SV@Home Poll: San Jose voters support the Opportunity Housing Initiative, want duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes

With Silicon Valley’s housing issues in full focus, a recent poll comissioned by SV@Home indicates increasing support for the Opportunity Housing Initiative, San Jose’s unique term for allowing duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes across the city’s neighborhoods. As this movement continues to build steam, opponents are also gaining traction with local neighborhood associations joining forces to push back.

According to the new poll of surveyed registered voters in San Jose released by affordable housing advocacy group San Jose Neighborhoods For All, 56% support changing the current single-family zoning to allow opportunity housing. The EMC Research-run study surveyed 412 registered voters through phone, email or text in several languages to get its sample. 89 percent of those surveyed ranked building more affordable housing that is affordable a six or higher out of ten, with half of those indicating the issue is ‘extremely important’.

85 percent of survey respondents indicated that addressing racial inequality is an important priority, with nearly half ranking the issue as ‘extremely important.’ Four out of five people reported they were concerned about friends and families’ ability to find affordable housing.

In October, the San Jose City Council will review recommendations from the City’s General Plan 4-Year Review Task Force, as well as staff recommendations and a summary of public comments as it considers initial steps toward developing a policy that allows for opportunity housing across all single family neighborhoods. The research and analysis process is expected to take some 18 months. Initial next steps include:

  • Conducting robust citywide community engagement,
  • Studying incentive to include units at affordable or moderately-priced levels,
  • Developing tools to minimize displacement risks, and
  • Proposing strategies to preserve historic areas.

The poll was endorsed by over two dozen organizations who signed on the endorsement statement for the San Jose Neighborhoods for All campaign.

“Once common in San Jose, these homes have been prohibited over the last few decades, even as we have faced a shortage of new homes and rising housing costs, pricing more families out of the city. Opportunity Housing typically creates more affordable housing by design, since units are usually smaller than a single-family home,” reads the San Jose Neighborhoods for All website.

According to the US Census Bureau, half of San Jose’s population occupies 94% of the city’s single-family residential areas, leaving the other 50% of residents densely occupying the remaining 6% of multifamily zoned land.

Advocates say the rental and for-sale housing prices in San Jose at the top end of Bay Area’s pricey market, exacerbate the issue. For example, according to The San Jose Spotlight, a renter would need to earn over $100,000 per year to afford a typical, market-rate two-bedroom apartment. A homebuyer would need to earn more than 2.5X that amount to buy a median-priced single-family home.

Opposition groups like Families & Homes San Jose are gathering force as well, with more than 17 local neighborhood associations representing eight of the city’s 10 council districts signed on so far to the coalition. The Willow Glen Neighborhood Association was the first to formally oppose the effort with a position paper last year, and launched its own petition for San Jose residents to express their desire to preserve single family zoning.

Opponents assert that opportunity housing will change the very character that gives single family neighborhoods their value; that they will make parking more difficult, increase taxes and cause more traffic. They advocate for continuing to build housing units in the densely populated multi-unit housing residential areas to consolidate transportation, which benefits the environment and community. And, they stress the importance of giving voters a direct voice in any final decision that would lead to universal re-zoning of existing single family neighborhoods. “This proposal, if passed, would be irreversible since state law prohibits down-zoning once a parcel has been up-zoned,” the website states. 

The group also challenges one of SJN4A’s key characterizations of the city’s housing stock, citing research from the Manhattan Group that shows San Jose single family detached homes comprise just 53 percent of the County’s total housing inventory.