City Council Rejects Proposal to Build Affordable Teacher Housing

San Jose city officials rejected plans to build affordable housing for teachers on a private parcel in Willow Glen because it would use up valuable land zoned for jobs

Sarah Chaffin, a Los Gatos mortgage adviser, asked to build up to 16 units of low-income housing for teachers on her own plot off of Lincoln Avenue using her own money with no public subsidies. Her proposal garnered support from teachers and housing advocates, who spoke at Tuesday’s City Council meeting about how the region’s affordability crisis is forcing educators to shack up with roommates or decamp to the Central Valley.

But the council denied Chaffin’s application in an 8-3 vote. Council members who came out against the proposal said they worried that approving her project would set a risky precedent and prompt other developers to ask for similar rezoning.

Kim Walesh, the city’s economic development chief, said only 15 percent of San Jose’s land is pegged for employment use. Of that, only 2 percent is zoned commercial, which provides most of the tax revenue that funds public safety and core city services.

“We have very few commercial corridors for a city our size,” Walesh said during a presentation on Tuesday.

Unlike other cities in Silicon Valley, San Jose has more housing than jobs. State law—specifically Proposition 13, which limits tax hikes on properties unless they’re sold—pressures cities to prioritize commercial development, which rakes in sales tax revenue.

Mayor Sam Liccardo urged colleagues to “hold the line.” San Jose has one of the most thinly staffed city halls of any major city in the nation, he said, calling it a direct result of the jobs shortage.

“What I would suggest is, if you’re going to make decisions to convert employment lands, that it would be a reasonable decision,” he said from the dais. “But let’s not make it for 14 units. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it for 114 units … Let’s do it in a principled way.”

The city gets about seven to 12 cents of each property tax dollar, Liccardo said. And that revenue falls short of covering the added cost of city services that new housing requires. Meanwhile, he added, the city expects to see tens of millions of dollars in budget deficits in the coming few years.

“When you find yourselves in a hole, you have to stop digging,” the mayor said.

Council members Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez and Tam Nguyen voted against the motion to deny Chaffin’s housing project.

A memo from Councilman Don Rocha to green light the project as long as it includes a commercial element failed in a 6-4 vote with Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas abstaining.

Teacher Housing1

A rendering of the proposed project. Source:

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Hi Jennifer, I have no argument with the outcome of the City Council vote. But I do have two questions that you might be able to answer.

    1) Driving up and down San Carlos St., it seems as though hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new apartments and condos are being built on property that was not formerly zoned as residential. I think about the land around the canneries, the old Cheim Lumber Co., Gordon and Silva Appliances and many others. Why did the Council allow for rezoning of all that property?

    2) You indicate that seven to twelve percent of property tax goes to the City and that the City “… expects to see tens of millions of dollars in budget deficits in the coming few years.” As housing values have increased enormously in the last couple of years, one would think that home sales/transfers would be generating so much revenue that Sam would be swimming in money. What is your thought on this?

    Thanks so much!

    • Great questions. There is a structural imbalance that does not allow this. My understanding is that while properties are being transferred and are resetting the property values upwards as Prop 13 dictates, too much of the dollars are divided between the state and the county leaving SJ with very little. This is why those cities such as Palo Alto and Mountain View who have a higher business to housing ratio do better because they collect other fees from business and it costs less to provide services to business than residents. Now we can discuss why business is also included in Prop 13 at another time…..I hear that most of payment for all services has now shifted to residents statewide.

  2. Given enough time even a blind monkey pounding on a keyboard will occasionally type an intelligible word or phrase.
    City Council got this one right but this correct decision inspires no more confidence in their governing ability than in Koko’s spelling prowess just because he happened to peck out the letters b a n a n a.
    Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to hear just one of our council members say that reserving housing for teachers is just as discriminatory as the erstwhile Presidio Terrace policy of “No Chinese Allowed”?

  3. Sam voted against 14 units because of the housing to jobs imbalance. He’d rather build 114 units. Clearly he fails to understand the concept of stopping digging when he’s in a hole.

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