UPDATE: Santa Clara leaders delay decision on affordable housing
A plan for a five-story apartment building at 1601 Civic Center Drive in Santa Clara is facing opposition from residents. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Santa Clara leaders are postponing a vote on a controversial affordable housing project until November, amid opposition from hundreds of residents.

    The Santa Clara City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to defer moving forward on a plan to build a five-story apartment building at 1601 Civic Center Drive. The project, managed by Charities Housing, would add 106 affordable apartments to the area and serve some of the lowest income families in the city. Two residences will be reserved for property managers. Prospective tenants include families making between $35,000 and $95,000 a year. Councilmembers Kathy Watanabe, Karen Hardy and Vice Mayor Suds Jain voted no.

    Councilmember Raj Chahal called for the postponement and said there is another proposal for a park at the site. He wants to review that project before deciding on the affordable housing.

    “It would not be fair for me to wait on the other petition which has superseded the project that has come forward,” he said. “We all should have brought this forward sooner.”

    The council decided to discuss the park proposal on Oct. 18, followed by the affordable housing proposal on Nov. 15.

    “This really looks like a cynical attempt to deny the project by delaying it,” said resident Ann Paulson. “Delays cost money. Everybody is ready to make the decision tonight.”

    The project, more than two years in the making, has sparked fierce opposition from nearby residents who cite concerns with traffic congestion, the building’s height, safety and the lack of parking. More than 400 people have signed a petition opposing the development.

    “Our neighborhood is already crowded and impacted by blight and petty crimes,” resident Venee Cruz said in a letter to the City Council. “This development will have a huge negative impact on existing communities and will impact our safety and security.”

    Charities Housing bought the 1.4-acre lot in 2020. The site is currently home to a vacant two-story office building and hasn’t been used for several years, organization officials said.

    Groups such as Catalyze SV have praised—and supported—the project, saying it would add much needed affordable housing to Santa Clara. The site is located near a number of resources such as public transportation, parks, an elementary school and the shopping complex on El Camino Real—making it an ideal location for an affordable housing project, said Joe Head, who manages business development for Charities Housing.

    “It’s to serve working people and (those) whose income levels don’t make it easily possible or possible at all to live in the area,” Head told San José Spotlight.

    The plan calls for 106 affordable family apartments on a 1.4-acre lot. Rendering courtesy of Charities Housing.

    This is not the first time Santa Clara residents have rallied to stop affordable housing in the city. A coordinated effort by hundreds of residents successfully killed plans to build temporary housing for homeless families last year. Santa Clara is planning for a high-density future and the region is racing to build more affordable housing to combat the ongoing housing crisis.

    “We are all aware of how bad the housing crisis is,” Lalo Mendez, project development specialist with Catalyze SV, told San José Spotlight. “We understand neighbors are hesitant of change, but we can’t understand why there’s active opposition to 108 affordable housing units that are specifically geared toward working families.”

    It’s not clear how much it will cost to build the apartments, said Hai Nguyen, project manager of Charities Housing, but the city contributed $1.6 million to the project in 2020.

    Concerns over traffic, parking and safety

    Neighbors living next to the project said the apartments will make the area unsafe with additional traffic and potential crime, such as petty theft. They also cited issues like deplorable living spaces and drug use at Renascent Place, a supportive housing site in San Jose run by Charities Housing.

    Shortly after Charities Housing purchased the Santa Clara property two years ago, residents claim several homeless people moved into the vacant buildings on the lot and caused disturbances, stole bikes and used drugs. The issue reached a boiling point when an RV emptied its septic tank at the site last April, prompting a resident to file a police report.

    “It took (Charities Housing) four days to clean up and we suffered from intolerable stench, and a harmful exposure to germs and viruses,” resident Keyhan Sinai, whose home is located behind the site, said in a letter.

    Kathy Robinson, director of development with Charities Housing, said the organization has put up a fence to prevent trespassing on the property and works with the community to address issues of dumping and loitering.

    “That was a terrible situation, but the site is secured now,” she told San José Spotlight. “We feel very badly about it, but we took immediate action.”

    Other residents are worried about the lack of parking. Charities Housing is proposing 82 parking spaces for 108 apartments, which complies with state and city requirements for affordable housing projects.

    Robinson said the development will utilize street parking along Lincoln Street and the organization will work with the city if issues arise. Charities Housing also made a number of adjustments to the building’s design and programs based on community feedback.

    “We’re very confident in our abilities to manage this property well,” Robinson said.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

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