Santa Clara County Transit Agency Adopts Affordable Housing Policy

 In Great News

Written by: Chris O’Connor, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Charisse Ma Lebron, Working Partnerships USA

On April 7, 2016, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Board of Directors unanimously adopted a strong affordable housing policy. Components include a 35% system-wide affordability target, annual accountability reporting, and tangible incentives to ensure affordable housing is actually built. This win is the result of leadership by VTA Board Chair Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, and two years of thoughtful collaboration by Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA), the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), and SV@Home, with support from the Great Communities Collaborative (GCC).

In 2013, GCC identified Bay Area transit agencies as important partners to engage in our goals of creating equitable and sustainable transit-oriented development. Transit agencies own some of the most valuable land in the region – land near existing transit stations and hubs, where mixed-income housing can both create affordability in local communities, and transit-oriented uses can help the region reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions. GCC identified BART and VTA as some of the largest transit agencies in the Bay Area, with significant land holdings.

VTA operates transit in Santa Clara County, provides county-wide transportation planning services, and invests in local streets and roads. VTA holds over 500 acres of land with more than 300 acres developable under the provisions of VTA’s Joint Development Policy. The new Affordable Housing Policy sets strong benchmarks for the agency to build affordable housing near transit on that land.

GCC brought together the non-profit partners around a shared goal of meaningfully addressing the critical need for affordable housing in Santa Clara County. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group is a public policy organization that represents over 400 of Silicon Valley’s largest and most respected employers. Working Partnerships USA is a community organization that leverages research, policy advocacy, and grassroots mobilization to advance campaigns for equitable growth, health communities and quality jobs. SV@ Home is a membership organization that advocates for policies, programs, land use, and funding that lead to an increased supply of affordable housing.

In order to build consensus, coalition partners appeared before various VTA policy committees, reinforcing well-crafted policy driven recommendations, and reiterating the value of building affordable housing near transit. As a transit agency, VTA has experienced declining ridership for years. Part of this challenge is due to existing land-use patterns that have encouraged extensive suburban sprawl in Santa Clara County. Housing density is an essential component of strong ridership numbers on a transit system, so VTA currently operates in a challenging environment it cannot fully control. While VTA is unable to exercise land use authority, it decided to be proactive, and institute a policy that not only prioritizes affordable housing development on their land, but also encourages local jurisdictions to do so as well. It is well documented that building affordable housing near transit increases ridership, as very low- and extremely low-income households are much more likely to use public transit than their more affluent counterparts. Simply put, VTA chose to adopt smart policy that not only benefits their future as an agency, but also the residents of Santa Clara County who desperately seek an affordable place to call home.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Working Partnerships USA are grateful for the support and partnership from the Great Communities Collaborative and SV@Home in this endeavor. We applaud the Board and staff for taking a bold step with the passage of VTA’s affordable housing policy and will continue to work together to ensure its successful implementation.

Below are a number of highlights from the policy:

  • A system-wide affordable housing target of 35 percent, aligned with LA Metro’s aggregate goal.
  • Per site affordability requirement of 20 percent.
  • Scoring incentives for projects in collaboration with affordable housing developers, including greater units of affordability.
  • Upzoning strategy to encourage local jurisdictions to increase density of VTA land. (VTA will match half of the increased number of units from upzoning, to affordable housing production, to a maximum of 33 percent per project).
  • Requirement that 50 percent of all affordable units must be targeted to very low- or extremely low-income residents (households earning 50 percent of Area Median Income or less).
  • The VTA General Manager will be authorized to approve 100 percent affordable developments.
  • Annual reporting to the VTA Board about VTA’s progress in achieving its affordable housing goal, and the ridership impacts on the system.
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