San Jose residents largely aren’t thrilled with living here
An aerial view of downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

When asked to rate life in San Jose, residents still largely give it a “meh” or worse.

A plurality of residents — 42% — rate the quality of life in the city as just “fair” and another 16% rates it as “poor,” according to a recent report. Those ratings are essentially unchanged from the previous year, but are up markedly from earlier years. And the portion of people giving the city a “fair” rating is equivalent to the combined percentage of those who rate San Jose’s quality of life “excellent” or “good.”

Mark Majors is among those who are dissatisfied with life in the city. A teacher who has been living in San Jose for 52 years, Majors is unhappy with the dirtiness of the city, the cost of living and the high tax rates.

“What we get for our taxes is not much,” Majors said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a police officer make a traffic stop.”

The report — San Jose’s annual report on city services, which it issued last month — is based on the National Community Survey, a study the city has participated in for the last 10 years. The 2020 version polled 3,750 San Jose residents on how they feel about city services, the quality of life here, the cost of living, the local economy and more.

Residents have reasons to be unhappy

The overall assessment of residents of the city has dropped off dramatically in recent years. Prior to 2015, around 60% of residents routinely rated the quality of life in San Jose as “excellent” or “good.” In the years since 2015, the proportion that gave a positive rating has consistently been below 50%.

There are certainly good reasons for residents to be concerned or unhappy with life in the city, the report details. Last year marked the third in a row in which the median price of a home in the city exceeded $1 million, according to the report. That’s more than four times the median price of a home nationally and far beyond the reach of most residents.

Meanwhile, the average rent across all types of units was about $2,452, according to the report. That amount was down slightly from the prior year but was still up more than 9% from six years ago.

Chart showing quality of life indicators in San Jose
Source: Annual Report on City Services, 2019-20

The median household income increased from 2018 to 2019 — the last year for which data was available — by $3,000 to $116,000, but that affluence was spread unevenly. Some 15% of San Jose households earned less than $35,000, and 13% received supplemental income or public assistance.

By contrast, the living wage for San Jose is about $41,500 for a single adult for one year including food, housing and transportation. But that does not include retirement savings or savings for purchasing a home.

The city’s overall poverty rate in 2019 was 7.1 percent, with the Black population experiencing more than double the overall poverty rate.

Only 18% of respondents in the resident survey thought that the economy would have a positive impact on their income over the next six months.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected city services

In addition to polling residents about their overall assessment of life in the city, the survey asked them to rate a variety of community features on a scale from “excellent” to “poor” and assess certain statements on a scale ranging from “very likely” to “very unlikely.”

The top five rated community features in San Jose were shopping, variety and quality of businesses, volunteer opportunities and the openness of the community. The five lowest-rated features in the city were cost of living, availability of affordable housing, city cleanliness, residential growth planning, and public transit.

Residents’ assessments of the city’s economic health, shopping and employment opportunities all declined from the prior year, noted Joe Rois, San Jose’s city auditor. So too did their ratings for certain city services, such as recreation centers, he said. But that decline isn’t surprising, given how hard the community was hit by the coronavirus pandemic and how it forced the closure of businesses and some services, he said.

The rating declines were “expected in this environment,” he said.

But residents’ concerns go beyond things that were affected by the epidemic. Majors, for example, is fed up with how dirty San Jose is.

“Certainly, the cleanliness of our city is a joke,” said Majors, a sixth-grade math and science teacher who lives in the Willow Glen neighborhood. “It’s disgusting.”

Majors has three children, aged 23, 20 and 18. He doesn’t think they’ll be able to afford living in the area. His oldest son and his son’s girlfriend each make six-figure salaries, but even they would have a tough time buying a home in San Jose, he said. Putting 20% down on a $1 million home still means coming up with $200,000.

“It’s crazy,” Majors said. “We’ve all said this. Unless our kids hit it big with a start up, they’ll never be able to afford something here.”

Residents are concerned with safety and the economy

Residents had mixed opinions of government services, according to the report. Some 80 percent gave the city’s fire services an “excellent” or “good” rating, largely unchanged from last year. Other highly rated government services include public libraries, the ease of using the the Mineta San José International Airport (SJC) and garbage collection.

By contrast, just 13% thought the city’s job of code enforcement was “excellent” or “good.”

Chart detailing resident priorities
Source: Annual Report on City Services, 2019-20

When asked about their priorities, residents overwhelmingly listed safety as their first concern, followed by economic health.

“The priorities of our residents track very closely to what we see on a daily basis working with our community,” San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said. “I hear repeatedly the concerns from my residents with crime that is happening in the neighborhoods. We are doing our best to address their concerns, but with the most thinly staffed big city police department in the country, we are going to have to be creative in how we meet resident expectations.”

Jones said he isn’t surprised by residents’ concerns about the city’s economic health and the quality of utility infrastructure.

“We hear all the time from large, medium and small businesses about the business climate in San Jose and how that is impacting their decisions to maintain their existing operations and grow and expand them in the future,” Jones said.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] and follow her @MadelynGReese