To Build or Not to Build: VTA and Affordable Housing

To Build or Not to Build: VTA and Affordable Housing

By Robert Haugh

Everyone knows that we have two major problems in this valley: traffic and housing.

The Valley Transportation Agency (VTA) is responsible for trying to deal with traffic. But they can do something about housing, too. Or not.

Last year, the VTA established a policy to build affordable housing as part of housing developments on property that they own. The policy says that they will require a minimum of 20 percent and a maximum of 35 percent affordable units in their developments. That’s a good policy. If we want to help people who can’t afford million dollar homes, it makes sense to put units near public transit because those people are more likely to ride and need public transit.

The first test of VTA’s affordable housing policy will be today, when the board has to decide if they will build housing at the Tamien light rail station. One developer proposed 20 percent affordable units. Another developer proposed 35.

And the VTA staff is recommending … 20 percent? That’s a head scratcher. It’s like if a cruiserweight wrestler like Rey Mysterio attempted to body slam The Big Show. It doesn’t make sense.


It makes us wonder:

  • Does VTA staff take affordable housing policy seriously?
  • Did VTA staff go for the fewer units because it means more money to VTA?
  • Does VTA really need more money after just passing another multi-billion dollar sales tax for themselves? (It seems like they pass one ever 6-10 years and traffic just gets worse).

We asked Santa Clara City Councilwoman Teresa O’Neill, who is also a VTA board member about her views. She did share her thoughts on this proposal. We expect she’ll ask a lot of tough questions today about why VTA is going for the low number when this is their first project. If they go low on the first one will they have to do something dramatic like 50 percent on the next one? Is that even possible to pencil out?

Closer to home, O’Neill did say that she believes Santa Clara should also have a minimum percent for affordable housing in new developments. We currently don’t have a formal policy in Santa Clara, but the council has been “voluntarily” requiring developers to include them in their projects.

Teresa’s thinking about the right number for the Mission City is still in process, so we won’t share her specific thoughts in this column. She also thinks that we have to pay attention to building units at the lower end of the affordability range, not just at the moderate range, which can be expensive in this area.

We applaud O’Neill for being an advocate for affordable housing which is important in all neighborhoods. Let’s hope the rest of the VTA board feels as strongly about it today.

Correction: Yesterday, we wrote that “the Stadium Authority (Council) voted unanimously 7-0 to maintain the current security plan” in their discussion of the Creek Trail. But the current security plan does not include bike access through the Great America parking lot which the Stadium Authority is creating, so this is inaccurate.  In fact, one of the options the Stadium Authority will consider is the opening of the Creek Trail to public use which will significantly change the security plan. We have corrected the original report.



  1. I have emailed Robert some documentation that will be the basis of a minor correction as well as provide much more fodder for many additional questions.

    The analysis and recommendation of VTA staff is very troubling and really creates far more questions than answers.

    This is not the first time that VTA has made questionable decisions and once again points to the fundamentals of the VTA leadership that has had scathing audits and a Grand Jury investigation. But they have still largely not corrected their ways.

    Instead they have increased the marketing with fancy web pages and very cool paint jobs on buses instead of fixing their many flaws!

  2. I hear that VTA is the worst train and bus system in the USA. No one I know rides it. I took the light rail train once in downtown San Jose for fun. It was slow. How about VTA staff figuring out how to improve the system they have before they start building houses that no one will live in.

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