Measure D has generated debate about the future of Palo Alto, our values and the impacts of new development throughout our city on traffic and parking. But what is really at stake is the ability of low-income seniors to stay in the community they call home. Your vote will be the difference between 60 low-income seniors having an affordable, safe home — or not.
Voting yes on Measure D will allow the construction of 60 one-bedroom affordable apartments for low-income seniors by the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation and allow the sale of 12 single-family lots to generate funds to pay for the land and build the affordable senior housing. It will affirm the City Council's unanimous decision to rezone two parcels on Maybell and Clemo (zoned RM15 and R2), adjacent to two existing apartment complexes. And, it will legally ensure that the apartments remain affordable for low-income seniors only.
Voting no on Measure D will mean that 60 needed affordable senior apartments will not be built. It will mean that the site could be sold to a for-profit developer who could build up to 46 multi-bedroom market-rate apartments or condos.
Measure D has pitted the need for affordable homes for 60 senior citizens against pent-up frustration in Palo Alto about growth. In capitalizing on this frustration, opponents have not fought fairly, but have encouraged confusion and stirred fear.
Opponents have disingenuously compared the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation with for-profit developers. The housing corporation is a Palo Alto based nonprofit organization established in 1970 by the Palo Alto City Council to build and maintain affordable housing. The PAHC owns and operates more than 700 units of affordable housing in Palo Alto and provides on-site services to residents, such as educational classes, fitness and community activities. Most of our volunteer board of directors are long-time Palo Altans who are committed to maintaining Palo Alto's quality of life.
There is a silent epidemic in Palo Alto of senior citizens who are struggling to make ends meet. County statistics show that nearly 20 percent of Palo Alto seniors are living near or below the poverty line; and 54 percent of Palo Alto senior households are low-income, according to the City's 2007-14 Housing Element. There are hundreds of local seniors on affordable-housing waiting lists. These include seniors who have exhausted their assets on medical costs, those who must sell their home to finance assisted living or nursing-home costs for a spouse, those who lost their savings in the recession and those subsisting on Social Security.
Seniors 62 and older, earning approximately $21,000-$43,000 annually would be eligible to live in the Maybell apartments. Their monthly rents would range between approximately $500-$1,100. There are no entry fees or monthly dues, and preference is given to those working or living in Palo Alto.
Opponents claim the site isn't suitable for senior apartments. The Maybell site was carefully chosen because it is adjacent to two existing apartment complexes: the eight-story Tan Plaza Apartments (61 market-rate units) and the mostly three-story Arastradero Park Apartments (66 affordable family units) owned by PAHC. The site is close to a park, public transportation and every amenity is within easy access. The PAHC will provide a van to the residents of the senior apartments, allowing them to shop for groceries, get to a doctor and do other activities, so they do not need to own a personal car.
If Measure D does not pass, up to 46 multi-bedroom apartments or condos could be built — for a total of about 161 bedrooms. This means more cars, more school impacts, more traffic.
Opponents claim 40 affordable senior apartments could be built. Not so. At this lower density combined with the high cost of land, financing for these affordable units would be impossible.
Opponents claim that the use of Planned Community (PC) zoning is an abuse of the zoning process. The PC ensures affordability and age restrictions. PC zoning has been used at many "senior only" residences in Palo Alto, including Lytton Gardens, Channing House, Palo Alto Commons and Stevenson House.
Opponents claim PAHC does not need to sell 12 single-family lots. Not so. The PAHC needs to sell the 12 lots to pay land and construction costs. Opponents claim they would be satisfied with eight houses instead of 12. Sadly, this debate is over an additional four houses that are essential to financing the project.
Opponents claim project traffic impacts are too great. The reality is that seniors don't typically drive during the morning commute of 7 to 9 a.m. Studies show this project will have no significant impacts on parking, traffic and schools. The senior apartments will have 47 parking spaces, a ratio of spaces to apartments that is even higher than typical for low-income senior housing.
Opponents claim if you vote yes on Measure D, your neighborhood will be the next "PC" zone. This is simply false. Measure D is about the Maybell site only. The site was not zoned single-family; it was zoned mostly RM15 (multi-family) and a portion R2 (two-family), next to two apartment complexes.
What if Measure D is defeated? The PAHC will need to sell the site, will almost certainly sell to a for-profit developer, and there will be no new affordable senior housing. As a nonprofit, we cannot hold the property for an uncertain future, as this would require interest payments on the acquisition loans of about $16 million, more than $600,000 per year. Sale of the property is needed to pay back the city and other lenders.
Our low-income seniors deserve this opportunity to stay in the community they call home. Your yes vote can make this happen.