Advocates push for more low-income housing in San Jose project
The Cambrian Park Plaza sign, known by locals for the carousel on top. File photo by Lloyd Alaban.

A developer is including minimal affordable housing in a San Jose project, and city officials and a community advocacy group are calling for more.

Cambrian Village—an 18-acre mixed-use redevelopment of the beloved Cambrian Park Plaza in San Jose— will include 305 apartments, 48 single-family homes with 27 attached accessory dwelling units (ADU) and 25 townhomes. The village will also offer a 229-room hotel, senior living center and four acres of open space.

But out of more than 400 units, only 15 will be considered affordable. That’s not good enough for housing advocates.

“I’ve seen time and time again developers make decisions where at one point it might seem like there’s no room for change,” said Alex Shoor, executive director of Catalyze SV. “And then at the 10th hour there is. We’re hopeful they’ll do the right thing and make this project just a little bit better.”

Councilmember Pam Foley, whose district includes Cambrian Village, says developer Kimco Realty should include more low-income housing.

According to its website, Kimko Realty specializes in shopping center ownership and redevelopment and claims to be North America’s largest publicly-traded owner and operator of open-air, grocery anchored shopping centers and mixed-use assets.

“San Jose has consistently missed its affordable and moderate-income housing goals,” Foley said. “This is unacceptable. The need for affordable housing in San Jose is tremendously great.” 

The city is far behind its goal to construct 25,000 homes—including 10,000 deemed affordable—by 2023. The region is also the second most expensive rental market in the country.

The iconic carousel sign will be placed on Union Avenue between apartments and a senior residence. Rendering courtesy of the Cambrian Village Development Team.

Encouraging affordable housing

Facing tremendous need for more affordable housing, the city requires developers to provide 15% affordable housing in projects or pay 20% in-lieu fees toward affordable homes built elsewhere. 

Shoor is surprised the city policy is set up this way.

“Any developer can choose to pay the entire fee and not build any affordable housing,” he told San José Spotlight. “But that’s not the outcome the city wants.”

Laura Meiners, city planning project manager, said developers have to decide if it’s more financially feasible to pay the fees or provide the affordable homes. Cambrian Village’s developer did both, making 5% of the project’s rental units affordable and paying $9 million in fees.

“How far to go beyond that is up to the applicant. This can be a point of discussion—it probably will be a point of discussion—when the project is considered for approval,” Meiners said, referring to a planned development permit hearing set for September. “We encourage affordable housing.”

The Cambrian Village project has been in development for more than five years as residents and Foley voiced their demands for the transformation of 1950s era Cambrian Park Plaza. It went through numerous design concepts and in 2019 was restarted from scratch.

“Residents say it will improve the quality of life for Cambrian residents and serve as the heart of this community,” she said.

Requested design goals include walkability, incorporating the historic carousel sign and creating a promenade with an architectural element. The overall goal is to develop a mixed-use village with retail at the ground level and residences above, complete with parks and open space.

Cambrian Park Plaza will become an urban village with parks, housing and retail. Rendering courtesy of the Cambrian Village Development Team.

No room for change

Catalyze SV is asking the developer to increase the percentage of affordable housing to 15% across the site and/or make the 15 low-income homes more affordable. Catalyze SV said this means an individual has to make less than $105,900 annually or $151,300 for a household of four to qualify to live in the affordable homes.

The group started a letter writing campaign to the developer and city officials.

Shoor said the developers of the El Paseo de Saratoga, another reimagined shopping plaza, committed to build 15% affordable housing on site. He said development is almost always a negotiation between the community, city and developer.

Sean Morley, founder of the Morley Bros. real estate firm that’s coordinating land use entitlements for the project, said his team has worked for years to build consensus for Cambrian Village.

“We heard loud and clear from neighbors that a diverse affordable housing program should be established,” he told San José Spotlight.

Morley said the city’s Housing Department recently approved its affordable housing compliance plan, which is now part of the final project it will be asking the City Council to approve later this year. He said changing the development now would be expensive and time consuming, potentially delaying the project further.

“After five years of work with the community, we are comfortable with all aspects of the Cambrian Village plan,” Morley said. “Making significant changes anywhere at this point, including more affordable units on site, will trigger significant design changes elsewhere, and we are simply not able to stop the project to redesign it again.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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