San Jose lags on low-income housing goals
Page Street Studios is an affordable housing complex in San Jose's District 6. Another project is planned nearby on Parkmoor Avenue. File photo.

    San Jose is failing to meet its affordable housing goals for six years running as the city’s housing crisis worsens.

    City staff introduced an ever-evolving two-year plan during Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting to get through 130 projects listed in its housing element, the city’s blueprint for addressing housing needs through 2031. The goal: to build 62,000 homes by 2031, approximately 15,000 of which are slated for those below 50% of the area median income, which is $63,450 for an individual and $90,650 for a family of four in Santa Clara County.

    In the last six years, the city hit just 40% of its affordable housing goal to build 10,000 homes, falling short roughly 6,000 homes. But this year the city has already issued 571 affordable housing permits through July, well ahead of the 438 issued last year and will likely pass the 603 from 2021.

    Jennifer Loving, CEO at Destination: Home, said for every 60 to 80 affordable homes completed, thousands upon thousands of tenant applications are filed. The city isn’t keeping up with demand, she said.

    “That happens every single time … we’re under-producing,” Loving told San José Spotlight.

    There are currently 29 homes available for every 100 extremely low-income households in the San Jose metro area, according to the city’s housing report which was submitted to city council nearly six months late and is still awaiting state approval. Since 2015, the city has met just 13% of its extremely low-income housing goal, which aims to help those at risk of joining the 6,340 people who are homeless in San Jose.

    “We’re spending millions of dollars a year trying to protect families from losing their homes and being pushed into homelessness,” Loving said. “We need to do everything we can to keep the units that are affordable, affordable, and make as many units that exist now as affordable as possible, or we’re going to continue to see homelessness rise.”

    Jerad Ferguson, a principal planner for the city, said a key update coming Spring 2024 is an infill ordinance. The rule would streamline the process for repurposing old or underutilized buildings and land for more homes within existing development. This would enable the construction of more affordable housing and allow projects to skip public hearings.

    The city also plans to update zoning codes to allow housing in three San Jose neighborhood business corridors next spring: 13th Street, Japantown and Willow Glen. But Councilmember Omar Torres indicated that might be met with some resistance.

    “We get presented housing projects where it’s scary that we might lose historical small businesses,” Torres said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “We have one of three Japantowns left in the United States, and we don’t want that to go away.”

    Mayor Matt Mahan kept his comments reserved and thanked staff for their work to protect, preserve and build housing that’s affordable for all income levels.

    Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, said Mahan’s attitude toward affordable housing sets the tone for the city’s approach to the issue. Earlier this year, Mahan’s push to divert $23 million away from affordable housing to quick-build, temporary shelters failed during the budget process after facing backlash from housing advocates and a majority of councilmembers.

    “Mahan has actually said it will take us decades to solve our affordable housing crisis,” Perry told San José Spotlight. “Well it will if that’s your attitude … that’s the obstacle that we’re up against, is that mentality.”

    There are a few proposed bills from local legislators in the state pipeline specific to housing solutions, like state Sen. Dave Cortese’s plan to cut red tape for affordable housing projects and Assemblymember Alex Lee’s social housing bill to build affordable housing on state land.

    Though he levied criticism of Mahan, he said affordable housing is ultimately a national problem that will take a multi-government approach to solve.

    “We need a massive investment in affordable housing, which really needs to start at the federal level … we need to house our people like we used to,” Perry said.

    Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on Twitter.

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