Welcome to SV@Home’s Policy Rundown, your need-to-know overview of important housing policy actions and developments from the past two weeks.
San Jose Misses Opportunity to Create More Affordable Homes
On Tuesday night, San Jose’s City Council had a big opportunity to make changes to an affordable housing policy that has been on the books for five years but has only produced one affordable housing development. We are disappointed with the Council’s action, which is unlikely to result in the creation of more affordable homes.
The “1.5-acre rule” was created to allow affordable housing development on underutilized commercial sites that met certain criteria, as long as the new development “would not impact the viability of surrounding commercial or industrial properties or businesses.” At the time the new rule was approved, City staff did not define objective criteria to determine “viability,” which rendered the rule useless. In 2018, the City Council directed staff as part of the Housing Crisis Workplan to come back with objective standards to ensure this new rule supported the City’s housing goals. For various reasons, the staff did not come back to the Council until this week.
The new rules, outlined in the staff recommendations, would require in most circumstances that properties be fully vacant for five or more years, and that they be one to three city blocks away from any property that is currently, or may in the future, include industrial uses. The number of potential sites this would open up for development is unknown, but is thought to be quite small. We are pleased that the action taken removed the requirement for commercial uses on these small infill sites. A small win.
We applaud Councilmembers Peralez and Jimenez for standing up and pushing for more reasonable standards, including a three-year vacancy requirement and less restrictive industrial buffer requirements, while protecting sites with established long-term businesses. We also thank the 15 major affordable housing developers and industry professionals who signed on in support of our position that sought common-sense amendments to the policy to make the tool effective. In the end, the City staff position that defending employment lands was a higher priority than affordable housing won out.
The issue of jobs versus housing will continue to be an issue as the City moves forward with its General Plan Four-Year Review, expected to come back to Council in June or August. At that time, the Council will be asked to eliminate ground floor commercial requirements for affordable housing development throughout the City.
We continue to believe that this jobs-first red line has been crippling to the city’s response to the housing crisis, which is causing businesses to pack up and move away and impacting the City’s economic success. SV@Home will continue to advocate for homes for employees—as we add jobs we must add new housing.
Google’s Middlefield Park Proposal in Mountain View begins city review
Last week, Mountain View’s Environmental Planning Commission held its first study session on Google’s Middlefield Park proposal, which would bring up to 1,900 new homes to the city. The mixed-use, transit-oriented proposal is the largest development anticipated in the city’s East Whisman Precise Plan area. Of the 1,900 new homes, 20% will be affordable. The Middlefield Park plan redevelops an existing office park and surface parking areas into a complete neighborhood with new parks, retail, and access to the VTA light rail line.
Importantly, this proposal is fully compliant with East Whisman’s Jobs-Housing linkage policy, which is designed to ensure that housing is built at a rate similar to new commercial construction. SV@Home is looking forward to learning more details about how Google plans to implement the housing and affordable housing components of its proposal. We are fully supportive of reaching the potential 1,900 new homes, 20% of them affordable, which will be a significant step towards meeting the city’s overall goal of 5,000 new homes in East Whisman. The City Council will hold its first study session on Middlefield Park on March 9th.
Google Unveils Updated North Bayshore Proposal with up to 7,000 new homes
Also last week, Google released details about its updated North Bayshore Master Plan, which proposes up to 7,000 new homes, 20% of them affordable. This is the latest chapter in the ongoing efforts to implement the North Bayshore Precise Plan, adopted in 2017, which aims to bring 9,850 new homes to the area. Google’s vision for North Bayshore also includes new parks, environmental improvements, commercial space, and new bike-ped infrastructure. It also aims to address previous community concerns including the siting of a new school.
SV@Home is looking forward to continuing to engage with Google and the City of Mountain View on how it can make these 7,000 new homes a reality. If completed, the affordable housing in this proposal (1,400 new deed-restricted affordable homes!) would double the total amount of deed-restricted affordable housing in the city. Stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to (re-)join our broad coalition of housing advocates who will be working to finally implement the landmark North Bayshore Precise Plan!
Mountain View Updates its Density Bonus Ordinance
Earlier this week, the City of Mountain View unanimously approved recommendations to align its Density Bonus Ordinance with State Density Bonus Law and the creation of a Homeowners Association (HOA) reserve fund to sustain affordability throughout the city. Updates aim to clarify density bonus incentives and processes to make implementation of the ordinance more efficient. Additionally, the creation of an HOA reserve fund is designed to ensure long-term affordability of new low and very-low income for-sale affordable homes with HOAs in the city. The program helps to guarantee that ownership affordable housing remains at the same level of affordability even if HOA costs increase over the lifetime of a development. This is an important mechanism for helping keep affordable housing residents stably housed. Successful implementation of the City’s Density Bonus ordinance will help Mountain View continue to incentivize developments that include significant levels of deed-restricted affordable housing.
SV@Home supported staff’s recommendations in our letter to Council and applauds the City Council for taking the steps necessary to improve new, affordable housing options in Mountain View!
555 W Middlefield in Mountain View Would Bring 329 Homes Without Displacing Existing 402 Homes
On February 23 at 5:30pm, the Mountain View City Council will hold a Study Session for AvalonBay Communities’ 329-unit development which would also provide 49 new deed-restricted affordable homes for very low-, low-, and moderate-income residents in perpetuity. The planned mix of 50%, 65%, and 80% AMI onsite units, located throughout the project, means these homes will help families at a wide range of income levels continue to make Mountain View their home. Further, the project is unique in the sense that it would not displace the 402 existing residents on-site, but rather increase housing options by 329 homes.
Join SV@Home to support increasing housing options near Downtown Mountain View!
Santa Clara County Teacher Housing Proposal Advances in Palo Alto
This week, Santa Clara County shared plans for its 110 teacher housing project at 231 Grant Avenue in Palo Alto. The proposal, led by Mercy Housing and Adobe Communities, will replace office with housing to provide affordable housing opportunities for teachers and school staff. Supervisor Joe Simitian and the local school district have been instrumental champions of the project. The project is well located near transit and amenities and a great example of the County making use of publicly-owned land to serve the local community by building housing. SV@Home supports this project and continues to support the County in its efforts to prioritize other pieces of public land for affordable housing opportunities and look forward to this proposal moving forward.
Palo Alto Housing Policies Put to Test
Earlier this week, Palo Alto’s City Council conducted a prescreening for 290 new homes located at 3997 Fabian Way. The proposal would convert underutilized office to dense residential, including 10% on-site inclusionary homes for very low-income families and a 15% in-lieu fee for a total affordable housing requirement equivalence of 25%. The property is well located near jobs with a plethora of circulation options.
The applicant has worked with the City to adhere to the Palo Alto’s Planned Housing Zone (PHZ) process, which is one of the best tools at the city’s disposal for meeting its housing and affordable housing goals. Given the increased requirements for cities to comply with the next Housing Element cycle, demonstrating that the PHZ program can lead to new housing production is crucial. Working this project through the PHZ process would demonstrate the Council’s commitment to addressing Palo Alto’s housing needs.
While the project is early in the process, SV@Home encouraged the Council to advance the proposal through the PHZ process and take the steps necessary to enable housing to move forward at this site. Council did not vote, but clearly signaled that they were not in favor of the proposal as proposed and would like to see changes that would effectively lower the number of homes this project would produce.
San José and Santa Clara County Approve New Rental Relief Plans
On Tuesday, the San José City Council unanimously approved city staff’s plan to distribute federal rental relief through a hybrid model (Option C in the staff report). The city will administer relief directly to its most vulnerable residents with a focus on extremely low income households, while the state’s portion of the money will be administered by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) according to rules set forth in SB 91, the budget trailer bill passed late last month. Later the same day, the County Board of Supervisors took similar action.
The state’s SB 91 plan stipulates that landlords apply for 80% of their tenants’ unpaid back rent to be covered by the state if they agree to forgive the remaining 20%. Otherwise, their tenants are eligible to ask for the state to cover 25% of their rent, the minimum amount needed to avoid eviction under SB 91.
This means that the federal rental relief funds allocated to the City of San José and County of Santa Clara will be distributed to tenants through the Destination:Home/Sacred Heart Community Services-led system that distributed rent relief funds last year. Stay tuned for an announcement of the re-launching of that program in the coming weeks.
Landlords wishing to receive the 80% of back rent from the state plan should apply through LISC. The state law stipulates that LISC will need to set up a web portal for rent relief by March 15th.
In discussion, San José city staff and councilmembers expressed concern that the state’s plan was inequitable based on the difference between the percent of back rent that landlords and tenants are eligible to have covered. They also expressed concern that the state’s solution would not be workable for tenants who do not have a formal lease or landlord arrangement, who made up 30% of the previous round of rental relief applicants in Santa Clara County.
SV@Home is glad that San José and the County of Santa Clara have decided to replicate the successes of last year’s collaboration between Destination: Home, Sacred Heart Community Services, and their over 70 local partners around the county. We will share further information about the programs upon their launch.