Everyone who works a full-time job should have an opportunity to afford living in San José. Yet the cost of housing in San José is so expensive that the rental price of a studio apartment here could pay for a three-bedroom apartment located elsewhere in the country. Families on single incomes struggle to establish roots in San José. For new graduates, the prospect of finally getting a place of their own – a traditional marker of adulthood – is deferred as high costs force them to either move back home with their parents or continue dorm life by sharing an apartment or home with friends or coworkers.
Finding affordable housing is a problem for our skilled workers who earn competitive salaries. For the service industry workers who serve us coffee, flip our burgers, or clean our office buildings, the hope of raising a family within San José proper is increasingly a losing proposition. But as rising costs force low-wage workers to move further outside the City where things are cheaper, we begin to lose the economic and cultural diversity that makes San José strong. Further, putting low-income workers in a position where they have to commute long distances to work aggravates our traffic congestion problems and degrades the quality of life for these workers, who get caught in a vicious cycle of working to essentially pay the cost of commuting to work.
A partial cause of this problem of skyrocketing housing costs is the fact that San José has implemented an artificial urban growth boundary. Aimed at encouraging infill development and combating urban sprawl, the boundary has also limited the supply of land that can be developed in San José, causing prices to rise. As there is such demand at the high end of the housing market, developers have found little incentive to build the more affordable, non-luxury housing that middle and low-income Americans need.
Policies should be implemented to encourage more housing to be built, but a specific sort of housing that caters to individuals of more modest means. This may be achievable in areas such as District 4, where housing caps have been reached. At present, the City will not grant permits to build additional housing until a certain number of new jobs are created in the area. The City can and should raise the housing cap and allow developers to build more housing, but only the sort of housing that caters to new graduates, young families, and middle income workers.
Equally important to making San José an affordable city is the need to make it an accessible city. The next few decades will see the baby boomer generation begin to retire and our city will be tasked with a significant number of residents who are no longer able to drive. Further, studies show that more than any previous generation, millennials are less interested in driving and instead prefer to rely on bikes, public transit, or services like Uber or Lyft to get around. To accommodate the needs of tomorrow’s population, San José needs to make our city walkable and easy to navigate by foot and through mass public transit.