Santa Clara County cities mull joining collaborative to meet housing goals
Santa Clara County Government Center. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara County cities don’t always see eye-to-eye, particularly when it comes to development. But the 15 municipalities in the county are now considering a fresh collaboration when it comes to housing.

Representatives of the Cities Association of Santa Clara County voted earlier this month to create a new planning collaborative open to each city in the county to join in order to pool costs and resources to meet the state-mandated goals for each region when it comes to housing development. The question now is whether every city or town in the county will opt to join.

The move comes as cities across California are bracing for a fresh set of state-mandated housing development goals, known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. The process for deciding the new goals for the next eight years between 2022 and 2030 has already started.

But from early data available from other regions, some are already bracing for massive increases in their housing development goals of up to 225 percent, according to Andi Jordan, executive director for the Cities Association of Santa Clara County.

“We are in the Bay Area, so we are guessing that our numbers will be quite high,” she told Cities Association members this month.

A breakdown of the Bay Area’s overall state-mandated housing development goals during this RHNA cycle. Graph courtesy of SV@Home

A potential increase so large is likely a daunting prospect to many city leaders. Already, most cities in the county are falling behind on the existing goals when it comes to permitting new affordable homes, particularly those affordable to people earning extremely low incomes.

A snapshot of the number of “very low income” homes permitted by the end of 2018 shows that most cities are tracking below state-mandated goals. Image courtesy of SV@Home.

As of the end of 2018, which was the last time cities were required to give the state a status update on their housing production, only two cities — Monte Sereno and Santa Clara — had met their goal when it comes to building homes for people who are considered “very low income.” Most cities were below 10 percent of their goal, according to the state’s numbers.

On the other end of the spectrum, most cities had already surpassed their goals when it comes to market-rate housing development, though a few cities still fell below the 50 percent mark, including Los Gatos, Milpitas and Saratoga.

The Cities Association voted earlier this month to form the collaborative, though it won’t be final until every City Council votes to participate in the next month. If each of the 15 councils opt to join, every city will contribute about $3,300 to the effort initially. If fewer cities vote to join, that cost could rise for the remaining municipalities, though contributions are currently capped at $5,000 per city. The money would be pooled between the cities to pay for shared costs, such as consultants or materials to help spur more housing.

Most cities are exceeding their goals for market rate development as of the end of 2018. Image courtesy of SV@Home.

California state law allows cities to get creative in meeting their housing goals by joining forces as a larger “subregion,” though the cities would still be held accountable for their individual goals.

The 15 cities in Santa Clara County have been considering becoming a subregion since 2015, but recently realized they’d run out of time to create a formal subregion, as defined by the state, because deadlines for the formation were miscommunicated in the group.

Now, the South Bay cities are looking at pooling funds and working together in a less formal way through a collaborative, similar to San Mateo County’s 21 Elements initiative.

City representatives at the meeting this month hedged on estimating whether councilmembers in each city would approve the new planning collaborative, but each said there was interest from leaders in their city.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to work together collaboratively, as opposed to sometimes we are in contention,” said Chappie Jones, vice mayor of San Jose and a member of the Cities Association board. “Moving forward, if we can have a regional approach to solve these housing issues I think it is going to benefit everyone.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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