Top questions about Opportunity Housing in San Jose answered
A view of San Jose from the East-Evergreen side of the city. File photo.

Opportunity Housing is the city’s latest strategy for solving San Jose’s housing crisis — but critics fear the policy may plummet property values, increase traffic congestion and destroy single-family neighborhoods.

Supporters, however, say densifying those neighborhoods will boost San Jose’s affordable housing stock — which is much-needed in a city where the median cost of a single-family home is $1.2 million.

A city task force recommends lawmakers study adopting opportunity housing citywide. If approved, single-family homes could coexist on the same block with duplexes, triplexes or even fourplexes.

But confusion over the measure lingers. A small poll found nearly half of San Jose residents surveyed oppose densifying neighborhoods. To address concerns about Opportunity Housing, the Almaden Valley Community Association hosted a panel of experts Monday to explain the proposal and how neighborhoods could weather potential change.

The discussion featured city Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey, Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand, real estate broker Roberta Moore and consultant Jerry Strangis.

The panel came as a blog post from the Santa Clara County Republican Party opposing the measure ignited criticism. In the post, party officials warned Opportunity Housing could “nuke” single-family neighborhoods — words that were denounced by many on social media.

Party Chair Shane Patrick Connolly said San Jose should focus on  existing projects before densifying single-family neighborhoods.

“Let’s do what we can to help meet our housing needs within those areas that the city has already made available for increased densification and increased height in downtown and urban villages,” Connolly told San José Spotlight. “There’s no reason to be going into these single-family neighborhoods at this point because we haven’t even built out the urban villages.”

One thing is clear: People are divided about Opportunity Housing. Here are some of the top questions about the plan, as presented during Monday’s forum.

Why is the city pushing Opportunity Housing?

Morales-Ferrand said San Jose is not producing anywhere near the affordable housing it needs to meet demand as jobs increase faster than housing.

To purchase a median-priced single-family home in San Jose, buyers need to earn more than $200,000 per year or $120 per hour, Morales-Ferrand said. But single family-neighborhoods make up 94% of the city and San Jose has strict zoning laws that prevent more units from being built in those neighborhoods.

Hughey said loosening the zoning law to allow for duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes would give developers and property owners the opportunity to create more middle-income and low-income housing. Opportunity Housing wouldn’t be a mandate, she added, but an additional option for those who chose to build extra units.

Despite its benefits, Hughey said there’s no “silver bullet” to solve the housing crisis. Accessory dwelling units and mixed-use urban village plans connected to transit centers, for example, have already been approved by the city.

What about parking, traffic congestion, infrastructure overload? 

Unlike large high-rise developments, Hughey said a maximum of four units per site could be built under the plan. Traffic congestion would not likely be a problem.

“I’m excited that the city really is focused on providing places for people to live versus spaces to park cars. Many of our residents will continue to drive and will need to drive,” Hughey said. “It’s not about banning cars, or banning single-family homes, it’s about providing options.”

When asked about impact on strained water and sewage systems, Hughey said the “gentle” housing increase wouldn’t hurt the city’s infrastructure any more than a new high-rise development.

Will it hurt the “character” of my neighborhood?

Hughey said the buildings would blend in with the single-family home landscape and the duplexes or triplexes built under the plan will not alter a neighborhood’s character. The buildings would have similar height and size requirements, so a towering high-rise wouldn’t suddenly rise in a single-family neighborhood.

What about decreasing property values?

When it came to property values, the panelists were divided.

Morales-Ferrand said there’s no evidence that values will be impacted by the introduction of duplexes, triplexes or fourplexes.

She said the demand for housing is so great that property values would fluctuate no matter what. “The fact that you pay over a million dollars for a two bedroom-one-bath bungalow has nothing to do with the house sitting next to you,” she said.

Moore said when she first started in real estate, nearby properties did not affect value much. That’s not the case today.

“If there were six-plexes around me right now, my property value would decline — unless they sold it to a developer to build six more units,” Moore said.

Hughey said there is no clear answer.

“It’s speculative. This housing market is the craziest housing market that I’ve ever experienced,” Hughey said. “I would be very surprised if neighboring housing values decrease in this market.”

The recommendations for implementing Opportunity Housing are scheduled to come before the San Jose City Council sometime in spring 2021.

Strangis said offering options to the development community is the best way to chip away at the housing crisis.

“I applaud the effort. But it’s a tough thing,” he said. “Silicon Valley is the most expensive place in the world to live in and we’re trying to fix a problem that has existed and has occurred over many, many, many years.”

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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