Silicon Valley Housing Crisis Examined at Symposium in San Jose City Hall

 In Real Estate

Regionalism, CEQA, community opposition to density and other issues were on the menu of items discussed Thursday at the “Housing 2.0: Reimagining the Housing System in Silicon Valley” symposium held at San Jose City Hall.

The event, organized by the Knight Foundation and other groups, featured three panel discussions with government officials, developers and nonprofit heads.

The first panel, moderated by TechCrunch journalist Kim-Mai Cutler, focused on the lack of regional housing policies as well as the lack of funds to build affordable housing.

San Mateo County has a program called 21 Elements, which facilitates coordination between its 20 cities and county government when the Association of Bay Area Governments hands out housing unit requirements every seven years. Through the program, cities can trade different unit allocations with each other.

The Cities Association of Santa Clara is currently exploring setting up a similar program, said Executive Director Rania Mohsen.

There is still no enforcement mechanism to compel cities to actually build the housing units they’re allocated by ABAG, and Mountain View Director of Community Development Randy Tsuda was pessimistic about the chances that cities with diverse interests would willingly coming together to make real change.

“Without some mandate from the state or a regional body, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to get a regional housing policy in the Bay Area,” he said.

Tsuda added that talk of regionalism and housing equity can divert attention from the need of cities taking a look at their own policies and making sure they’re fulfilling their own housing needs.

Ken Kirkey, planning director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, suggested the Bay Area should raise its own funds for housing needs, similar to how counties raise money for transportation through tax measures.

But Tsuda suggested a different funding source.

“I really see the need from the private sector side to create an endowment for below market-rate housing.”

KQED radio host and reporter Rachael Myrow moderated the second and third panels.

One topic of discussion was community opposition to affordable housing and higher-density projects in their neighborhoods.

Sand Hill Property Co. Managing Director Reed Moulds talked about his experience leading that company’s Hills at Vallco project in Cupertino, which would transform a decrepit mall into a mixed-use development of homes, retail, offices and parks. Sand Hill has submitted signatures for an initiative to approve the project that would appear on Cupertino’s November ballot.

“As a developer, you need to roll up your sleeves and talk to the community,” he said. “It’s not just talking to city council anymore … you’ll have too many surprises if you don’t get out there and talk to everybody.”

Moulds said those discussions shaped the community benefits the company included in the project, including reserving 20 percent of the 800 units for seniors, education and nonprofit spaces and $40 million in “net benefits” to the local school district.

“It all starts with the schools,” Moulds said.

Jan Lindenthal from affordable housing developer MidPen Housing agreed.

Lindenthal said a common barrier to getting affordable housing built in a community is residents’ belief that children from lower-income households will degrade local schools, an opinion she found offensive.

“Why are you joining those things?” she asked.

Architect Daniel Parolek provided ideas about how to make relatively dense development acceptable in single-family neighborhoods.

In a slideshow, he showed a brick structure that could have been a large single-family home, similar to other houses in the neighborhood. Instead, the building was a four-plex that had a density of 72 units per acre.

Parolek, a principal at Opticos Design, coined the phrase “Missing Middle Housing” to describe the undersupply of units for middle-income households. He compared current planning and zoning practices in most cities to polaroid cameras. He said policies should be reviewed both to match the reality on the ground in cases where density already exceeds zoning restriction and to reflect current needs.

Around a dozen homeless and renter advocates showed up to the meeting, many with signs related to displacement issues.

Rent control and displacement were not topics of discussion, except for a passing reference for Kirkey of the MTC, when he said both the “histrionics” of rent control advocates and the dogmatism of supply siders were not helpful to finding solutions.

“What is your answer to displacement, Mr. Histrionics?” Shaunn Cartwright, a San Jose housing activist, yelled out to Kirkey from the crowd. Kirkey did say that he thought rent stabilization was appropriate in some communities, and Cutler tried to engage with Cartwright briefly, but the issue was not discussed further.


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