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Case study: Santa Clara County Housing Authority Community Engagement

Building trust and influencing the design of a large affordable housing development in San Jose

In collaboration with the Santa Clara County Housing Authority and David Baker Architects, we led a 2-year community engagement process to inform the design of 600+ unit affordable housing development in San Jose. It began pre-COVID with a trilingual outreach campaign and door-to-door outreach and was adapted from in-person workshops to informational videos, online surveys and virtual meetings.


To collect input on the design of this large affordable housing development in San Jose, we began by engaging local community leaders and assessing gaps in previous outreach efforts. We used the insights from these initial conversations to design a customized community engagement plan.

We initiated outreach with a tri-lingual promotional campaign, including flyers at schools, community centers and local businesses and door-to-door outreach (at homes and business) in Spanish and Vietnamese. To reach the nearby Latinx residents, which had been largely left out of previous engagement efforts, we partnered with META, a local women-led community outreach co-op. We also presented at neighborhood & business association meetings.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to quickly reimagine our planned in-person community workshops. Instead of our first planned meeting in April 2019, we recorded a video presentation and created a survey to collect the community input we had originally planned to gather in person.

We asked for feedback on this new community engagement format and learned that the video updates and online surveys were convenient and accessible. However, many community members wanted an opportunity to engage directly with the project team in real time. Therefore, in addition to videos and surveys, we added regular virtual community meetings with ample time for Q&A at each stage of engagement going forward.

We concluded the project with an in-person ice cream social event at the site of the new plaza, where community members could meet Housing Authority and design team staff and sign up to be part of ongoing planning for the site, such as committees to plan public art and public programming.


Community members generally embraced the new development, citing the dire need for more affordable housing in San Jose and across the region.

With regards to the design, we learned that the community wanted the buildings to fit with the architecture of the neighborhood and help connect the surrounding community. In addition, they hoped the plaza and open spaces would add more greenery and shade trees to the area, while providing neighborhood gathering spaces. We also heard ongoing concerns about potential traffic impacts given the perceived small number of parking spaces provided onsite.

We also learned that trust needed to be rebuilt between some community members and the Housing Authority after the pandemic caused the agency to change their original plans to have their own offices at this site. The neighbors wanted more regular communications and updates, not only during planned community meetings. In response, we provided more frequent updates on the website and via email. In addition, agency staff (including the new Executive Director) began to offer walking tours and to join neighborhood events to get to know neighbors in a more personal way.


Once built, the project will create over 660 new affordable homes and will serve a range of income levels, including supportive housing for those who have been chronically homeless, senior housing and family housing (with units as large as four bedrooms).

The design team worked hard to take community feedback into account throughout their design process and regularly referred back to our community input summaries.

To help the buildings fit the context of the neighborhood, the architects selected a color palette inspired by nearby homes and gardens. In addition, the buildings step down in height as they approach the existing residential neighborhood and intentionally use materials that match the craftsman style houses in the area. There will also be a variety of textures and colors as well as balconies and stoops, which help to break up the scale of the buildings.

To create an urban forest feel, the pedestrian and bike paseo and the the public plaza will be lined with shade trees and native plantings. The landscape architects also included a designated seating area outside of the retail to meet expressed community needs.

In response to ongoing community concern about traffic impacts due to limited parking, the Housing Authority increased the number of parking spaces in the development utilizing a creative stacking approach.

“As the Housing Authority embarked on its largest master planned development to-date, working with the best partners was vital to ensuring success. CivicMakers was a significant partner in that effort. Their professionalism and communication was top notch and their efforts were instrumental in our far-reaching and extensive outreach plan. We happily recommend their services and hope to work with them again in the near future!”

Flaherty Ward Assistant Director of Housing Development & Inter-Agency Relations, Santa Clara County Housing Authority