June 3, 2021

Policy Rundown – June 3, 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.

Eviction Moratorium Update

The State Eviction Moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month, triggering the potential for what has long been referred to as the “eviction cliff.” 

Unfortunately, there still is a lack of understanding of how the repayment of back rent will happen, and while funding is available, the timing of distribution is running up against the moratorium expiration. The state-run distribution of rental assistance (landlords and tenants can apply here) has had implementation challenges, including a complicated on-line application process, lack of technical support, and complex coordination between landlords and tenants.  As of this week, while tens of millions of dollars are available, less than 2% of the available funds have reached tenants and landlords, and it is hard for applicants to determine application status. More locally, the coordinated County and City of San Jose rent relief being distributed through the Homeless Prevention System (for information see here) seems likely to be more successful, but has only recently begun taking applications so it will be some time before the assistance makes its way to landlords at scale.

Recent analysis conducted by Policy Link estimates that 37,305 Santa Clara County households have rent debt totaling $173.5 million. Of these, 22,269 are low-income households with a combined rental debt of $84.3 million. Despite the moratorium, 145 families lost their homes to eviction between March and December. This is an underreport, as actual court evictions are always a fraction of those that take place informally.

Both the City of San Jose and the County’s Office of Supportive Housing are stepping up the local response.  Both have acknowledged the continued need for landlord/tenant education, support in the emergency assistance application process, related financial and social services, mediation opportunities, and significantly more legal support. The Board of Supervisors will receive an update at next Tuesday’s meeting and is expected to direct additional funding to both mediation and tenant legal assistance. San Jose is standing up an Eviction Support Center, with broadened outreach efforts to both landlords and tenants, as well a detailed referral network and additional funding for legal assistance.

The State is taking steps to streamline its application process and discussions continue about a further extension of the moratorium. San Jose has begun public meetings with landlords and tenants. Recommendations on the City’s menu of responses is scheduled for the Housing and Community Development Commission Thursday, June 10th at 5:45.  

SV@Home is supporting action in Sacramento to improve the application process, increase payment amounts to both landlords and tenants, clarify the expenses that can be prioritized for coverage, and extending eviction protections until funds can be distributed. We continue to work at the local level to support actions that respond to the range of needs and challenges facing landlords and tenants. We will keep you abreast of changes in the policy landscape and opportunities for advocacy as they become available. 

Legislative Update 

June is a pivotal month on the legislative calendar, and our legislators have been hard at work acting on hundreds of bills, including many important to affordable housing and housing streamlining efforts. All bills must pass out of their house of origin by this Friday or they will die or become two-year bills. Additionally, the legislature must deliver the fiscal year 2021-22 budget to the Governor by June 15th.

On the legislation front, there is some good news and some bad news.

On the bad news front, earlier today Assembly member Luz Rivas decided to pull her bill– AB 71, from consideration this year. AB 71 was an SV@Home priority and would have, among other things, created a new source of funding to address homelessness. We still have until January to get the bill through, so more to come. We are happy that funding will be made available through the budget process to fund housing for our most vulnerable residents, but a more permanent solution is needed.

On the good news front, a number of key bills received support from their respective houses this week and live to see another day, including:

  • SB 9—would promote neighborhood-scale residential development by streamlining the process for homeowners to create duplexes or subdivide an existing lot in residential areas
  • SB 10– would allow jurisdictions to upzone areas near job centers, transit, and existing urban areas to allow up to 10 units without having to go through a lengthy environmental process.
  • AB 215– would subject a jurisdiction to a mid-cycle housing element review when it has not made progress in meeting its regional housing needs or face having its housing element deemed out of compliance.
  • AB 989– would establish an 8-member State Housing Accountability Committee to review appeals of housing projects denied or unreasonably subjected to conditions, with the authority to approve the development if it is determined that the denial or conditions violate the Housing Accountability Act.
  • AB 1174—would make amendments to SB 35 to clarify the requirements of the streamlining process and ensure that developers are able to request a modification to the project if a request is submitted prior to the issuance of the final building permit.

Hearings for bills that made it through their house of origin will be heard in the second house start as early as June 7th.

One of SV@Home’s priority bills– SB 7—already made it to the Governor’s desk and was signed on May 20th. SB 7 is important for San Jose’s Diridon West project, and reenacts the AB 900 Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act through 2025. AB 900 created an expedited judicial review process under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for large, multi-benefit housing, clean energy, and manufacturing projects, provided that they met certain requirements. Importantly, this bill also extends expedited (CEQA) judicial review for small-scale housing developments. 

Both houses met yesterday to finalize the budget and will begin to negotiate any differences with the Governor’s office. Because the budget must be approved by June 15th, and given the requirement that the budget bill be in print 72 hours before the final vote, negotiations must be settled by Friday the 11th. Leaders of the Assembly and Senate came to agreement on a budget package, but there are differences still to be sorted out with the Administration. Both the vision set out by the legislature and the Governor’s May Revise proposal (housing/homelessness section begins on page 105) envision significant funding for housing and homelessness.

Sunnyvale City Council approved the study of up to 20,000 new homes at Moffett Park

Last week, Sunnyvale City Council approved the study of up to 20,000 new homes at Moffett Park. Currently Moffett Park is dominated by office parks and parking lots, but the City of Sunnyvale is planning on transforming the area into an Eco-Innovation District that integrates housing, neighborhood-serving retail, new jobs, ecological improvements, and open space, all along transit lines. 

SV@Home was supportive of Planning Commission and City Staff’s recommendation to study up to 18,500 new homes, as well as a higher number of studied homes, depending on maximum feasibility. City Council passed a formal amendment to increase the number of studied homes to 20,000, which SV@Home believes is an exciting opportunity to provide the City with more options in the future to consider additional housing capacity. SV@Home also provided several recommendations to City Council, including asking to consider an overall affordable housing goal of 20% of all units by providing density and height concessions; exploring a Jobs-Housing Linkage program to ensure that new housing development proceeds at a similar pace to new office development; and exploring an Ecological Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program that would allow the city to provide density and height incentives in exchange for landowners returning and/or restoring sensitive habitats or other ecological resources. With the final plan to study up to 20,000 homes in Moffett Park, City Staff will now begin the critical study period. Future study sessions on policies and findings will cover affordable housing, density and form, community benefits, and more. SV@Home looks forward to continuing to support Sunnyvale’s Eco-Innovation District Vision and advocating for affordable housing in Moffett Park.    

Cupertino Makes Housing News Yet Again 

On Tuesday May 4, 2021, Cupertino’s City Council adopted new density bonus rules (which allow for increased density if proposed developments include affordable units) that are inconsistent with state law. Although the adopted rules exceed the City’s previous 35% density bonus allowance, the proposed 40% density bonus limit does not conform to AB 2345, which requires density bonuses of up to 50% for qualifying housing developments. 

Advocates warned the city in the days prior to the vote that the action would violate state law, and on May 3rd, California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) sent a letter to the City Manager cautioning that adopting the rules could get the city into trouble. While councilmembers understood that there were concerns about the action, they stated that they were unaware of the letter and moved forward to approve the lower percentage. 
City leaders may assert that there is an exception in the law for jurisdictions that have proactively demonstrated a commitment to addressing the housing crisis, however HCD clearly stated in its letter that this exception does not apply to Cupertino.

SV@Home, housing advocates, and developers have called foul regarding the City’s actions and, like HCD, are urging the City to align zoning rules with state law. 

Do you want to see more housing built in Cupertino? The City of Cupertino has begun its public engagement process for the next Housing Element. All cities in California are updating these 8-year housing plans, giving advocates a pivotal opportunity to make meaningful change to our affordable housing landscape. If you live in Cupertino, please take a few minutes to weigh in on the Cupertino Housing Survey to let city staff know how important affordable housing is to you!

San José City Council Unanimously Approves Downtown West and Plans for a Housing-Rich Diridon Station

ICYMI– Last Tuesday the San José City Council unanimously approved Google’s ground-breaking Downtown West proposal, which will bring 4,000 new homes to Diridon Station, 1,000 of them deed-restricted affordable. Additionally, the proposal includes a $154.8m Community Stabilization Fund, which will help counter displacement pressures city-wide.

The San José City Council also unanimously adopted amendments to the Diridon Station Area Plan, which paves the way for 13,519 new homes across the entire Station Area, 25% of which will be affordable to households with a broad range of incomes, including permanent supportive housing.  To reach these goals and realize the City’s priority to prevent displacement in the surrounding area, the Council also approved an Affordable Housing Implementation Plan (AHIP) as proposed by the Housing Department. The AHIP lays out the tools that are needed to produce the affordable homes, preserve existing local resources, and protect tenants from the intense market impact of this plan.

Overall, this was a major win for housing and affordable housing in San José and a major step towards creating the Housing-Rich Station Area that SV@Home and other housing advocates have been fighting for!  But as we look back years from now, the implementation of the affordable housing targets will be an essential measure of whether this was an inclusive, equitable redevelopment. We believe that the collective commitment to these priorities is both clear and sincere, but there is a whole lot of work to do to live up to this commitment.

Our thanks go to the City Council, City Staff, Google, and all of the community members and advocates who helped shape the future of the Diridon Station Area.

While there will still be plenty of work to do to support housing and affordable housing development at Diridon moving forward, last week was a major Houser victory!

Santa Clara City Council will consider approval of the El Camino Real Specific Plan 

After three years of planning, the Santa Clara City Council will consider approval of the El Camino Real Specific Plan at a special meeting on June 15th.  The plan includes an increase in housing capacity of close to 4,000 additional new homes, lowers the income targets for affordable units in market rate developments (inclusionary housing requirements) to 80% of area median income (AMI) from the current policy targeted at 100% AMI, and sets a goal of 20% affordable across the corridor with the expectation that 100% affordable projects will be supported in the plan area. 

The plan also creates important models for redevelopment that make it possible to create a dynamic mixed-use corridor in a time of reduced retail demand. The plan identifies “activity nodes” that concentrate retail and commercial uses, as well as higher density housing, in key areas that are walkable to surrounding neighborhoods and new, medium density residential development. Rather than overburden the entire plan area with ground floor retail requirements, this concentration will both create sustainable commercial activity and lower hurdles for residential development outside the nodes. The focus on a pedestrian friendly approach, which is supported by high-frequency bus service, should be a model to ECR planning up the peninsula.

The staff summary including the complete recommended Specific Plan for the ECR,  was heard by the Planning Commission on May 10th.  A number of issues were raised during the discussion including questions about interface with neighboring single family homes, which has actually been significantly revised in the current plan’s design guidelines that mandate additional setbacks and massing limits.  The other concern was the retention of on-street parking at three sites along the corridor, which may delay implementation of the dedicated bike lane.  A major dimension of the plan is the transition of the street to one that encourages walking and biking, with protected bike lanes and street-scaping.  Getting people out of their cars is essential, and setting this foundation will shape both the near term and long term redevelopment decisions.

SV@Home sat on the Community Advisory Committee for the planning process, and we have worked closely with a coalition of local advocates and organizations – Santa Clara Community Advocates – which includes environmental groups, bike advocates, and housing supporters.  This engagement, which has been active continuously over the last few years, has had a significant impact on the details of the plan.

SV@Home will continue to work with the Santa Clara Community Advocates to support the plan, and advocate for the full removal of on-street parking and the successful implementation in the years to come.  The ECR corridor is expected to be a major part of the Santa Clara Housing Element update being developed in the coming year.