Homes on tree-lined street
November 30, 2021

San Jose Spotlight: San Jose commission to consider dropping Opportunity Housing initiative


Matthew Reed, Director of Policy at SV@Home, supports pivoting from Opportunity Housing to SB 9. “The coalition of folks behind Opportunity Housing have been really pushing SB 9 implementation as the sort of next step solution and letting go of this broader conversation about Opportunity Housing,” Reed said. SV@Home believes that expanding housing opportunities and communities of inclusion will help break down the division of our city by race and income, provide new housing choices and options, and promote environmental sustainability by building in rather than sprawling out. However, ending exclusionary-zoning barriers alone will not make this new housing affordable to lower-income families. We need the City Council to support a separate study of incentives to expand affordability, including both affordable homeownership and homes for rent. This is the remaining piece of the General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force recommendation not addressed by the state law.

BY: Eli Wolfe┃San Jose Spotlight
PUBLISHED:  November 30, 2021 

San Jose lawmakers will soon weigh recommendations on how to implement a controversial state law that changes residential zoning.

On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will discuss recommendations for how to implement SB 9, a new law that effectively ends single-family zoning by allowing homeowners to divide residential properties into two lots that can accommodate multiple units, provided the property meets lot size specifications.

One recommendation is for the city to cease working on a similar local initiative known as Opportunity Housing, which would allow for multiple homes on single-family lots. According to a commission memo, most of the housing types considered by Opportunity Housing are allowed by SB 9, which goes into effect in January.

“That was our main reasoning for the recommendation,” Jerad Ferguson, housing catalyst for San Jose’s Office of Economic Development, told San José Spotlight.

The ones that aren’t included are financially infeasible, such as stacked fourplexes and attached townhouses. San Jose recently held a study session to examine how to carry out SB 9 while complying with local development laws.

Councilmember Dev Davis, one of the most vocal opponents of SB 9, told San José Spotlight she supports the recommendation.

“We need to do all we can to minimize the potential for SB 9 to harm our neighborhoods and our infrastructure,” she said. Davis and other lawmakers have complained SB 9 will harm communities by permitting unchecked development that will alter the character of residential neighborhoods and put strain on roads and sewers.

According to the commission memo, sweeping redevelopment of single-family neighborhoods is unlikely given financial and site limitations. The memo cites a July study from UC Berkeley that found just 5.4% of all single-family lots in the state would be feasible for redevelopment under SB 9. Ferguson said the city’s own analysis aligned with the UC Berkeley study, noting only a small percentage of property parcels will make sense to redevelop under SB 9.

Matthew Reed, director of policy at SV@Home, told San José Spotlight his organization supports pivoting from Opportunity Housing to SB 9. SV@Home is a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing.

“The coalition of folks behind Opportunity Housing have been really pushing SB 9 implementation as the sort of next step solution and letting go of this broader conversation about Opportunity Housing,” Reed said.

The San Jose Neighborhoods for All coalition sent a letter to the city on Oct. 28 urging San Jose to support a separate study of how to expand affordable homeownership and rent in San Jose. The affordable housing recommendation was part of the city’s General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force, which last convened in 2019.

Councilmembers could request that a separate study be completed, since affordable housing is not a recommendation in the Planning Commission memo.

“We do think that it is really important that the council support a separate measure to expand affordability,” Kiyomi Yamamoto, housing policy attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, told San José Spotlight.

Boosting the supply of affordable homes is a critical issue in San Jose, which is the second most expensive place to rent in the United States, and where the construction of affordable housing is severely lagging.

Vince Rocha, senior director of housing and community development for Silicon Valley Leadership Group, told San José Spotlight implementing SB 9 will provide more housing opportunities for first-time home buyers.

“The key metric for implementing staff recommendations is ensuring they are feasible so that new homes are actually built and accessible to workers and families,” Rocha said.

The San Jose Planning Commission meets Wednesday at 5 p.m.