Where should San Jose build affordable housing?
Park Avenue Senior Apartments near Diridon Station has 99 affordable housing units. File photo.

Most San Jose residents support affordable housing—but there’s less agreement on where to put it.

Almost every precinct in the city backed Measure A in 2016, allowing Santa Clara County to borrow $950 million by issuing bonds to fund affordable housing. But when it comes to the details, even advocates disagree—should affordable housing be built in existing low-income neighborhoods or everywhere?

The debate is heating up as the city considers new rules on where affordable housing projects are built. For example, one proposal prioritizes areas with lots of job opportunities and accessible by public transit. The city is also asking residents whether affordable housing projects should be built in roughly equal numbers in each City Council district.

“A neighborhood wanting affordable housing and being supportive of that coming into their neighborhood would be important,” said San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand during a meeting to get community feedback on the proposals this week. More listening sessions are scheduled later this month. “We’re very interested in those ideas.”

Equity vs. opportunity

Jaime Alvarado, the co-chair of the Alum Rock Urban Village Advocates, said affordable housing should be built where low-income people currently are, especially because they are more likely to live in overcrowded housing, with more income earners per household to manage the high rents. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose is $2,653, according to rental listings site Zumper, which would require an income of $7,959 per month, or $95,508 a year, to qualify to rent.

“If you build affordable housing in areas of high poverty, at least we’re taking away some of the penalties that people endure for being poor in the city of San Jose,” Alvarado said.

Mathew Reed, policy manager for nonprofit housing think tank [email protected], agreed that affordable housing should be built in low-income areas. However, he stressed that it’s important not to segregate low-income populations from the rest of the city.

“We need housing everywhere,” Reed said. “The intent is to create choices and opportunities where they don’t exist.”

More than 1,500 affordable housing units were completed or in some part of the construction or planning process between July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, according to the city’s latest Production and Preservation Report. Roughly 4,000 more units are in the pipeline—waiting for entitlements and funding. That puts the city more than halfway to Mayor Sam Liccardo’s goal to create 10,000 affordable housing units by 2022.

Residents qualify for affordable housing based on how their income compares to the county’s median income of about $141,000 a year. For example, a two-person household is defined as low-income if they make between $56,650 and $67,980 a year. A single person working a minimum-wage job in San Jose—earning $15.45 an hour—would make about $32,136 per year.

To make the housing affordable to people who live in the area where it is built, the qualifying income should be based on the median income of the neighborhood, said Danny Garza, a resident of East San Jose. For example, the median income of the 95116 ZIP code is $48,805, less than half of the county’s median income.

The city will continue its listening sessions on the Affordable Housing Siting Policy through March.

The Housing and Development Commission will discuss the policy at its April 8 meeting. The Housing Department will present a policy recommendation to the City Council sometime before July.

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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