City leaders reject South Bay housing proposal for teachers

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday night rejected a landowner's request to turn a lot in the Willow Glen neighborhood into affordable apartments. The vote was 8-3 to not rezone the area for housing.

Supporters said it would have been a creative solution to the teacher housing crisis. The problem is the land is zoned for commercial use. The mayor and several council members want to keep it that way.

Before the vote, supporters of an affordable housing plan for teachers held signs and marched in a sea of pink from Washington Elementary School to San Jose City Hall to make their voices heard on a crisis the principal grapples with every year.

“I had a kindergarten teacher, wonderful teacher who got married in May,” said Principal Stephanie Palmeri Farias. “They couldn't afford a house here so they moved to San Diego so I lost a really great teacher because there isn't affordable housing for teachers.”

“This is basically a common sense idea,” said property owner Sarah Chaffin, who vowed to keep pressing the issue at the state level.

Chaffin bought a 12,000-square foot lot on Lincoln Avenue in San Jose during the recession for $359,000. It’s currently zoned for commercial use.

Her plan was to build 14 affordable housing units for teachers. They would pay $2,000 a month. Half would be rent and the other half toward a down payment for a condo or house.
“They make too much income to qualify for the current housing the city is doing but they will never make enough to save a down payment to buy a house when a median income house in San Jose is $1.5 million,” said Chaffin.
While it sounds like a noble idea, some city council members argue the need to preserve the commercial corridor for jobs which provides much-needed tax dollars for public safety.
“We’ve lost over 2,300 acres over 15 years of conversions from the 1990s to the 2000s that has brought our revenue down, our tax revenue,” said San Jose City Councilmember Dev Davis.

Opponents also said it sets a bad precedent. Chaffin said she would maintain a portion of the property as commercial space so there's no tax loss to the city. Some neighbors aren't convinced concerned with traffic, privacy, and parking.

“There’s not going to be enough parking for the business owner in the front, the business owners’s customers, the employees and the residents of that apartment complex,” said Ted Gonzales of San Jose.