What is “Opportunity Housing?”
Opportunity Housing is a marketing phrase created by its promoters for their plan to eliminate single-family zoning in San José.
How would Opportunity Housing change existing zoning laws in San José?
It would enable the construction of up to four units on any residential parcel in the city. And since there is a state law that permits accessory dwelling units (ADUs, or granny units, or in-law units) for every residential unit, that means a total of seven units could be built where a single-family house stands today.
These seven new units would be subject to the existing design standards that apply to single-family homes, but those design standards are rather limited today. Design standards simply mean the seven new units would have to adhere to the maximum height (35 ft.), minimum setbacks (just 5 ft. on each side), and overall floor-area-ratio.
The city also promotes design “guidelines” (which are different than “standards”), but these guidelines are mere suggestions about architectural elements that the planning department encourages. Guidelines place no legal requirement on the builder and have no force of law. Opportunity Housing design standards will NOT control the architectural look of the building, the quality of materials used, the need for on-site parking, compatibility with neighboring homes, nor any other design element. In fact, state law (SB330) now prohibits cities from creating any new subjective design standards.
Why is Opportunity Housing such a radical concept?
It would increase the allowed number of units on a single-family residential lot from two to seven, a 350% increase! Today residents are allowed to build a single -family home on their single-family lot and, according to state law, they can also build a single ADU. Opportunity Hosing proposes to more than triple the maximum number of units on a single parcel. That’s a lot of units! That’s why Opportunity Housing means the end of single-family zoning.
This increased density would be allowed “by right,” meaning the city will NOT require any public notice and no public hearing for neighbors to ask questions and raise concerns. Today, under the existing zoning code, if your neighbor wants to cut down a large tree, split their lot, demolish a structure, or make many other changes, a full planning hearing is required where neighbors get a say in any proposed changes. Under Opportunity Housing, long-established public notice and hearing requirements will disappear; constructing seven units next door will require NO planning hearing or approval!
According to state law SB330, when a city increases the number of residential units allowed by its zoning code (“upzoning”), it cannot subsequently reduce the number of units (“downzoning”). If the city approves Opportunity Housing, there is no turning back!
No one knows the long-term results of this radical zoning change. It could drastically alter the quality of life in our city. It could allow wealthy developers to outbid local residents for existing homes in San José. It could rapidly convert large numbers of owner-occupied homes into multi-unit rentals throughout the city. And these changes will be irreversible if Opportunity Housing is approved.
Opportunity Housing will be decided by a simple majority vote of the city council. Surely a change this extreme should be subject to a ballot measure so that all voters can express their view on these radical changes.