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San Jose Plugs Away at Its Housing Crisis

SAN JOSE (CN) - One week after passing an apartment rent-control ordinance, the San Jose City Council returned to its housing crisis and passed a surplus property policy to increase its inventory of affordable housing.

The policy was modeled on California Assembly Bill 2135 of 2014, the state's Affordable Housing Act. It gives affordable housing developments first right of refusal when land owned by local governments is made available for sale.

San Jose asserted its right as a charter city to exempt itself from the law, and passed its own law with slight modifications.

The modifications include continuing incentives for high-rise rental developments, preservation of open space when park-related properties become available, and a provision encouraging development for moderate-income people and families to buy apartments and condominiums.

"There is not a lot of help coming from the state when it comes to managing resources and assets," said Mayor Sam Liccardo. "I am quite confident the city will prioritize affordable housing, but we should be able to do so free from the rigidities of the state."

Affordable housing advocates took issue with some of the city's departures from state law.

"You need to do a better job of asserting a commitment to affordable housing," said Matthew Reed, with Sacred Heart Community Service. "You are leaving another tool on the table."

San Jose's homeless population has ballooned to 4,000 people, said Julie Quinn of the Silicon Valley Trust.

Many attribute the spike to housing costs. The price of an average one-bedroom apartment is $2,400 per month. The median sales price for single family-homes in Silicon Valley is $700,000, among the most expensive in the nation.

"The housing crisis is a crisis of epic proportions right now," said Pilar Lorenzana-Campo, policy director for [email protected], affordable housing advocates.

Kim Walesh, director of Economic Development for San Jose, said one city-owned property would not be purchased by an affordable housing developer anyway and the city would lose the opportunity to pursue a high-rise rental development which could provide housing for moderate income-earners, such as teachers.

"The cost of the overall development is too high (for affordable housing)," she told the council. "It makes more sense from a good planning standpoint to get a good outcome for downtown and a better development."

San Jose Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand echoed Walesh's sentiments, saying affordable rent allows people to buy more goods and services, be active in the community and attracts more workers, which benefits employers as well.

One woman at the meeting told the council that peopled with extremely low incomes were struggling the most, and that is where the focus should lie.

The council disagreed, voting to adopt the staff recommendation with slight modifications to the state law, with only one dissenting vote.

Affordable housing continues to be a huge issue in San Jose. One week before the meeting, the City Council sat through nearly 12 hours of deliberation over its apartment rent ordinance, agreeing after hearing from hundreds of landlords and affordable housing advocates to cap rent increases at 5 percent per year.

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