San Jose Landowner faces pushback building housing for teachers

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A landowner in the South Bay wants to build affordable housing for teachers in San Jose, but is getting pushed back by City Hall.

She is a private citizen wanting to using her own money to help teachers, but she's having to deal with a lot of red tape.

"It's just sitting here empty, and there's a teacher housing crisis teachers could be living here," said Sarah Chaffin.

Chaffin is talking about an empty lot on Lincoln Avenue in Willow Glen. She owns it free and clear. She wants to build between eight and 16 affordable apartments for teachers charging them $2,000 a month.

"I'd only charge them a thousand dollars in rent, and a thousand dollars would go to a down payment. That way, in three years they can buy a $650,000 condo," added Chaffin.

But Chaffin can't move forward because her land is zoned commercial.

She plans on keeping the hair salon, which also sits on the property, but she needs the city to grant her a permit for mixed use residential so she can go forward with housing.

The Planning Department has recommended to deny it because city officials say San Jose doesn't have enough land for commercial use, which helps generate tax dollars.

"What people may not know, is that in San Jose, just 15 percent of our land is zoned commercial and industrial, generating important money into our general fund that funds library, parks, police fire, those are really important services," explained Cheryl Wessling, a city spokesperson.

City planners want Chaffin to put more commercial property on the land, but she says it's unrealistic. She points to the growing number of "for lease" signs and shuttered businesses on the street.

Willow Glen Middle School teacher Alana Abetecola doesn't understand the city's logic. She struggles to make ends meet and questions every year if she will move out of the area.

"The district will lose good teachers, not could, we will lose good teachers, if you have someone like myself, who is a single parent. It is next to impossible," said Abatecola.

Chaffin will get a chance to go before the Planning Commission on Wednesday - a lot of teachers are expected to attend as well. They will decide whether to go forward with the project. If the project is denied, Chaffin can still appeal to the city.
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