Exterior of apartment building under construction
Sunnyvale's housing plans were approved by the state earlier this month, with the goal of adding 11,966 new homes by 2031. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Santa Clara County’s second largest city just got its housing plans approved by the state, kickstarting 45 programs to increase development and put a dent in the housing crisis.

After three rounds of review by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, Sunnyvale’s housing element was approved March 6 — more than a year after its Jan. 31, 2023 deadline. City leaders feel hopeful the eight-year planning document will be the ticket to increasing affordable housing and hitting state-mandated goals.

The state requires cities and counties every eight years to address housing and affordability as their populations grow. Of Santa Clara County’s 15 cities, nine have their housing plans approved, with San Jose getting its plan certified earlier this year. The county’s plans have yet to be approved.

Sunnyvale has to account for 11,966 new homes by 2031, with 6,709 below market rate, based on the state’s requirements. That’s more than double the city’s requirements from last cycle, when Sunnyvale had to build 5,452 homes, with 3,478 affordable.

“For me … it’s trying to put everything in here to make sure that, in my mind, we have the options to build as much housing as possible,” Mayor Larry Klein told San José Spotlight.

Klein said there are a litany of factors affecting housing development, especially affordable housing, but the largest hurdle countywide for developers is the affordability of development. He added that the city has been helping with the cost by buying and long-term leasing land to carve a path for affordable housing development. One such project is Meridian, a 90-apartment complex on city-owned land that’s 100% affordable housing slated to open next month.

Klein and other city officials emphasize the city itself is not a housing developer. Housing Officer Jenny Carloni told San José Spotlight the various programs are intended to work in tandem to reduce barriers and encourage development.

“We can set the stage, we can have the funding, we can have the resources, but the developer has to build the product,” Carloni said.

Ryan Dyson, a city program manager who spearheaded work on the housing element, said the city will do a better job this go around in achieving its goals. He pointed out that a handful of programs are aimed at homelessness, including affordable homes being set aside specifically for unhoused families.

“(We’re) happy to be at the point where we can start implementing these programs and really get started to meet the needs of our community,” he told San José Spotlight.

Last year, Sunnyvale approved permits for 601 homes, Dyson said. That almost a 40% drop from the year before when it approved 983 home permits. The data from last year is still being finalized, and Dyson will present the city’s annual housing progress report to the Sunnyvale City Council on March 26.

While Sunnyvale has historically reached its total construction goals, it has lagged on affordable housing goals, according to Chuck Fraleigh, who co-chaired neighborhood advocacy group Livable Sunnyvale’s housing element committee.

Fraleigh said he’s been involved in forming the plan through the city’s community outreach efforts, as Livable Sunnyvale submitted letters to the city and state expressing feedback and support on parts of the plan. He added that the group advocated for more affordable housing south of El Camino Real, mostly single-family neighborhoods the city described as higher opportunity areas.

Klein said one way the city is looking to add neighborhood density is by making it easier to build accessory dwelling units, more commonly known as in-law or granny units. He said that adding housing near transit helps add density, but ADUs can add housing to the city’s single-family neighborhoods without straining the community.

Fraleigh said the city has a strong plan, but worries it could still struggle to meet its affordable housing goals.

“There’s a number of projects that the city is pushing through, but looking through the eight years and the totals in the housing element, it’s going to be a challenge to get that number of affordable housing units built,” Fraleigh told San José Spotlight.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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