San Jose needs better planning to reach housing goals
A house for sale on Chatsworth Place in San Jose. File photo.

    San Jose has a hefty goal to build 62,200 homes in the next eight years, but it won’t meet that goal without drastically changing its approach.

    With the city working to update its plan for future housing, officials aim to spend money to subsidize affordable housing, strategically place development in areas that are equitable and properly zoned and speed up the permitting process to help projects progress.

    The plan is officially known as the housing element, which outlines the city’s needs, potential sites for new homes, constraints to building and examines what has and hasn’t worked in the past. It is reviewed and renewed every eight years and certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development so the city can qualify for state funding. The updated 2023-2031 plan must be submitted to the state by Jan. 31.

    The last plan from 2014-2023 set out to build 32,000 homes—about half of the new goal—which the city is failing to meet. While San Jose met its goals to build market rate and above market rate housing by 105%, it did not meet its very low, low or moderate income targets.

    Jeff Scott, spokesperson for the housing department, said this is because affordable housing projects are difficult to finance.

    “The amount we can build will always be constrained by the amount of tax credits and bonds our local developments can get from the state,” Scott told San José Spotlight. “Nearly all affordable housing in our area needs tax credits and bonds to get built.”

    The city is in better shape this housing cycle because of Measure E funds, passed in 2020, and in-lieu fees that require developers to pay more if they do not build affordable housing.

    The city intends to create more loan programs for affordable housing, with more generous loans given to developers who build in more expensive places in San Jose, according to the plan.

    Better planning

    City Housing Policy Planner David Ying said the principal difference in this cycle is the methodology.

    “Unlike the last cycle, we’re planning for development in areas that have a more realistic likelihood of seeing those developed,” Ying told San José Spotlight.

    The areas planned for development are already zoned for housing and in places the city has eyed for years. The next eight years will focus on building more affordable housing near the Diridon station where Google’s Downtown West is planned. The plan will include major development in North San Jose with 20% affordable housing. The city also hopes to plan out the Alum Rock East Urban Village by 2031 and build more dense housing in other urban villages.

    Ying said the process will be easier because the city created clearer guidelines and plans for its urban villages over the last few years.

    The city is also reevaluating sites and focusing on putting new development near jobs, transit and schools. It has also placed emphasis on creating more housing for residents with disabilities.

    “A lot more people living in San Jose could move into a home that better fits their needs in life,” Ying said. “People will also have a chance to live in neighborhoods that they otherwise might not have.”

    Speeding up permits

    Ruth Cueto, supervising planner from the city’s planning division, said the city wants to speed up the permitting process to help get more developments in the pipeline. Two new state laws, SB 35 and AB 2162, will help developers bypass steps like an environmental review or public hearings if a development has a certain amount of affordable housing.

    “Sacramento has implemented a similar program where they allow market rate and affordable projects to get this kind of fast paced tracking process,” Cueto said. “So we’re looking at something like that maybe San Jose can do.”

    A look at major development projects in the last seven years shows the time between the approval of a housing development application and submittal of an application for building permits can be between one month and approximately three and half years, according to city documents.

    She also said the big difference with the new plan is the emphasis on fair housing, which protects people from discrimination when buying a home. More low-income housing is planned in wealthier parts of West San Jose, Evergreen and Almaden, which helps diversify neighborhoods in the city.

    “Housing is like one of the top, most racially segregated places in the Bay Area, so that’s a huge thing,” said Elizabeth Agramont-Justiniano, organizer at Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee. “A major difference is going to be able to get affordable housing built in high resource areas.”

    Residents have until Sunday Aug. 21 at 11:59 p.m. to submit comments either online, by mail to the planning division or emailing [email protected]

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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