This map is a bit dated, given that it is from 2014, but it shows the 95128 area code has a jobs/housing imbalance, like the rest of San Jose, but, at 96.4% is much better than the estimated 80% figure for the “Capital of Silicon Valley.”
This was obtained from the Census Bureau website. Unfortunately, the 2015 data (latest at the time of publication of this post) doesn’t seem to have this feature of showing where people live and work.
It will be her third move in three-years. Unfortunately, for this service worker and the surrounding community, this time the move is 200-miles away to a place where rents are affordable. Her departure, which is way too common in Silicon Valley, will reverberate in subtle ways throughout the community.
No longer will her nieces and nephews have her cheering in the stands. Her sister won’t have her to shuttle the kids to their various activities. There will be a hole in the school cafeteria where a diligent worker made sure everyone had a full stomach. There will be a missing volunteer at the fundraising events to support youth programs. Those blessed by her presence will miss her enthusiasm and good cheer.
Unfortunately, the above scenario, based on a true, unfolding story, plays out every day in Silicon Valley. The issue goes beyond housing affordability, however, as many people move to our beautiful and vibrant area out of college and, once they have kids, they return to their home towns. At the other end of the spectrum, we have seniors who cash out and move to be nearer to their children (who can’t afford to live here) or to a location that better meets their needs. top
Elements of a Solution
“Housing Crisis” seems to be the daily headline. The issue is bigger than housing affordability, as alluded to above, as the crisis is one that threatens the foundation of our community and impacts all citizens of our great valley, regardless of demographic or socioeconomic status.
There is no silver bullet, but the elements that solutions will need to encompass include; affordability and quality, accessibility and vibrancy, and connectivity and mobility.
Affordability is the obvious roadblock to living in Silicon Valley. But, the allure of Silicon Valley quickly fades, when one finds that affordability means sub-par living conditions. Simply put, the quality of the housing is important over the long-term.
Similarly, there is more to life than four walls. Being able to easily access shopping and schools, parks and entertainment options, institutions of faith and social groups are the elements that enrich one’s life and are the threads that bind a community.
Being able to get to a job, doctor’s appointment or school shouldn’t require hours of navigating clogged transportation corridors. Thus, improving mobility, while reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) should be a priority that will improve the quality of life for existing and new residents.
With those principles in mind, the following proposal could be accomplished todaywith cooperation from multiple public agencies, including School Districts, Cities, Counties and the State of California, combined with private partners. Although this proposal is for a specific location, it could be replicated at many of the hundreds of schools in Santa Clara County, creating potentially tens of thousands of new dwellings.
A Proposal to Help Combat Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Community
Del Mar High School, part of the Campbell Union High School District (CUHSD) and located just beyond the borders of the Proposed South Bascom (North) Urban Village Community, is an important asset to the community it serves. With its recent accreditation as an International Baccalaureate school, it is attracting students beyond its borders.
Its contribution to the community extends beyond traditional academic topics, as it serves adult students at night, hosts theater productions throughout the school year, boasts a vibrant athletic program and even rents its facilities to faith-based groups on Sundays. The space is activated well beyond the normal school hours and is conveniently located near a VTA light tail train station.
Still, this approximate 41-acre site could yield much more than it does today. Simply, this is an excellent location to add a mix of retail and office and housing for teachers, staff and others in the community and would enhance the South Bascom (North) Urban Village.
“Teachers Village is transforming former parking lots into a sustainably-designed (LEED-ND) dynamic new neighborhood that offers opportunities for teachers, students, professionals and visitors to live, work, shop, eat and learn.”
The California legislature understands the importance of this sort of development, as they passed, in September 2016, the Teacher Housing Act of 2016 (SB-1413) which, “aims to create affordable housing for teachers and school district employees by utilizing land owned by school districts for development of income-restricted housing.”
The method for allocating residential units would have to be determined, but the goal would be to create a diverse community that would include teachers and school staff and others such as seniors, city workers [See the “Adopt a Cop” proposal] and people in the private sector.
There would be a huge opportunity for the creation of common-use, public facilities, such as a library, pool, public meeting rooms, community garden, day-care space, recreation equipment and park structures that could be used by both the school and the community.
Another benefit to building housing on school property is the potential for sharing the school’s broadband connection. Residential use of the Internet will have peak requirements later in the day compared to the school, meaning the size of the Internet connection to the campus will probably not have to change. The cost of providing Internet to the residential and commercial customers then could be directly related to the marginal costs of bandwidth, which should allow for lower access costs for the residences than traditional approaches [note, this model was used with a local school district and youth baseball league to add security camera monitoring to the latter’s fields that are on school property].
The low-cost bandwidth would allow for bundling of Internet with unit rentals, removing both cost and billing challenges that were identified as the two biggest barriers to broadband adoption in the aforementioned Digital Inclusion Strategy Report.
More importantly, the mixed-use approach, anchored by community programs and broadband, would activate the campus 24 hours a day, yielding a safer campus. At the same time, it would provide affordable housing for teachers and staff, reducing their Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), which is important to meeting State environmental goals.
By mixing elements of retail into the project, along with the proximity to transit, it would be possible to create a village that eliminates car ownership and its associated costs for many of its residents. More importantly, it would be a place where people move at human-scale, by walking or biking, creating chance interactions that often form the basis for relationships and a stronger community. top
But School Districts Aren’t Land Developers – Couldn’t It Bankrupt a School District?
In an ideal world, a mixed-use project, such as what is suggested above, could be financed on its own merits, as that way it would allow public monies to be stretched further. With proper management, it could even be a net revenue generator for the school district.
For illustrative purposes, Panoramic Interests, a San Francisco developer, has a financing model whereby they build a module-based apartment building over a public parking lot, effectively making use of fallow air-rights. Like modular buildings that schools routinely install, Panoramic’s construction process is fast compared to traditional approaches and only requires 8 to 11 months. A high-level view of the financial model is depicted at this linkand suggests a monthly cost for the construction and maintenance of the exterior of the building to be $1,000 per month.
The Panoramic model assumes a third-party service provider manages tenants, the interior of the building and works with third-party agencies, as needed, to provide rent subsidies. Assuming this 3rd party took a 20% commission for these management services, this would mean an average rent of $1,200 ($1,000 from Panoramic plus $200 for the service provider), which is 50% of the approximate $2,460+ per month average for a 1-bedroom apartment in San Jose.
It is important to note, that these would be new, fully furnished homes with high-quality fixtures, as seen in this video. These units would have broad appeal, regardless of socio-economic status. At an unsubsidized price of $1,200 per month, this would require an income of $48,000 to ensure rental to income ratio of less than 30%, which is a common metric to gauge affordability. One potential advantage the higher-density, mixed-use urban village approach would have is that it would be possible for a tenant to ditch their car, potentially saving thousands of dollars per year in mobility costs (AAA estimates $8,469 in costs per year for the average car).
Assuming a $1,200 rental price to cover costs (the effective rent might be lower for individuals who qualify for subsidies), a certain number of units could be rented directly at that price, while the rest could be rented at market-rate, generating a net-positive cash-flow for CUHSD. Additional revenue could come from businesses co-existing on the first floor of such a development.
Beyond providing quality housing at affordable rates at a profit, there are other more difficult-to-quantify benefits, such as having a space that is activated 24 hours a day, every day.
If CUHSD wants to make a financial investment instead of relying on a purely private financing approach, there are multiple sources of public monies available both to seed such a project as well as help maintain it once it is launched. In some of the cases, this might mean simply improving the value of existing spending through new relationships between disparate public agencies.
In addition to traditional federal and state low-income housing credits, here are some examples of public monies that could potentially be leveraged:
City park fees – new developments of a certain size pay into a park acquisition fund. Land is often the most expensive and difficult part of adding parkland. If a modular high-rise were built above a parking lot, then, at a minimum, a micro-park and/or agrihood would enhance the value of the high-rise and the school, as well as provide a valuable addition to the community. The money that would normally be needed to purchase the land, could instead be invested in the building or put in a dedicated park maintenance fund. Another synergy could be maintenance of the park. Since it is on school grounds, the school district could continue to maintain it with the city paying them a maintenance fee for this new public park. Since the school would normally be maintaining that area, the marginal costs of maintenance would be lower than the city maintenance, so it could be a win-win. For instance, the City of San Jose Parks Recreation and
Beyond financing, a huge benefit of the school district embarking on such a project is a huge reduction in time-to-market compared to a project requiring city permitting (granted there might be some local permitting required, but it would be a fraction of normal requirements).
As an example, Campbell Union School District will mostly likely make the decision to expand Monroe Middle School by 200 units at the February, 2018 CUSD board meeting. The new buildings will be ready by August for the 2018/19 school year, thanks to modular construction and streamlined permitting. That is the kind of speed we need to build the housing stock necessary to meet the demands of Silicon Valley’s workforce.
It’s 6:55 A.M. and Kerry has overslept from staying up too late with friends after the weekly Sunday Night Swing Dance event at the Del Mar Manor community room. It’s not a problem, as she has still has time to eat a piece of fruit she had picked a day earlier from the on-site agrihood and drink a strong cup of joe from the downstairs coffee shop prior to starting her peaceful 5-minute walk to work.
As she opens the door to her Del Mar High School office, she feels surprisingly refreshed for a Monday morning. She even has a few moments to reflect on the decisions made by the CUSHD and others that changed her life for the better;
She was pleased that local leaders, with the help of a group like the Plus Leadership Initiative associated with Cal Berkeley, broke down the silos that separated planning efforts. Combined, they were able to provide much greater public benefit than projects completed in decades past.
As CUHSD redeveloped the school they replaced the one-story, spread out wings of classrooms from the 1950s with buildings of two and three stories. Not only did this make it easier for students to get to their classes, it also opened land for creative configurations of residential and commercial businesses that made Kerry’s daily commute feel like she was traversing a small town.
School security was also improved, because, the taller buildings, meant fewer ingress points that were easier to secure than a campus where every classroom had a door to the world.
Instead of spending money on fencing off the campus, that money was invested in making it a desirable and safe, community attraction.
The City of San Jose, working closely with VTA and its private partners, extended bike-share and electric-scooter-share programs to Del Mar, as well as autonomous, electric and accessible shuttle transport giving low-cost mobility options that allowed Kerry to sell her car. She was able to divert money, she once spent on gasoline, maintenance and insurance, into a retirement savings account.
The broadband connection allows the on-site nurse to communicate with Kerry’s doctor at Good Samaritan meaning the doctor visit that would take two-hours in traffic can now be done in 15-minutes during her lunch hour at the on-site medical center.
Kerry’s new-found senior friends, who live on her same floor, have been a great help around campus. Her friends have been entertained at the high school sporting events, while the athletes enjoyed performing in front of larger and very appreciative crowds. The students are learning from these seasoned citizens, while the seniors feel like they are part of the community again.
She realizes that they indeed had built not just housing that is affordable, but a community where all are welcome.
The following are relevant links referenced above:
With land at a premium in Santa Clara County, we need to better utilize existing public land. It should be possible to produce housing that is more affordable on public land than in locations where the land has to be acquired from a private entity. When that land intersects with areas that could potentially have good transit options, such as an expressway, it is even better.
An example of a strip of underutilized land that should be further explored for development are the air-rights above San Tomas Creek, between Williams and Hamilton. The air-rights are presumably owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District which has been investigating ways their properties can be utilized to help ameliorate the county’s affordability and homeless problems, .
By adding housing and associated open space in the form of trails, plazas and parklets, the exposed concrete channel would be covered, making the entire strip much more attractive than at present.
Funding for such a project could come from multiple sources, including monies from measures passed for open spaces, homelessness and, perhaps, even AB32, the cap-and-trade carbon tax program.
This approach. where a concrete platform covers public land, in this case a creek, is described by Patrick Kennedy of Panoramic Interests in this interview (note, the images of the modular micro-houses are courtesy of Panoramic Interests). He suggests that using a modular technique, high-quality housing could be built relatively fast and at lower-cost than traditional stick-built housing.
Note, on April 26th, 2017, I sent the following message in an email to the board of the Campbell Union High School District with the idea of “capping” parking lots above schools to provide onsite housing for teachers and staff. This would reduce VMT, while providing eyes and ears at schools 24-hours per day. This kind of continual use would allow the schools to be opened to the community, instead of hidden behind metal fences as they are now.
April 26th, 2017 Message to Campbell Union High School District Board
I would like the district to investigate the idea of using its underutilized land for affordable housing for teachers and staff.
An example of a developer that can build relatively low-cost housing above an existing car parking lot (e.g. could be in the front or back of Del Mar) is seen in this video interview:
Lastly, I am the Vice President of the Winchester Neighborhood Action Coalition (WNAC). Our goal is to use innovation to improve the quality of life in the area bounded by Hamilton, San Tomas, Hedding/Pruneridge and 17/I-880. We would love to be able to discuss these types of things directly with the district.
Visions of Life in the Year 2040 Along the Winchester Boulevard corridor between Hamilton and Hedding