Santa Clara lags behind on low-income housing
An aerial image of a part of the city of Santa Clara. Photo by The 111th Group.

    Santa Clara has thousands of homes in the pipeline, but advocates are skeptical if these developments will make a dent in the shortage of affordable housing.

    Santa Clara has a state mandate to produce more affordable housing by 2031. The city must construct more than 11,500 homes, with less than half priced at or above market rates. The city’s community development and public works departments told San José Spotlight the new Housing Element shows about 8,962 homes in the pipeline. About 2,864 are already under construction, and the rest are seeking permits.

    The city needs at least 2,872 homes—nearly 25% of its required allotment—set aside for very low income people, and must ensure people with slightly higher incomes can afford at least 10-15% of other new homes. Very low income is defined as earning  less than 50% of the area’s median income, or about $58,000 for an individual in Santa Clara County.

    While the majority of the Santa Clara City Council, excluding Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe, have aligned behind recent votes for increasing housing density, advocates say they want to see city leaders do more.

    Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, said he’s concerned why it isn’t clear how many homes from these projects will be designated as affordable. At least 15% of all rentals within each development must be designated as affordable per the city’s ordinance, but city officials could not provide how many total affordable homes are expected to come out of these projects.

    “Historically, every city in Silicon Valley fails miserably at building housing affordable to low-income, very low-income and extremely low-income families,” Perry told San José Spotlight. “Generally, each city assesses its need in these categories, builds a small percentage of what is necessary, then throws up its hands and says it cannot do any better.”

    Perry added that building market-rate housing will not help solve a crisis disproportionately affecting low income and displaced people. He said it could actually make things worse by creating demand for service jobs that do not pay well, increasing commuting and gentrification while rents skyrocket.

    “Given the fact that Santa Clara has no rent control, the result will be most likely even more homelessness, displacement and unnecessary human suffering,” Perry said. “Since the private sector has no interest in resolving the housing crisis of the working class, it is time for government at every level to begin building housing that is affordable for the people that need it most.”

    Each location in Santa Clara represents a new housing development proposed or underway. Currently there are more than 8,900 homes in the pipeline. Image courtesy of Santa Clara.

    Projects in the pipeline

    Santa Clara could add more than 20,000 homes under the new plan. Projects already in the pipeline applying toward this total include Patrick Henry Specific, Tasman East, Related Santa Clara and Kylli Mission Point in the north portion of the city, Lawrence Station and Santa Clara Square in the middle section and El Camino Real and Gateway Crossings in the south region.

    Related Santa Clara and El Camino Real are the largest development opportunities for increasing housing and retail. Related Santa Clara is planning a 240-acre $8 billion project considered to be Silicon Valley’s largest private mixed-use development at 5155 Stars and Stripes Drive, with 9.2 million square feet of mixed-used office and retail. About 170 or 10% of 1,680 homes will be set aside as affordable.

    The El Camino Real plan has spent years back and forth between the council and city planners deciding how the community’s longest street could be developed with thousands of new homes and retail space. Councilmembers want to revise a proposed plan for about 4,500 homes.

    Even with what appears to be a significant number of homes, housing advocates said approving housing for all income levels is not the right balance because the percentage of affordable housing is still too low. Councilmembers recently delayed a vote on an affordable housing project that would bring 106 affordable apartments to the city.

    Ray Bramson, chief operating officer of Destination: Home, said he thinks the city has done well advancing affordable housing projects over the years. But he wants to see city leaders take action using their land use authority to ask for, or require, more affordability from proposed developments.

    “The key is to make sure they’re continuing to pave the way for more affordable housing projects to be built,” Bramson said. “There’s so many households on the brink right now. If we’re not building at that lower (income) level, the market is never going to take care of that support.”

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

    Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home, sits on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.

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