San José Directs Affordable Housing Programs to Address Segregation and Unequal Access to High Opportunity Areas

California Housing Partnership and UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute Research Helped Shape the City’s New Policy

On December 6th, the City Council of San José, CA, adopted a policy to address persistent patterns of segregation and unequal access to neighborhoods where residents experience better life outcomes. The new policy will place more affordable housing in San Jose’s well-resourced neighborhoods while directing a more comprehensive set of investments – including, but not limited to affordable housing – to its lower-resourced communities, guided by a report co-produced by the California Housing Partnership (the Partnership) and the Othering & Belonging Institute (OBI) in 2021 and additional analysis over the past year.

The policy has two primary goals. One of those is to reverse patterns of segregation and exclusion by developing affordable housing in high opportunity areas, defined as those whose characteristics are associated with better education, economic, and health outcomes for residents. Analysis from the Partnership and OBI identified 74 high opportunity census tracts (34% of tracts citywide) within San José – including the neighborhoods of West San Jose, Cambrian Park, Almaden Valley, Evergreen and Berryessa – and also found that only nine (9) percent of the city’s affordable housing is located in these areas. 

The policy’s other primary goal is to make segregation less harmful through a comprehensive set of investments in lower-resourced areas – including affordable housing, but addressing other community resources such as infrastructure and services  – some of which are experiencing substantial displacement pressure. 

The City implemented a pilot version of the policy over the past year. In parallel, the San José Housing Department worked with the Partnership and OBI to engage stakeholders in making refinements to the policy, such as extending a phase-in period and identifying sources of funding for investing in low-income communities, which are reflected in the version approved yesterday by the City Council. 

“The decision formalizes, at the municipal level, an equitable approach to siting affordable housing in a way that increases access to San José’s higher opportunity areas,” says Stephen Menendian, assistant director at OBI who leads the institute’s research on segregation and fair housing. “In other words, it’s a meaningful shift in how a city, San José in this case, decides where to put affordable housing with huge implications for segregation, families, children, and others. This is a model for other cities to follow.” 

“Although state housing agencies have led the charge in addressing segregation and access to opportunity in recent years, local jurisdictions have a major role to play in shaping how these problems get addressed,” says Dan Rinzler, associate research director at the Partnership. “San José is unique in taking it upon themselves to engage its stakeholders and bring local data to bear in developing a strategy that is both unique to the city and in alignment with federal and state policies.” 

The move by California’s third most populous city, which lies in the heart of Silicon Valley and has some of the state’s most exorbitant rental and for-sale home prices, may be the first time a major city has enacted such a policy.