April 9, 2021

Policy Rundown- April 8, 2021


Welcome to SV@Home’s Policy Rundown, your need-to-know overview of important housing policy actions and developments from the past two weeks.

Coalition steps up effort to get housing built in North San José

Last Friday, SV@Home joined San Jose Mayor Liccardo, City Councilmember Cohen, and a coalition of housers in a letter to the City Manager of Santa Clara calling for the Santa Clara City Council to agendize a discussion at the Santa Clara Council to move forward with housing in North San José, which has not seen new housing development in nearly a decade.

The North San Jose Development Policy envisions 32,000 new homes in a 600-acre area now largely occupied by low-density employment uses. When the policy was adopted in 2005, the Council included development triggers that required that certain targets for employment uses be met before building more housing, breaking up the Area into four phases of 8,000 new homes. The first phase of development was fully allocated years ago and all units are built and occupied.

In 2018, the Council moved to open up North San Jose for new housing development. However, it ran up against opposition from the City of Santa Clara, which has long opposed San Jose’s plan for phasing traffic and road improvements in the area. It isn’t clear that there is an immediate path forward, but the importance of housing integrated with all of the existing and planned jobs located on both the Santa Clara and San Jose sides of the border, should be an open discussion in both cities.

There is also the issue of affordability. The challenge and the opportunity of North San Jose has long been its legacy requirement – from RDA days — that 20% of the 32,000 housing units, or 8,000 homes, be developed as affordable.  In the first phase of development, which took off in the recovery from the Great Recession, that requirement wasn’t met.  Of the initial 8,000 units developed, only 7% – 560 – were affordable.  This left an unmet obligation of 1,040 affordable homes that needed to be made up in future phases, on top of the 20% affordable requirement for all new development.

To its credit, in 2018, when opening North San Jose back up for housing production was added to the Housing Crisis Workplan by the City Council they acknowledged the shortfall.  Council directed staff to develop policies to ensure that the missing affordable units were built as part of the next round of development and not “pushed out to a later phase,” and that would tie the distribution of market rate allowances to the production of these affordable units.  It was clear that realizing these goals would require both on-site inclusionary requirements and proactive efforts to enable 100% affordable projects.

Since then, state laws have changed, the City of Santa Clara is fighting progress, and San Jose staff have yet to bring policies back to the council to ensure that the affordable homes are realized.  North San Jose needs housing to balance its jobs and create the synergies that get people out of their cars and keeps areas vibrant in the evenings and on the weekends, and Downtown needs new homes an easy light rail trip away from the tens of thousands of new jobs being planned for downtown.  This is too important not to reach agreement, and the affordable homes must be integrated into any final plan.

San José City Council Receives Update on Anti-Displacement Strategy

On Tuesday, March 30th,  the San Jose City Council received a status report on the Residential Anti-Displacement Strategy, adopted by Council in September of 2020.  Housing Department Staff walked through the range of steps taken to keep people in their homes during the COVID 19 pandemic, including data collection efforts focused on surveys of both smaller landlords and vulnerable tenants.  Despite massive efforts locally through the pandemic to date, including the complex system built to distribute rental assistance, it is clear that significant challenges lie ahead as past rent comes due and the State eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of June.

The report was heard concurrently with an update on the Neighborhood Tenant Preference and the Anti-Displacement Tenant Preference Ordinance, which is moving forward with State Legislation SB 649, introduced by Senator Dave Cortese (D-San José), even as city staff continue to work with the state Department of Housing and Community Development on ways of structuring the different policies to be in compliance with fair housing laws. SV@Home is a supporter of SB 649, which supports greater access to affordable housing for people at risk of displacement, and will look for ways of bringing local housing advocates into the process as the bill moves forward in Sacramento.

The Housing Department also announced the formation of Anti-Displacement Community and Technical Advisory Committees, which are beginning to meet to discuss city efforts on the strategy list, and to move forward on exploration of a Community Opportunity to Purchase Program (First Right of Offer to Purchase), which would require owners of small apartment buildings to notify local community serving organizations that are potentially interested in purchasing and preserving these properties, ahead of a sale. SV@Home is a supporter of these policies and is pleased to have been invited to participate in both of these committees. We look forward to having more to share on these efforts in the coming months.

Under this item, the City Council also approved the addition of a seat on the Housing and Community Development Commission (HCDC) for a commissioner with lived experience in homelessness. This was a significant step for the commission and highlighted the new acceptance and importance of expanding equitable representation on City Commissions.  One new voice will not address all the gaps in representation and the value that broadened perspective will bring to policy and planning issues, but this was an important step towards these ends, and was strongly supported by the City Council.

Sunnyvale Discusses the Potential for a Housing-rich Moffett Park

Last week, the Sunnyvale City Council held its latest study session on the Moffett Park Specific Plan area. City staff presented their updated assessments of potential land use options as well as some preliminary ideas from major land owners (the recording can be viewed here). The latest analysis of a “mixed scenario” of uses for Moffett Park envisions the potential for 16,000 – 20,000 new homes in the area, alongside significant new office development, neighborhood-serving retail, open space and parks, bike-ped corridors, and other ecological improvements. Sunnyvale staff prepared a concept that includes up to 124 developable acres where residential uses could be possible, concentrated in mixed-use activity centers near existing transit and transportation infrastructure.

Council reactions to this level of housing in Moffett Park have generally been positive, with some differing opinions over the amount of housing that the city should ultimately consider. However, overall the Council sounded favorable to many of the concepts that staff presented. Environmental advocates raised some concerns regarding development that is too close to the Bay as well as voiced their support for significant ecological community benefits.

SV@Home joined local housing advocates including Liveable Sunnyvale, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and Greenbelt Alliance to support a housing-rich vision for the proposed Eco-Innovation District. We believe that the staff-presented “mixed scenario” of 16-20,000 new homes would be in line with the City’s overall goals of creating a vibrant community that centers equity and environmental principles in its planning and design.

The Sunnyvale City Council is slated to vote on land use alternatives for further study in May. In addition to expressing our strong support for the city to study up to 20,000 new homes, SV@Home will push for an overall affordability goal of 20%, which can be made possible through creative incentives and policies. Stay tuned for more information about how you can make yourself heard on this plan that will shape Sunnyvale’s future.

Next Monday: Tell Palo Alto it needs to enable new housing to move forward!

Last year, the Palo Alto City Council adopted a new housing policy, called Planned Home Zoning Ordinance (PHZ), which was designed to increase housing production in the City to help achieve its Housing Element objectives while also setting clear affordability standards. Unfortunately, despite good faith attempts by developers to bring forward new housing proposals, the Council has yet to give approval to new housing projects.

Housing projects like Fabian Way that have worked with the City and gone through the PHZ process are still finding barriers to housing development even after meeting the City’s requirements. Now the new Council is looking to revisit the policy with the perspective that somehow PHZ might actually be too enabling to developers and that Palo Alto should actually tighten its restrictions on new housing proposals. If the city is struggling to build much-needed housing and affordable housing, how will increased restrictions help?

Want to get involved? Sign on to Palo Alto Forward’s petition to encourage the Council to improve the effectiveness of the PHZ ordinance to advance housing and join Palo Alto’s Council Meeting Monday April 12th at 7:15pm to speak on Item 11 and let Council know to make the PHZ program more amicable to housing, not less.