San Jose squeezes more than half of its affordable housing into areas with some of the lowest household incomes in the city.
About 57% of all below-market rents in the city, including some in the development pipeline, are in downtown, central, and east San Jose, a San Jose Spotlight analysis of city data shows. Six boroughs contribute less than 10% to the city’s affordable housing stock. The data published on the city’s open data portal was last updated in October 2020.
The analysis reveals a startling inequality in the distribution of affordable housing in San Jose – an ongoing crisis fueled by the lack of effective measures implemented over the past few decades, say policy makers and supporters. The San Jose metropolitan area is the second most expensive rental market in the country.
San Jose passed a housing dispersion policy in 1989 to distribute affordable housing projects evenly across counties, but the policy had no teeth, District 3 councilor Raul Peralez told San Jose Spotlight.
“It was more of a suggestion,” said Peralez. “So for the next 30 years … affordable housing is still concentrated and over-concentrated in certain parts of our city, and in neighborhoods with lower incomes and more minorities.”
The Peralez district, which includes downtown and the Japantown neighborhood, tops the city’s cheapest housing list with around 4,300 units. It has 59 projects in total, accounting for 22% of the city’s sub-market housing stock.
In central San Jose, District 7 has more than 3,600 units, which is 18% of all affordable rental units in the city. The 29 residential construction projects in the district are generally larger than those in other districts, as 16 have more than 100 units, the analysis shows. Councilor Maya Esparza was not immediately available for comment.
In contrast, District 8, known for its open spaces, hiking trails, and parks, has only 187 affordable units in two housing projects, which make up less than 1% of total affordable housing in San Jose. And District 10 has 578 affordable housing units in seven residential complexes. That is 2.9% of the city’s housing stock, which is below the market price.
Both districts are among the richest in the city. The majority of the neighborhoods in Almaden Valley in District 10 and Silver Creek in District 8 have median incomes in excess of $ 200,000.
District 8 has not added more affordable housing because of “outdated” policies that limit economic and housing growth, Councilor Sylvia Arenas said. The Evergreen Development Policy, originally enacted in 1976 to address flooding and traffic congestion issues, was last updated in 2007 to limit residential development to a pool of 500 units and only allow 35 residential units on each lot, unless development meets certain criteria.
“I support the termination of this policy,” Arenas told San José Spotlight. “The inequalities in the distribution of affordable housing between neighborhoods in San Jose … have historical roots that need to be reversed and are currently contributing to ongoing segregation and resource shortages for low-income families.”
The city is well aware of this problem, said Jeff Scott, spokesman for the San Jose Housing Department. The city council recently updated its housing dispersion policy to bring affordable housing to areas of low poverty and crime, including affluent areas that have a small percentage of affordable housing.
But the city relies on developers to build these projects, added Scott.
“The city can zoning a piece of land for residential development, but construction will only go ahead if a private developer chooses,” Scott told San José Spotlight.
Peralez disagrees, saying that low-income housing projects often fail because residents – and elected officials – are pushed back.
“An elected official could basically kill a project before it was even requested by simply telling a developer, ‘You know it won’t make it,'” said Peralez. “And that developer could turn around and look elsewhere in town.”
Even in districts where affordable housing is being built, low-income units tend to be too concentrated in areas with lower median incomes, as the analysis by the San José Spotlight shows.
For example, in the Spartan Keyes neighborhood of District 3, the median household income is about $ 53,050, about 45% of the median median income for the area. Its census district includes four affordable residential complexes with a total of 490 units.
The disparities are even clearer in District 6, where 3,320 affordable housing units are almost exclusively in low-income areas. Councilor Dev Davis was not immediately available for comment.
For example, the neighborhood nestled between Highway 87 and Alameda Expressway has six sub-market housing projects, or 589 units, the analysis shows. The median household income, according to census data, is about $ 47,636.
Five other projects of 474 units are crammed in areas in and around the Buena Vista neighborhood, with average incomes between $ 75,000 and $ 83,500. That is just over 60% of the median area income for a household with two people.
The neighboring census district that Willow Glen belongs to, with an average income of about $ 128,889, has no affordable housing.
“There is no neighborhood in the city that has too much affordable housing,” Mathew Reed, housing policy manager for Silicon Valley at Home, told San José Spotlight. “Affordable housing is such a pressing need and the people who have that need are spread across the city.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on twitter.