Affordable housing: a traffic and climate solution for San Jose

Quetzal Gardens in San JoseIn an attempt to address the housing crisis, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has proposed a goal of developing 25,000 new homes -- with at least 10,000 of these (or 40%) being affordable homes -- completed, under construction, or approved by 2022.

TransForm strongly supports this proposal, and we showed up at a recent City Council meeting to demonstrate just how important it is to build affordable housing near transit. We used our GreenTRIP Connect tool to demonstrate the potential benefits if San Jose meets its 40% affordability goal, builds less parking in the new developments than is currently required, and includes strategies like free transit passes and car share memberships for residents.

The projected impacts were profound.

Driving and climate emissions would be 68% below the current county average. Reduced parking construction would save $312 million, which could be used for a number of benefits for residents.

On October 17th, we presented these results to the San Jose City Council and recommended they prioritize staff resources for affordable housing-related policies and actions.

Wait, how’d you do that?

Good question! A lot of people don’t realize that cities can reduce traffic and climate impacts AND save hundreds of millions of dollars through the development of affordable housing with great transportation options. The fact is that well-designed, affordable homes near transit can lead to massive reductions in driving and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions while creating many economic and social benefits. A massive statewide survey found that lower Income households within a quarter mile of frequent transit drove nearly 50% less than those living more than half a mile away.

The closer a household is to transit, the fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT), on average. That is even more true for low-income households. So transit-rich neighborhoods that include low-income housing will have less traffic than those with only higher-income housing.

The San Jose City Council voted to prioritize staff resources to explore a number of strategies to help realize housing-related goals, including:

  • North San Jose Policy Review
    • Take steps to move forward with 4,000 new homes in North San Jose, including 2,400 affordable units.
  • Commercial Linkage Fees
    • Explore the potential for a Commercial Linkage Fee (CLF) to provide a new funding source for affordable housing. A CLF charges commercial developers a fee to support affordable housing.
  • Update the Downtown Zoning Code
    • Revise the zoning code to eliminate minimum parking requirements, establish height minimums, and establish minimum residential densities.
  • Deferred Impact Fees for Housing
    • Consider how to reduce the upfront burden to housing developers by allowing a deferral of payment of fees, or other financing mechanisms that align fees to project revenues.

There were a few housing-related items that the City Council did not prioritize but that TransForm believes are also important opportunities, including updating the city’s Rental Rights Program, facilitating San Jose State student and faculty housing, and aligning zoning with General Plan designations. We will continue to encourage San Jose and other cities to adopt these policies to achieve the best outcomes for affordability and displacement prevention.

If done en masse, affordable transit-oriented development can move the needle on the housing crisis, while also addressing climate, traffic, and economic challenges.

The GreenTRIP Connect tool allows housing developers, policy makers, and everyday citizens to quantify these benefits, and show how they are possible to achieve within each of our communities.

Interested in finding out how increased affordable housing can benefit your neighborhood? Curious to see if affordable transit-oriented development can reduce traffic and climate emissions where you live? Wondering how building less parking can save millions of dollars? Use GreenTRIP Connect!

For an example of how you can use GreenTRIP Connect to advocate for increased affordable housing and transit as well as learn more about TransForm’s work in San Jose, click here.

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.