UPDATE: Santa Clara County buys land for more affordable housing
Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine surveys the future site of Royal Oak Village, an affordable housing development for ag workers, low-income families and unhoused people with special needs. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Santa Clara County is acquiring more land to build hundreds of affordable homes for disadvantaged residents.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to purchase four properties in San Jose, Santa Clara and Morgan Hill, which will cost the county more than $17 million and provide 324 apartments.

“I really want to just acknowledge Santa Clara and Morgan Hill and San Jose,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “I really appreciate they’re being so collaborative with the county.”

The projects represent an ongoing campaign to build up the region’s housing stock for veterans, agricultural workers, seniors and people with developmental disabilities. The projects will be partly financed through funds from Measure A—an affordable housing bond approved by voters in 2016.

“These are the type of projects that are exactly what we need,” said Supervisor Otto Lee. “The use of Measure A funding is great.”

Housing instability is an ongoing problem in Silicon Valley. Thousands of residents live on the streets and tens of thousands struggle to pay for basic needs, such as rent. Some cities have invested in affordable housing, but run into significant delays.

County officials have tried to address this need by partnering with cities to build affordable housing. Last month, supervisors approved $75.5 million to build six housing developments—four in San Jose, one in Mountain View and one in Sunnyvale—which will add 758 apartments.

Alex Shoor, executive director of housing advocacy group Catalyze SV, thanked the county for aggressively pursuing affordable housing. He urged supervisors to support projects that maximize the number of homes on a site, and to not be intimidated by community resistance to new housing.

“We don’t think that’s the best reason to not build as many homes as possible on a site,” Shoor said.

One of the sites approved for purchase is the Royal Oak Village at 15440 Monterey Rd. in Morgan Hill. This project calls for 73 new apartments: 18 to rehouse homeless individuals and families, 24 for households earning very low income and 30 for agricultural workers. It also includes one manager unit. Construction is slated to start around July.

Morgan Hill Mayor and District 1 supervisor candidate Rich Constantine told San José Spotlight the county is unaffordable to many people, including essential workers.

“We have to make sure that everybody—our teachers, firefighters, police officers, grocery store workers, bus drivers—have the ability to buy a home,” Constantine said.

Robert Van Tassle, operations manager at Countryside Mushrooms in Gilroy, used to work at the farm where this project will be built. He told San José Spotlight agricultural workers struggle to find affordable places to stay in Silicon Valley.

“It’s tough,” Tassle said. “I’ve had some guys that were looking for housing for quite a long time.”

Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine speaks with Robert Van Tassle, operations manager of Countryside Mushrooms in Gilroy. Van Tassle worked at the defunct Royal Oaks Mushrooms in Morgan Hill for almost 38 years before it closed in 2018. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Another site is 3335 Kifer Rd. in Santa Clara. This project will provide 80 apartments, including permanent housing for homeless seniors and seniors making up to 40%-50% the area median income. Construction is supposed to start in July.

“In 2021, Santa Clara City Council was proud to commit $4 million to this much needed project,” Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor said during a Monday news conference. “As you know, supporting our unhoused residents is a countywide priority, which is one of the reasons we’re participating in the county’s community-wide plan to end homelessness.”

Recent efforts to build housing in Santa Clara without county assistance have been stymied by residents. Last November, the City Council rejected a proposal to build 60 units of transitional housing after scores of residents—some coordinating their talking points in a Discord channel—spoke out against the idea during a city meeting.

Supervisors also approved two sites in San Jose: Roosevelt Park Apartments at 21 N. 21st St. and Algarve Apartments at 1135 E. Santa Clara St. Together, the projects will add 171 apartments for unhoused or low-income seniors and veterans. Construction on Roosevelt Park Apartments is scheduled to start in August; it’s unclear when development of the Algarve Apartments will begin.

Advocates of affordable housing say the cost is worth it if the county can stave off the region’s growing homelessness crisis.

“People are saying the housing is too expensive and unhoused people don’t deserve it—that unhoused people deserve to live in little sheds or temporary housing,” Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, told San José Spotlight. “This is the richest place in the entire universe, and to say we can’t house our people with decent apartments is nonsense.”

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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