More Housing Due in San Jose

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

The mayor and members of the San Jose City Council were recently seen in celebration mode:  shaking hands and patting one another on the back after reaching agreement on a price for the sale of a downtown property that will pave the way for a massive Google expansion project.  San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo was particularly effusive about the deal at the time proclaiming that with this project “San Jose is establishing a different relationship with tech.”

Is that so.  The City of San Jose, already tech’s best friend, has a major housing deficit, created by unprecedented job growth over the past four decades, a period during which San Jose must have had a different sort of relationship with tech, Liccardo’s comments would have us believe.  Indeed, what’s come with the electronics renaissance in Silicon Valley – with its job growth, its gleam and its glitter – is a profound demand for housing.

But few Valley communities – including San Jose – have really stepped up to meet the demand.  The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) says while area employment has boomed over the last 40 years San Jose’s housing deficit has grown to over 35,000 units.  How can a region like Silicon Valley get by with such job figures with no place for those jobs to spend the night?

Since the Google expansion is expected to net the company 20,000 jobs, to be located in a campus-like “community” – sprawling over 50 acres downtown near the existing train station – why not simply require Google to provide housing for all of them?  Roughly 20,000 units would be about right.

Alas, that might be too big to ask, even for a city which is so far in the housing hole as San Jose.  Nevertheless, progress is being made in the Valley. A troika – that includes Facebook – recently announced its formation, pledging a half billion dollars for new housing.  That’s about $7.5 billion shy of this new need but it’s a start. And, it may represent the future: job-creators building new housing.

Still, area politicians just see trees, no forest.  “We cannot deny that our community is rapidly changing, and the investment of Google will have a real and direct impact,” said Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco. “We will continue the work on the preservation of the unique character of San Jose neighborhoods, including East San Jose, by mitigating displacement and gentrification while guaranteeing career opportunities for our youth and opportunities for upward mobility.”

That’s a pretty big promise.  Note there is nothing about housing and the need to increase the insufficient stock.  Indeed, it was merely a pledge made by the City designed to quiet critics in the media and elsewhere.  The state, maybe? Maria Noel Fernandez, the campaign director for Silicon Valley Rising and City Council antagonist was well-positioned to be heard on the City’s inadequate housing and crumbling infrastructure needing to be addressed.  But, she punted at the scene.

“We need to know whether Google is really committed to addressing their full impacts on the community through affordable housing, protections from displacement and commitments to family supporting jobs for local residents,” Fernandez said in a statement that initially and rightly was directed at the offender – Google.  But then she retreated by making hollow, unreasonable demands that will never be met.

“(However) we’re glad the mayor and City Council are now finally realizing the need to address the massive impacts Google will have on the city’s housing crisis and its effect on residents through community benefits.”  Big deal. The Council arrived at a price with a giant commercial and industrial enterprise to acquire some land owned by the City.

As things stand now, the issue of housing remains open.  And, as the Google deal moves forward, there soon will be in the region 20,000 new faces with no place for most of them to go at night.  It’s doubtful that such a workforce will be very productive after a while. That should matter to Google.

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