San Jose squeezes more than half of its affordable housing in areas with some of the lowest household incomes in the city.
About 57% of all below market rate rentals in the city, including some in the development pipeline, are in downtown, central and east San Jose, a San José Spotlight analysis of city data shows. Six districts contribute less than 10% to the city’s affordable housing inventory. The data, published on the city’s open data portal, was last updated October 2020.
The analysis shows a staggering disparity in affordable housing distribution in San Jose—an ongoing crisis fueled by the lack of effective policies implemented over the past several decades, policymakers and advocates say. The San Jose metro area is the second most expensive rental market in the country.
San Jose adopted a housing dispersion policy in 1989 to equally spread affordable housing projects among districts, but the policy had no teeth, District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez told San José Spotlight.
“It was more of a suggestion,” Peralez said. “So throughout the next 30 years… affordable housing is still ultimately concentrated and over-concentrated in particular parts of our city, and in neighborhoods that were more lower income and with more minorities.”
Peralez's district, which encompasses downtown and the Japantown neighborhood, tops the list with the most affordable housing in the city with approximately 4,300 units. It has 59 projects total, accounting for 22% of the city's below market rate housing inventory.
In central San Jose, District 7 has more than 3,600 units, making up 18% of all affordable rental units in the city. The 29 housing projects in the district are generally larger in size than those in other districts, as 16 have more than 100 units, the analysis shows.
"These projects all predate me, but I think it's a form of redlining, to be frank," Councilmember Maya Esparza told San José Spotlight, adding that her district has the most extremely low income housing units in the city. "If you look at the fairgrounds, for example, there are 1,900 affordable housing units within a mile of (it). Without a doubt, it's a form of modern redlining."
In contrast, District 8, known for its open spaces, trails and parks, has just 187 affordable units at two housing projects, contributing less than 1% of all affordable housing in San Jose. And District 10 has 578 affordable units at seven housing complexes. That's 2.9% of the city's below market rate housing inventory.
Both districts are among the city's wealthiest. The majority of neighborhoods in Almaden Valley in District 10 and Silver Creek in District 8 have a median income exceeding $200,000.
District 8 hasn't added more affordable housing due to an "outdated" policy that limits commercial and housing growth, Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said. The Evergreen Development Policy, initially adopted in 1976 to address issues with flooding and traffic congestion, was last updated in 2007 to limit residential development to a pool of 500 units and allow only 35 housing units on any property unless the development meets certain criteria.
"I support retiring this policy," Arenas told San José Spotlight. "The disparities in affordable housing distribution among neighborhoods in San Jose... have historical roots that need to be undone and currently contribute to continued segregation and lack of resources for lower income families."
The city is well aware of this issue, said Jeff Scott, spokesperson for the San Jose Housing Department. The City Council recently updated its housing dispersion policy to bring affordable housing into areas with low levels of poverty and crime, including affluent areas that contain a small percentage of affordable homes.
But the city relies on developers to build these projects, Scott added.
"The city can zone a parcel for residential development, but construction only occurs if a private developer chooses to do so," Scott told San José Spotlight.
Peralez disagrees, saying low-income housing projects often fail to materialize because of pushback from residents—and elected officials.
"An elected official could essentially kill a project before it was even applied for by simply telling a developer, 'You know this is not going to make it,'" Peralez said. "And that developer might turn around and go look somewhere else in the city."
Disparities in distribution
Even in districts where affordable housing is being built, low-income units are over-concentrated in neighborhoods with lower median income, San José Spotlight's analysis shows.
For example, in the Spartan Keyes neighborhood in District 3, the median household income is approximately $53,050, about 45% of the area's average median income. Its census tract has four affordable housing complexes, totaling 490 units.
Disparities are even more evident in District 6, where 3,320 affordable housing units are almost exclusively located in low-income areas. Councilmember Dev Davis was not immediately available for comment.
The neighborhood nested between Highway 87 and Alameda Expressway, for example, has six below market rate housing projects, or 589 units, the analysis shows. Its median household income is about $47,636, according to census data.
Five other projects of 474 units are crammed in areas in and around the Buena Vista neighborhood, with median incomes between $75,000 and $83,500. That's just above 60% of the area median income for a household of two.
The neighboring census tract that includes Willow Glen, with a median income of about $128,889, has no affordable housing.
"There is not a neighborhood in the city that has too much affordable housing," Mathew Reed, housing policy manager at Silicon Valley at Home, told San José Spotlight. "Affordable housing is such a dire need and the people who have that need are spread throughout the city."