The Mayor of San Jose and housing advocates talk about housing construction after the pandemic

The real estate crisis in the region is not going away even after the pandemic, but proponents are looking for solutions.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and affordable housing executives met for a panel discussion on Friday. The five-member panel discussed topics such as the situation in the housing market, how workers can contribute to affordable housing, how more affordable housing can be created, how families can be protected from displacement and home ownership for low-income residents and people of color.

The best way the region could solve the housing crisis is for the government to “get out of the way,” Liccardo said.

“There is simply not enough public money,” said Liccardo and advocated for denser housing in the region. “We still have to rely on one market.”

The affordable round table included [email protected] Chairman Kevin Zwick, head of Morado Consulting, Teresa Alvarado, Kim-Mai Cutler from the venture capital firm Initialized Capital, Rachel Massaro, vice president of the local think tank joint venture Silicon Valley, and Ahmad Thomas, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Real estate prices skyrocketed in 2020 and the demand for affordable housing also increased. However, actual construction of affordable units in the region is well behind the timeline of the county’s 10-year plan to build 4,800 units. District data show that 2,969 apartments for construction are being financed as part of an affordable residential loan. So far only 217 are occupied.

Although the proportion of affordable housing has risen sharply in every housing project that comprises more than 1,500 residential units from June 2019 to June 2020, the figures for 2020 are still below the highest level of affordable housing in 2002.

“We can offer solutions on the private sector side, but we really need the private sector and the communities, including the communities, to just do the basic inventory building work,” Cutler said. “These are not brave ideas, these are obvious ideas.”

A table of newly approved, affordable housing in Silicon Valley. Image courtesy of the Silicon Valley joint venture.

The region has been trying to find creative ways to build more housing, including approving additional housing units in San Jose, prefabricated tiny houses provided by Santa Clara County, and researching Opportunity Housing, a policy which enables the division into single-family residential areas.

“We need to look at all of our policies and practices,” Alvarado said. “How can we think about the systemic racism and classicism that creates the disproportionate opportunities and results, and how are we all going to break down these barriers?”

The Silicon Valley joint venture presented data showing large inequalities in the standard of self-sufficiency, the amount of income a working family needs to meet basic needs, including housing. Latino residents in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties are 57% more likely to be below self-sufficient standards, while Asia-Pacific islanders and whites are 26% and 18% more likely to live, respectively.

“We recognize that having a safe place to call home is of vital importance for creating stability and building prosperity,” said Zwick.

The data presented on Friday shows standard percentages for self-sufficiency in different categories. Image courtesy of the Silicon Valley Joint Venture.

While San Jose City Council approved the use of Grandma units as of 2019, it hasn’t passed an ordinance on opportunity housing, a proposal that would allow developers to build multi-family homes in areas reserved for single-family homes only. The policy has been criticized by single-family homeowners who fear it could worsen traffic and parking in their neighborhood. However, supporters say the city needs to build denser neighborhoods in order to create more housing.

While the panelists agreed in some cases, they shared different opinions on housing density. Liccardo offered denser housing as a solution, but only in certain locations in San Jose.

“It makes a lot of sense that we are looking at upgrading single-family homes,” said Liccardo. “My personal belief is that it makes a lot less sense if we move further and further away from basic services and transit.”

The economic impact of the pandemic has hit residents hard: Thousands will not return to work after COVID, which will cause some residents to struggle to find an apartment. The city has taken some measures to safeguard jobs after the pandemic, such as the proposed joint return regulation requiring employers to reinstate hospitality workers lost during the pandemic. The proposal was on the Council’s agenda in April and last week but was postponed to an upcoming meeting on Tuesday.

“The tech economy is doing well and the tech economy is thriving … but there’s a lot more to this region than just tech,” said Massaro. “Those of us who live here know that Silicon Valley residents are struggling. The pandemic made it worse. “

According to a study by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, around one in three tenants in 2020 was “not sure” whether they would pay a rent or whether they had already deferred payments.

“There is far more private capital than projects ready to be shoveled that will be ready in the near future,” said Ahmad Thomas, the president and chief executive officer of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, who advocated more housing policies on existing buildings.

The event on Friday is part of [email protected]The Affordable Housing Month series, where the organization hosts forums for local residents who want to learn more about affordable housing. Click here to learn about future events, including this news organization’s discussion of Opportunity Housing.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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