Santa Clara approves contentious affordable housing project
A sign points to Santa Clara's City Council Chambers from City Hall in this file photo.

    After considerable pushback from residents and uncertainty among Santa Clara councilmembers, city leaders are greenlighting a controversial multifamily housing project on Civic Center Drive.

    The Santa Clara City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to build a five-story apartment project with 108 affordable units managed by Charities Housing. Councilmember Kevin Park was the lone dissenter, saying he opposed the project because it did not offer enough value to the Civic Center Drive area.

    “I want higher density, but to be honest I just don’t want it here,” he said at the meeting. “I love this project, just not in this location.”

    Even though Councilmember Raj Chahal approved the project, he said he’s lost trust in Charities Housing to manage maintenance issues in a timely manner due to tenant complaints at Renascent Place, a 160-unit affordable housing complex in San Jose managed by nonprofit. He said tenants waited months for issues like broken windows and exposed walls and wiring to get fixed. Charities Housing is a division of parent nonprofit Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.

    Charities Housing emphasized during its Tuesday presentation that the development is designed for families. It will be priced for middle school teachers earning less than $95,000 per year, as well as grocery clerks and fast food workers earning less than $40,000 annually. The developer also presented modifications to minimize impacts on neighbors, like adjusting building heights.

    Residents are not swayed and the project has sparked fierce opposition from nearby homeowners who cite concerns with traffic congestion, building heights, safety and a lack of parking. More than 400 people have signed a petition opposing the development, many of whom spoke at the meeting.

    “All of these developers who spoke here, they don’t even live here,” resident Usman Bhati said. “It’s not going to impact them. It’s going to impact us, people who live here who paid a million and a half to move over here.”

    While residents successfully stopped plans to build temporary housing for homeless families last year, housing advocacy groups such as Catalyze SV say the Civic Center Drive project will add much needed affordable housing in the city.

    Questions and delays

    The project at 1601 Civic Center Drive stalled in September after Chahal asked to review a proposal for placing a city park on the site. After reviewing the plans in November, several councilmembers determined the park wasn’t doable and the better project would be the housing development.

    Councilmember Kathy Watanabe and Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who initially opposed the housing project in favor of the park, switched their positions. Gillmor said the city did not find a feasible way to place a park on the site, adding Santa Clara could run up against state laws that require cities to increase housing.

    “It could be something we have no control over,” she said. “I just don’t think we have a choice at this point.”

    The site is located near public transportation, parks, an elementary school and a shopping complex on El Camino Real, making it an ideal location, said Joe Head, Charities Housing business development manager. The organization bought the 1.4-acre lot in 2020, which is currently home to a vacant two-story office building. The city already has plans to add thousands of homes on 76 acres to meet state housing requirements.

    The council amended the city’s General Plan to change the site to a “high density residential rezone,” with a density bonus agreement to allow 108 rentals. City spokesperson Michelle Templeton said the city will need to hold a public hearing to consider a rezoning request before the project moves forward.

    Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

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