valuable insight into effective, holistic approaches to solving the affordable housing crisis, improving community access to transit and increasing sustainability.

First Community Housing is a nonprofit created to develop, construct and manage affordable housing for San Jose and the greater San Francisco Bay Area. It serves low-income populations including individuals, families, older adults and those with special needs like chronic illness, mental health and developmental disabilities. Since 1986, the nonprofit has developed housing for more than 1,700 households, and it has another 1,400 homes on the way. Its latest development, however, is unique.

To start, the mobility hub at Betty Ann Gardens provides access to shared electric vehicles on site at significant discounts, chargers and e-bikes. Along with being located adjacent to a BART station, the hub also has a “transit screen monitor” that displays real-time information about a variety of transit options, including the location of the nearest e-scooter to rent, the location of the nearby transit stops and when the next buses are expected to arrive.

“We have been providing residents with transit passes for about two decades now, and the usage rate of these passes always goes up when the price of gas goes up,” Michael Santero, vice president and COO of First Community Housing, said. “Car ownership is so expensive, and this (mobility hub) gives people so many more options to travel to work and school.”

Of course, the use of these alternatives to personal gasoline-powered vehicles benefits the environment and the community too. Californians drive more than a billion miles every day, creating more than “1,000 tons of smog-forming pollutants and more than 534,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions,” according to data from the California Air Resources Board. Access to transit, electric vehicles and bikes also opens up a variety of transportation options for residents and may expand community engagement and financial opportunities.

What if establishing mobility hubs alongside affordable housing is a way forward for a greener, more accessible, more equitable future for the Bay? People want to be able to choose housing that is closest to their work and education, to be able to build their families and contribute to their communities, but many end up left behind because of impossible housing and rent prices. This leaves many families and individuals on the margins and eliminates opportunities, often keeping people stuck physically and financially.

The collaboration between First Community Housing and its partners exemplifies how intentional solutions like mobility hubs can address the affordable housing crisis while promoting sustainable, equitable transportation. This development could serve as a blueprint for other communities seeking to establish inclusive, equitable and green living. Disjointed solutions to transportation and housing fail to acknowledge the realities of how people live, work and play. More holistic approaches like the one at Betty Ann Gardens may be key to creating a cleaner, more connected world where everyone can thrive.

San José Spotlight columnist Karen E. Philbrick is the executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, a research institute focusing on multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues.

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