February 13, 2016

San Jose Mercury News: San Jose needs affordable housing to sustain its economy


Kevin Zwick, CEO of the Housing Trust Silicon Valley and board member of SV@Home, writes about the need for San Jose to prioritize increasing affordable housing in order to sustain its economy and presents four solutions that would encourage affordable housing opportunities without needing city funding.

See the original story at the San Jose Mercury News.

San Jose needs affordable housing to sustain its economy

The challenge for cities updating their general plans is to balance the needs of today with the anticipated issues of the future.

In 2010, when San Jose developed its 2040 Plan, the Great Recession dominated every conversation. It was hard to think beyond finding solutions to high unemployment, business failures and cutbacks to core city services and instead to speculate about how the economy might rapidly change and cause other problems.

But that is what happened. Once again, we’ve seen Silicon Valley lead an economic recovery for the Bay Area and the state. Finding jobs for people is no longer the dilemma. It’s finding places for workers to live within a reasonable commute and at a rent or purchase price they can afford.

Now we are working on recommendations for what San Jose should envision for 2040. From my perspective, our future is dependent on housing, housing, housing.

Without housing, job growth will be stalled because companies will not be able to recruit the best and brightest. Without affordable housing, the people we need to keep our community running, but who will always have paychecks in the low or modest range, will not be able to live here. And without providing permanent supportive housing to our homeless population, we will never be able to get people off the street.

Fortunately, there are four ways that the 2040 General Plan could significantly encourage affordable housing opportunities in San Jose, and none requires city funding.

1) Put deed-restricted affordable housing projects in the city’s planned urban villages on a fast track. It is increasingly difficult for affordable housing developers to find land and capital. If all the elements are in place for a viable project, the city should give it top priority, just as it does commercial developments that fall within planning guidelines, and allow it to move forward regardless of when the village overall is proposed to be built.

2) Make affordable housing an acceptable use for any parcel of land that is less than 2 acres, even if it is not currently zoned for housing. This would be similar to the discretionary alternate use zoning policy that San Jose had in place many years ago and would help affordable housing developers compete with commercial developers for property priced lower than parcels set aside for housing.

The city should also allow affordable housing on other public agency owned land, even if it is not zoned for housing.

3) Encourage development of high-density, market-rate housing. This provides a double benefit: It generates housing impact fees to build affordable housing, and it is a positive contributor to the city’s General Fund. Residential developments were a drain on city resources when housing was sprawling single-family and low-rise townhome neighborhoods. But a recent fiscal analysis found that compact residential developments generate more revenue to the city than the cost of services for them.

4) Require that any time low-income housing is displaced, such as by closing mobile home parks, there must be a one-to-one replacement plus an additional 25 percent of new affordable housing in the new development.

If we want to keep our economy strong and sustainable, we must pay as much attention to housing, especially affordable housing, as we do to adding jobs. To add a sufficient quantity of affordable housing so that our residents can live closer to work and avoid homelessness, San Jose needs to take a broad, long-range view of the jobs-housing balance and give both equal attention.

Kevin Zwick is CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, a board member of SV@Home, and a member of the San Jose 2040 General Plan Update Task Force.