October 1, 2020

Policy Rundown – October 1, 2020


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

Sunnyvale: Moffett Park Specific Plan Update

On Tuesday, the Sunnyvale City Council held a study session on the Moffett Park Specific Plan process where city staff outlined an updated approach to community engagement and the Plan’s development schedule. Notably, the outreach plan includes three topical community workshops and Council study sessions:

  • Session #1: Sea Level Rise and Ecology, November 2020
  • Session #2: Transportation and Infrastructure, December 2020
  • Session #3: Land Use, Economy, Housing + Open Space, January/February 2021

Staff’s plan envisions study sessions in February/March 2021 for Council to provide direction on the land use plans to study as well as a public hearing in April/May 2021 on the overall land use plan and development intensity.

SV@Home joined a coalition of six organizations, including Greenbelt Alliance, BayHAC, SVLG, SPUR, and the Bay Area Council to express our support for staff’s approach and call on Sunnyvale to craft an innovative approach to new neighborhoods, new housing, new jobs, and environmental resilience through inclusive redevelopment at Moffett Park. There is a real opportunity for significant housing and affordable housing at Moffett, with some preliminary land use capacity estimates going as high as 25,000 new homes. SV@Home is looking forward to continuing to collaborate with the Council, city staff, and the full range of community partners to advance a housing vision for Moffett Park that helps Sunnyvale, and the region, meet its affordable housing needs.

Palo Alto Explores Options to Jumpstart Residential Development

Last week, the Palo Alto City Council voted to instruct city staff to bring forward potential modifications to development restrictions on heights, parking requirements, and commercial space requirements that would increase the financial feasibility of housing city-wide. The vote comes on the heels of a staff presentation that showed that housing development throughout the city has been stifled due to these restrictions, and increases to allowable heights, reductions of parking requirements, and revised or eliminated commercial space requirements are all crucial levers to jumpstarting residential construction. The staff report also calculated that, given the current financial and development constraints, Palo Alto would be unable to enact an inclusionary housing ordinance without further damaging the economic feasibility of housing. In a separate, but related, decision, the Council voted to move forward with increased flexibility for developers seeking to build under Palo Alto’s new Planned Home zoning, which gives increased density incentives to developers in exchange for them setting aside at least 20% of the new units as affordable.

SV@Home strongly supports these moves by the City of Palo Alto and applauds the Council for taking these key steps. With the city expecting to see its next RHNA cycle goals increase to over 10,000 new homes at a range of income levels (a 500% increase over the last cycle), Palo Alto needs to take action now to provide incentives to residential development for people of all incomes. We hope the city moves quickly to put forward and adopt the proposed updates to enable housing to move forward throughout the city.

Mountain View Continues Anti-Displacement Policy Development

Last week, the Mountain View City Council held a study session on responses to displacement. The council approved staff’s recommendation to continue working on an acquisition/preservation program for older housing stock and a set of replacement requirements for demolished affordable housing units. This included authorizing staff to continue pursuing potential funding opportunities to support a pilot preservation program.

The council also directed staff to study a legal aid program for tenants and extended the city’s COVID-19 rental assistance program beyond the COVID crisis to continue to aid tenants.

SV@Home submitted a letter supporting staff recommendations and encouraging Mountain View to continue taking a holistic approach to developing and implementing anti-displacement policies. We look forward to continuing to work with the Council, city staff, and community partners to support the adoption of a comprehensive anti-displacement policy framework.

San José Anti-Displacement Update

On September 21st, the San José City Council endorsed a comprehensive, 10-point, multi-year, City-Wide Anti-Displacement Strategy.  The housing department’s proposals and council action followed an extensive public outreach effort and detailed assessment of both the costs and impacts of the different policy options.  The strategy embraced immediate tenant and at-risk homeowner protection responses to the looming potential for evictions and foreclosures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as long-term efforts to preserve existing housing resources and target affordable housing production strategies that are more responsive to vulnerable households in at risk communities. The 10 items in the strategy included:

  1. Support Equitable COVID-19 Recovery and Impact Mitigation Measures for Renters and Homeowners
  2. Establish a Neighborhood Tenant Preference for Affordable Housing
  3. Explore a Community Opportunity to Purchase Program/Ordinance (COPA)
  4. Increase Equitable Representation of Historically Underrepresented Communities on City Commissions
  5. Create a Role for Local Government in State Tenant Protections
  6. Increase Housing Quality and Prevent Code Enforcement-related Displacement
  7. Create a Preservation Report and Policy
  8. Develop YIGBY Land Use – Yes in God’s Backyard
  9. Optimize Urban Villages for Affordable Housing Development and Anti-Displacement
  10. Establish New Sources of Funding for Affordable Housing and Anti-Displacement.

The Strategy was broadly supported by the council, with a number of memos from councilmembers covering reporting systems and policy clarifications being embraced by staff.  Much of the council discussion focused on the exploration of a Community Opportunity to Purchase Program (COPA), which would facilitate opportunities for affordable housing developers to preserve existing, more affordable apartments in the private market through purchase and conversion to more traditional deed-restricted affordable housing.  (A general policy description of this item can be found in Appendix A of the staff memorandum.) In the end it was clear that any future program/ordinance would be crafted to be responsive to the multiple stakeholders and logistical challenges, and staff was given direction to move forward.

Stemming residential displacement will require comprehensive, multi-pronged policies that are both integrated and targeted throughout the county and region. San Jose’s action last week is best understood as the beginning of the process, and joins active policy development efforts in the cities of Mountain View and Palo Alto. While SV@Home submitted a letter  that urged that solutions be approached with a sense of urgency and not be limited to items included in the strategy, we have been an active supporter of the San Jose process to date and look forward to being a part of this next phase.

General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force Update

On September 21st, the San Jose General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force considered city staff’s recommendation to move to Tier II of General Plan’s transportation goals, to reduce the distance people drive in their cars – referred to as Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) – as part of the Greenhouse Gas reduction (GHG) goals of Climate Smart San José. (See also the staff presentation to the task force.) Tier I was adopted by the City Council in 2011 and has faced the challenges of shifting transportation usage away from cars and towards transit, bicycles, and other modes of getting from place to place.  Significant progress has already been made on the policy work for Tier II, which has focused on parking and traffic management, but it is also clear that additional actions will be necessary to achieve established goals by 2040.

The Task Force was very supportive of the move to expand policy solutions to include such items as an updated city-wide and sub-area transportation plans, and shared electric mobility options among others.  The Task Force also recommended that this planning process prioritize the integration of housing and jobs development in close proximity to facilitate walkable and transit focused development.  Additionally, members raised questions about the negative environmental impact of residential displacement stemming from the local housing crisis, as people are pushed into long commutes from other more affordable parts of the region. And, importantly, building more housing that local workers can afford in our already developed urban area, closer to existing jobs centers, will help prevent sprawl and lower vehicle miles traveled (what we commonly call the Jobs-Housing Fit).  SV@Home strongly believes that if we are to solve our housing crisis, it is essential that we make progress towards environmental sustainability goals.

Three Homekey Projects Funded in Santa Clara County!

On June 30, 2020, Governor Newsom announced the $600 million Homekey Initiative, a hotel/motel conversion strategy designed to bring permanent housing for the homeless on line quickly and cost effectively. The Homekey initiative builds on the state’s current COVID-19 emergency housing response effort, Project Roomkey, which has provided state funding to cover the rent at local hotel and motel rooms for more than 14,200 medically vulnerable unhoused people since the beginning of the pandemic. We were happy to see that, as of September 29th, three Homekey projects in Santa Clara County had received funding awards.

  • The City of San Jose has been awarded $14,516,000 to turn a 76-unit property currently operating as a Project Roomkey project into permanent housing.
  • The City of Mountain View will receive $12.3 million to acquire land to site 100 manufactured units that will serve as interim housing with wraparound services and a coordinated exit strategy, more than doubling shelter beds in the city. Overall cost is under $100,000 per unit.
  • Santa Clara County will receive $29.2 million to acquire an occupancy-ready, 146-room property in Milpitas with in-room kitchenettes for permanent residencies.

Learn more about the Homekey Initiative projects in the South Bay and much more, at SV@Home’s Resource Hub!