Why council should approve West San Jose housing project

When a new affordable housing development faces opposition, it is often expressed as concerns about building heights or neighborhood character. But this kind of thinking misses the forest for the trees — building more multi-family housing creates new opportunities for middle and low-income residents to live in neighborhoods they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

On​ Tuesday, the San José City Council will consider approving a project at El Paseo de Saratoga that would bring nearly 1,000 much-needed new homes to West San Jose. Located a half mile from my home, this development will transform a struggling mall and parking lot into a vibrant community that includes 149 affordable homes for San Jose residents who need them most. It will also add 3.5 acres of open space with walking/biking paths and is located within walking distance to public transit, retail, restaurants, a grocery store and other amenities.

Building more well-designed, well-located homes like those at El Paseo will make a demonstrable difference for middle- and low-income renters like me. In order to barely afford to be a student here, I had to juggle three jobs at once, working a total of 80 hours per week in addition to my school coursework. Even then, my rent was more than 75% of my income and made it impossible to pay for other necessities such as health care. And the scant housing options I could afford were limited to renting out a living room or sharing a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment with six people. Due to my limited housing options, I was forced to endure domestic violence, homophobia and transphobia from roommates in various homes. While I’ve since graduated and landed a nonprofit job, my rent in West San Jose is still one third of my income. So when I hear opposition to “tall” housing projects, what I really hear is that hard working people like me should not have the same opportunity to live in safe, affordable housing.

There is overwhelming support for bringing new homes to El Paseo from housing and environmental advocates such as Greenbelt Alliance, Catalyze SV, Housing Action Coalition, Bay Area Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and YIMBY Action, together with West San Jose residents who want San Jose to take swift and meaningful action to solve our city’s housing shortage, displacement and affordability crisis. San Jose’s City Council has said year after year that housing affordability and homeless are top priorities. If they are making good on their promise to prioritize housing, they should listen to voters and approve El Paseo without delay.

Ali Sapirman is a West San José resident and affordable housing advocate at the nonprofit Housing Action Coalition.

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