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Sunnyvale 6th Cycle Housing Element

Ascent led the preparation of the City’s sixth cycle Housing Element. Sunnyvale is the second largest city in Santa Clara County, with a population of over 150,000. In the heart of Silicon Valley, the city has some of the highest housing costs in the state, with a median home price of over $1.5 million.

The City was assigned a housing target of 11,996 units; more than double the previous Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which required a substantial effort to identify new housing sites. There is also no vacant land remaining in Sunnyvale. Every site included in the Housing Element sites inventory is non-vacant. Ascent worked with the City to provide substantial evidence to demonstrate the viability of development on all the sites in the inventory. In addition, a large majority of sites in the inventory are designated for high-density, multifamily development, so the traditional approach to assigning income to sites based on density did not work. Each site exceeding the default density of 30 units per acre was assigned a mixed-income housing target to demonstrate capacity to meet the RHNA at all income levels.

Most of the inventoried sites are in specific plan areas, which the City adopted to promote housing development in the downtown, within employment districts, along commercial corridors, and close to transit. The most recent specific plan, adopted a few months after the Housing Element deadline, was the Moffett Park Specific Plan, which created capacity for over 20,000 new housing units in the northwest corner of the city. While the Moffett Park Specific Plan helped ensure the City had adequate sites to meet the RHNA, the census tract in which the plan is located is designated “low resource” because of the demographics of unincorporated areas encompassed by the large census tract. The concentration of lower-income housing in a low resource census tract, coupled with a lack of lower-income housing capacity in the higher resource southern neighborhoods in Sunnyvale, was a significant fair housing issue that the Housing Element needed to address. To create more balanced opportunities for housing throughout the city, the Housing Element included programs to upzone commercial centers in high resource neighborhoods and allow missing middle housing in traditionally single-family zoned areas.

The Housing Element update process attracted the attention of several housing advocates from the region. Ascent and City staff worked to ensure a transparent process by posting all revisions in track changes with easy-to-follow summary documents. Ascent and City staff met one on one with stakeholders to discuss their concerns and presented recommendations to the City Council to address public comments. Through this collaborative process, the Housing Element policies and programs were strengthened to remove barriers to housing production, expand housing choice, and affirmatively further fair housing.

City of Sunnyvale
Sunnyvale, California

Project Contact

Chelsey Payne, AICP
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