News

As housing crisis worsens, city scrambles for solutions

Palo Alto City Council to consider new policies aimed at encouraging more studios, senior units

From young professionals looking for homes near their jobs to native sons and daughters who have discovered they can no longer afford to live in their hometown, calls for Palo Alto officials to address the city's affordable-housing crisis continue to getting louder.

More than 1,030 residents, including former mayors, planning commissioners, housing advocates, seniors and Stanford post-doctoral students, have signed a petition by the citizens group Palo Alto Forward asking the council to "fix Palo Alto's housing crisis." In many cases, signatures were accompanied by stories of displacement, frustration and mind-numbing commutes.

Rafael Solari wrote that he grew up in Palo Alto in the 1990s and 2000s and has since been priced out. The Bay Area, he wrote, "isn't building enough housing for my generation to stay here." Alex Lee said most of his colleagues at Stanford University -- postdocs, scientists and research associates -- who would otherwise appreciate the convenience of biking to work are "being pushed out further into different cities." Stephanie Accorinti said she commutes up to three hours per day to Palo Alto.

Marcello Golfieri offered a brief, and far from atypical, narrative.

"Had to move out because ALL my friends in PA had to relocate. ... Saddest feeling," Golfieri wrote.

Robert Blount said he moved from Palo Alto to a place where rents are cheaper: New York City.

The City Council recognized that insufficient housing is a major problem last month, when it agreed to add housing to its list of annual priorities (as part of a broader "built environment" priority). On March 21 the council will have a chance to act on this issue when it considers new policies to encourage housing and new sites that could accommodate these units.

The conversation will take place in the context of the council's on-going update of the city's Comprehensive Plan, a broad policy document that lays out the city's land-use vision between now and 2030. The discussion will focus on possible revisions to the document's Land Use and Community Design Element, which will outline the council's land-use goals along with policies and programs that would further these goals.

Politically, housing construction has been a tough sell in Palo Alto in past several years, with voters overturning in 2013 a proposed development that would have included 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 market-rate homes. The following year, a City Council election brought a slow-growth "residentialist" majority to the dais.

But the new grassroots effort led by Palo Alto Forward suggests that the conversation is shifting. Last November, after hearing from a large group of speakers urging more housing, the council signaled its intent to consider pro-housing policies as part of the Comprehensive Plan update. A new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment indicates that these policies could include a new type of zoning district for affordable housing; a new threshold for "minimum housing units" on sites where developments are proposed; incentives for property owners to consolidate small lots so that they can accommodate larger projects (ideas include density bonuses and height exemptions); and the removal of parking requirements for housing developments built for residents who do not own cars.

The list of suggestions also includes requiring that commercial developments be less dense and that housing developments be denser. Also on the table is encouragement of micro-units (apartments that can be as small as 200 square feet) and co-housing, in which private homes are clustered around a "common house" with shared amenities.

The goals of the housing policies are both to address community concerns and to meet the city's regional obligations, as dictated by the Association of Bay Area Governments. Based on that group's projections (known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation), Palo Alto is required to zone for 1,988 new housing units between 2014 and 2022. Of these, 1,123 must be allocated for low-, very-low and extremely-low income residents.

The city's Housing Element, which the council approved in 2014, concentrates most of the housing sites around the city's two main transit areas: downtown and California Avenue. It also, however, allocates about 250 units to south Palo Alto, along El Camino Real and on San Antonio Road, where there are fewer public-transit stops and shopping opportunities. Now, with Mountain View approving dense new developments on its side of San Antonio and traffic becoming more problematic in the area, Palo Alto officials are reconsidering this housing allocation, according to the new staff report.

Among the proposals that the council will consider on Monday night is a scenario in which these sites would be removed from the Housing Element and replaced with policies that would encourage more dense construction in areas well-served by public transit. One example of such policies is expanding the "pedestrian and transit-oriented development" districts near both University and California avenues, thus allowing more developments with dense housing, according to city planners.

This zone change along could result in about 900 new housing units in the two commercial areas, projections from planning staff show. For example, if 15 out of the 46.5 acres zoned as "downtown commercial" were redeveloped as mixed office/retail/housing projects with 30 dwelling units per acre, the change would accommodate 450 new homes downtown. Similarly, if the pedestrian-oriented district around California Avenue was extended to the sprawling Fry's Electronics property, that site would be able to accommodate 450 units (229 more than is assumed in the existing Housing Element).

Another site that could, with a zone change, help Palo Alto address its housing crunch is the Palo Alto Square campus at corner of El Camino and Page Mill Road. If the city were to rezone the 15-acre property to RM-40 (high-density multi-family residential), the area could accommodate 450 housing units on the 5.5 acres along El Camino Real.

Further north, another 420 units could be added along El Camino Real at Stanford Shopping Center. These two proposals, which collectively could accommodate 870 new housing units, are both being explored by city planners and consultants as part of the environmental assessment for the Comprehensive Plan update.

The petition from Palo Alto Forward -- which was signed by eight former mayors (including recent mayors Nancy Shepherd, Sid Espinosa and Peter Drekmeier), dozens of former commissioners (including former Architectural Review Board Chairs David Solnick and Lee Lippert), housing advocates (including former Planning and Transportation Commissioner Bonnie Packer and former Palo Alto Housing Corporation Executive Director Marlene Prendergast), and civic volunteers (including Neilson Buchanan and the League of Women Voters President Ellen Forbes) -- urges the council to explore construction of new studio apartments, senior-housing developments and mixed-use projects with apartments and condominiums over ground-floor retail.

At least a few council members have shown similar inclinations. In recent discussions, councilmen Marc Berman and Cory Wolbach have been particularly adamant about the need to build more housing, both to prevent displacement of long-time residents and to preserve the city's diversity. During the council's Feb. 22 meeting about the Comprehensive Plan, Berman observed that the city is losing its diversity and suggested the council has been "too preventative" in considering ambitious proposals for new housing developments.

"When we talk about how, 'Oh it's impossible to have additional housing' or 'We can't have that much more housing,' if we can do it in a way that mitigates the impact of it, that's something we should be open to," Berman said.

Wolbach proposed during the Feb. 22 discussion that the council evaluate in its environmental analysis a scenario with greater housing growth, through the council ultimately rejected the proposal.

"There is a housing crisis destroying our community and Silicon Valley. ... The closer you get to Palo Alto and San Francisco, the worse it gets," Wolbach said. "We really are one of the epicenters of this problem and it does result from decades of adding jobs and being addicted to job growth, but not having the housing growth to go with it.

"The question is now: Do we want to turn around? Do we want to reverse course on the trend of the last few decades? Do we want to fulfill our legal, but also our regional and our moral responsibility to allow housing to be built?"

Comments

37 people like this
Posted by imt3495
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:23 am

I work for the City of Palo Alto and I cannot afford the rent in this area.
It would be my entire pay and then some just to rent here. I drive an hour and a half to get to my job of 171/2 years. The housing that is being built needs to be affordable because 99% of us cannot live here due to the pricing.


48 people like this
Posted by MIchelle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:41 am

The city should find a way to fight the new phenomenon of ghost houses.


46 people like this
Posted by Real Estate Sales: Need Restrictions
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:47 am

We have foreign nationals buying homes in neighborhoods, driving prices sky high, and letting those homes stand empty at the same time people who support this community can't afford to live here and commute hours to work here (Firemen/women, Policemen/women, Teachers, Lawyers, Professors, etc). PA Online in fact did an article on these "ghost homes": this is a stated fact. There are two ghost houses just on my street. These ghost houses rip apart communities. When precious little housing becomes a place for foreign nationals to shelter their cash instead of homes for real families who build community this is what we get: a housing crisis. Some countries do not allow foreign nationals to buy property. That same policy would go a long way towards keeping housing costs down in Palo Alto. The city can change zoning and build more housing, but as long as foreign nationals are allowed to buy that housing as a way to park their cash in Palo Alto, the housing crisis will only get worse.


36 people like this
Posted by Annette Isaacson
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:51 am

Annette Isaacson is a registered user.

We need housing for those who work in Palo Alto: teachers, firefighters, clerks, gardeners, city hall staff... These workers can not buy $3,000,000 houses, and all of our "starter" homes are being torn down to make "mini mansions." We need to allow those who have larger houses and need/want extra income to convert a room or two into an apartment they can rent out to people who are just starting out. We need to build low income housing that will be in reach of typical workers in Palo Alto. Who wants a city in which only rich people can live? I don't.


18 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:05 am

To all of those that complain that housing is too expensive for others.

If you currently own a home and have owned it since before 1990, then please commit to selling YOUR home for no more than double what you paid for it. Commit to selling your home BELOW market value. Don't gouge the next owner, don't take advantage of any windfall profits from the increase in home prices. Sell it to the LOWEST bidder.

Let all the current home owners commit to selling their homes at a affordable price to the teachers and other public employees that work in Palo Alto.

Don't complain that "this is my house". Don't complain that others need to bear the burden of providing affordable housing. Walk the Talk. If you want affordable housing in Palo Alto, the simplest way is for current home owners to have a cap on what they can sell their homes for.




21 people like this
Posted by Campaign for Profiteering
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:07 am

This is rich: the same forces who have pushed for ever expanding amounts new office space now blame "the city," which last time I checked actually means us, its residents, for not providing all the new commuters coming to work here with "affordable" housing, as if adding dense units make them "affordable" in a real estate market that is international, not regional, or local. They even have the temerity to claim they want this for the lower-earning non-tech employees. OK, how about the first 50% of these new units be "low income" NOT "affordable" in the Palo Alto context. Say $1200 a month and suitable for a family of four and means tested? If there are developers who are willing to build that, then bring it on. Please - to be real here - define what "affordable" is - give a us number! Please tell us what will prevent these new housing units from appreciating until they, too, are out of reach for even the highly paid tech employees that earn far more than 90 - 95% of all the households in the United States. And can anyone tell me how to legally prevent a renter or owner from deciding to buy and drive a car or from having a family and then demanding a larger home? This is all a fantasy based on predictions about what will happen in the future but asking, essentially, to let those who profit handsomely in the Palo Alto real estate market to build pretty much whatever they want in order to fulfill "...OUR legal, but also regional and OUR MORAL responsibility to allow housing to be built." This article seems more like an editorial endorsement than journalism. Where is there any representative of any other perspective or solution?


35 people like this
Posted by kattiekhiba
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:11 am

One thing not being talked about is that most of the "displaced" are renters. People who own their homes do not see a change in housing cost. Nearly half of Palo Altans rent their homes yet there are absolutely no protections for renters, and none of the politicians are talking about it. The reason people get "displaced" is because their rents go up.

I have kids in elementary school in PA and nieces and nephews in two other schools in PA. Most families we know rent. Every single one knows their time in Palo Alto is limited because the greedy owners keep raising rents. The owners' costs aren't going up, it's not going to the city in taxes, it is just straight up money in their pockets. GREED.

What we need is RENT CONTROL.

It's sad. The people being displaced are not only teachers and policemen. (They haven't been able to afford Palo Alto for decades.) The displaced are engineers, doctors, lawyers, renewable energy investors, nonprofit execs, and one friend who recently left is an assistant professor of physics at Stanford.

Palo Alto is becoming a place of four things:
1) The aging landed gentry
2) Stock option/equity lottery winners (and it is a lottery)
3) A safe deposit box for uber wealthy foreigners
4) Where parents eke it out for as long as they can to get their kids through the schools.

In other words, it is losing its sense of community. It's sad. When even the best and the brightest in the world can't afford to live here, something is very, very wrong.


20 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:21 am

@kattiekhiba Why are landlords "greedy" but homeowners that sell their homes for the highest market value not?

Rent Control is theft of property. If you want to buy a property and then rent it below the currently market value, then go ahead. But don't demand that others rent their property at a cost that you decide.

It is real easy to pick on a small minority and pass laws that take away their property and rights. What happens when it happens to you?

And yes I am invoking Godwin's Law. :^)

/marc



3 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:24 am

[Post removed.]


31 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:25 am

This petition is a great idea. The city needs to step up and do something. The current Council has had a laser-focus on getting rid of future jobs, but has done exactly nothing to help people who are struggling with increasing rents and home prices.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2016 at 11:30 am

Let me try this another way.

I urge you to research city salaries and total compensation vs private sector salaries and total compensation.


29 people like this
Posted by Parent and homeowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Last night, our sitter told us that her rent had gone up and she could only afford a few months more before she would have to move to a new community. She has lived in Palo Alto her whole life, and she rents with her husband and children in an apartment in south Palo Alto. She put herself on the waiting list for affordable housing three years ago, and she still hasn't been able to get a spot, and doesn't know whether she'll be able to get one in time. If she has to leave, she uproots her family from their home and her children from Palo Alto schools. She has lived in market-rate housing her entire life. There is no way that the city can build enough subsidized housing to house all the people like her and her family - although we should try to build as much as we can! The only real answer is to build more housing at market rate, and to do it by tearing down the barriers that this city - and cities up and down the Peninsula up to SF - have placed in the way of new apartment buildings. To the commenters: it's easy to take aim at random people on the Internet, to say that they are entitled, or that they should just "deal with it". Could you say these same things to a flesh and blood person who has helped your family, who has taken care of your children? I couldn't.


35 people like this
Posted by More housing, not rent control
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:30 pm

The petition is absolutely correct, and we need to start working against the housing shortfall of the last decade+.

There's enough housing in Palo Alto right now for roughly half the people who work and go to school here. To oversimplify, that means that Palo Alto rents are mostly determined by the top half of salaries that people working in Palo Alto take home, which is a LOT. If over the next 5-10 years, we can build housing for a greater proportion of the people who work here, rents will come back to earth.

There's room for dense housing in RPP neighborhoods, and we don't even need to allow residential parking passes. Plenty of young techies who don't care about having a car will fill them up if we allow them to be built instead of driving up rents in the existing homes.

To the people asking for non-luxury homes to be built, you're right to be upset about the insane rents, but the fanciness of the homes barely matters at all. It's the land underneath the home that's put your rent through the roof. If our sitting council were willing to approve apartments or any sort of density, that would help. But they don't.

To the people asking for rent control, it's too late. Rents are already in an unsustainable place for the 99%.

To the people blaming foreign homebuyers, they buy Palo Alto houses as investments because Palo Alto's unwillingness to build homes has guaranteed their scarcity.

The way ahead is to allow more homes in Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Marc - your comments are excellent. Just excellent.


46 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Parent and homeowner @ Menlo Park,

There are other solutions that you personally could make:

1) Buy a home for your sitter
2) Provide a down-payment, and co-sign a loan for your sitter to buy a home.
3) Pay your sitter a "living wage" so that she could afford the rent.
4) Build a second unit on your property for your sitter to live in
5) Share your house with your sitter.

Instead your proposal is for the rest of the us to subsidize housing for your sitter, so that you can avoid paying a living wage to your sitter.

This is in general what is happening - companies that want to locate in Palo Alto want the current residents to subsidize their employees, rather than pay them wages sufficient to pay for housing here. Those companies could locate elsewhere, which would also help raise the economic environment of those communities.


13 people like this
Posted by Lucie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:22 pm

It is not just foreign buyers coming into Palo Alto buying up property as an investment. On the street where I live 3 seniors who are homeowners are now in senior living facilities, they are all over 90. In each case the children are hanging on to the property so they can sell it after their parent's death. The reason for this is the current inheritance tax law which allows you to inherit close to $5 Million before paying inheritance taxes. It is an incentive to hold on to your parents home until they die, then sell it.


11 people like this
Posted by Christine
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:31 pm

@Marc

Two things: 1) Two of my family members own homes in Palo Alto and neither would ever sell to someone out of the country who is just looking for a place to park cash. They are very frustrated to see their community being disrupted. My parents and their aging friends want to move out of their large homes but can't. If they sold their home, they would lose most of the profit to capital gains and could not afford to buy even the 950 sq ft on the market in my neighborhood for $2.5 million. My brother and his family are constantly saying goodbye to friends they have known for 10 or 15 years.

2) The owner of the home I rent has never paid one dime out of his pocket for the house he owns and I live in. He inherited it from his mother, who bought it for $15,000. (The only reason he hasn't sold is that the trust forbids this generation from selling it.) His annual property taxes are about $300. He doesn't even live nearby, hasn't in decades. I have no problem with people making money. (I've made some myself, just not enough to complete with the richest people in the world.) What I have a problem with is people who disrupt communities and families' lives just because they can, even though, in this case, he has literally never paid a dime of his own money for anything in Palo Alto.

So, in response to your comment: my family is doing what you suggest AND we need rent control. You sound like someone who would not raise a family's rent by 20% overnight. We need more people like you in Palo Alto.


24 people like this
Posted by People are too entitled
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2016 at 1:58 pm

[Portion removed.] Don't succumb, City Council! Traffic is already bad enough, and the schools are packed. Even if the city built more housing, there would be STILL people who would want to live here. There are other neighboring cities where people can live, and they are cheaper and not far away. [Portion removed.] America is a capitalist nation, not socialist. Where will all these single people live when they decide to have children? They should plan for their futures and buy a house now elsewhere before getting priced-out there too.


18 people like this
Posted by Ditto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 2:25 pm

My son and his family have been on the waiting list for 4 years. They checked in recently, because when they first got on the list, they were told it was 3 years long. They were told yesterday that they were nowhere near the top of the list yet!

We would love to sell our house and buy something larger elsewhere, so that our son and his family could live with us, and their kids would have a yard to play in. But because of laws enacted in 1996, soon after we bought our house, we would loose SO much profit from the sale of our home to capital gains taxes, that we would not be able to have much of s down payment left. Certainly not enough to buy the mortgage down to an affordable monthly payment!

Can't win for losing


7 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Rent control isn't theft of property, but thanks for the laugh.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Lucie @ Midtown,

You wrote "On the street where I live 3 seniors who are homeowners are now in senior living facilities, they are all over 90. In each case the children are hanging on to the property so they can sell it after their parent's death."

It is not just inheritance, that prevents seniors from selling; sometimes the rent
they get helps to pay for their assisted living. If they sold the property, the interest rates are so low, that they would not be able to afford assisted living.


7 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:11 pm

@Christine:

"...The owner of the home I rent has never paid one dime out of his pocket for the house he owns and I live in. He inherited it from his mother, who bought it for $15,000..."

What does this have to do with that they charge for rent? Cost has NOTHING to do with the price of rent. It doesn't matter what a landlord's expenses are, they can charge whatever they want for rent.

Are you saying that you want to manage the return a landlord can have on their property? Then I want to manage the return homeowners can make on their non-rental property. Walk The Talk.

/marc


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I'll wait a little bit to comment. I've seen some good ones, but also some bad ones so far. Question, tho, have any of our council members experienced these same problems personally? Or are they just proposing ideas for the rest of us to follow? Would they take the lead on having a "granny" unit built on their property? Just sayin!


11 people like this
Posted by Hopenchange
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 18, 2016 at 3:31 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Jim Fehrle
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Lucie @ Midtown: "On the street where I live 3 seniors who are homeowners are now in senior living facilities, they are all over 90. In each case the children are hanging on to the property so they can sell it after their parent's death. The reason for this is the current inheritance tax law which allows you to inherit close to $5 Million before paying inheritance taxes."

I think it's more about capital gains tax. When an owner dies, the capital gains basis gets reset to the current value of the property, so no capital gains tax would be due (excepting any further appreciation after the death). If the owner sells while they're alive, there could be millions of dollars of taxable capital gains.


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 18, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Two articles side by side. One is about housing shortage, another is about 2 more office buildings. Cause and effect.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 6:32 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@kattiekhiba
Good points. And @ resident, I had the same thought. CC will have a hard time dealing with those conflicting proposals.


22 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2016 at 7:21 pm

Whose fault is it that there are so many ghost houses sitting empty(3 on my block) owned by foreign nationals who bought them to get their money out of their country? Whose fault is it that foreign nationals outbid everybody else and keep driving home prices to dissing heights? We can blame capitalism or the lack of laws to prevent foreigners from buying up the choosiest US real estate(other countries do), but this is what happens when we let neo liberal economics run amok.

No one has an inherent right to live near their work. You live near work if you can afford it, you can't demand it and expect others to facilitate and subsidize you it. I don't remember one person of my generation, people who were trying to buy a house in the 1980's, who demanded to live near their job and expected others to make it happen for them..

There is no clear solution to the housing crisis. Palo Alto has always been a very expensive place to live in. It has finite space, it is already overpopulated, over built and over developed, and existing residents will not give up their quality of life to live in a sardine can because some feel they must live within walking distance to downtown. The only solution is for some jobs and companies to move to areas that need an economic boost and have less expensive and more available housing. We need to spend the wealth anyway. Those craving urban living, can choose between San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland.


7 people like this
Posted by No whining
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2016 at 8:27 pm


"My parents and their aging friends want to move out of their large homes but can't. If they sold their home, they would lose most of the profit to capital gains and could not afford to buy even the 950 sq ft on the market in my neighborhood for $2.5 million. My brother and his family are constantly saying goodbye to friends they have known for 10 or 15 years."

"We would love to sell our house and buy something larger elsewhere, so that our son and his family could live with us, and their kids would have a yard to play in. But because of laws enacted in 1996, soon after we bought our house, we would loose SO much profit from the sale of our home to capital gains taxes, that we would not be able to have much of s down payment left. Certainly not enough to buy the mortgage down to an affordable monthly payment!"

I'm not sure how the two of you are figuring the math. If you own homes in Palo Alto then you have a cash cow. Yes, capital gains must be paid when you sell but not until you've surpassed $500,000 in gain and after that you pay about 33% of the remaining gain in tax. So you get to keep $500K + 2/3 of your profit. That's a lot of money - in many places in the country (and even within the state of Calif) the $500K alone is enough to purchase a home outright.


15 people like this
Posted by Techie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2016 at 9:34 pm

When I got my first tech job 40 years ago, I was immediately able to buy a house without any help from parents. To buy a basic 2-BR apartment in Palo Alto, with a starter very good tech salary, you need at least $500k down-payment to qualify for a loan to complete the purchase. That is a major blocker for any young worker in this area.

The solution is simple if Palo Alto residents (including me) would become a little more inclusive (of people other than very rich) and don't keep blocking reasonable housing developments in the city.


2 people like this
Posted by Rachel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2016 at 10:03 pm

I am only supportive of actual affordable housing - by that I mean below market rate housing that is subject to a deed restriction guaranteeing it will remain affordable based on the annual poverty rate computed by the federal govt. otherwise what seems affordable today won't be tomorrow. Small units - time passes and they too are not affordable. People with a college degree and a substantial salary will do fine in the world. If you must live elsewhere then you can find a very good job. It's the working poor who are really on the ropes. We should only build BMR housing like that mentioned above and save what little economic and ethnic diversity that we still have. As Bush senior said - trickle down is voodoo economics - or affordable housing.


9 people like this
Posted by Affordable in context
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 19, 2016 at 7:32 am

@Rachel. I doubt established affordable housing leaders would agree with you: If communities only focus on the creation of BMR units, the lack of planning for supply in other income levels puts severe strain on the working poor and others who would qualify to live in the BMR units you want to prioritize. Yes we should build BMR housing, and lets advocate for it in context of needing to plan for supply in general. Ask the Palo Alto Housing org, who's been building & managing PA's 700+ BMR units since the 1970's. Ask Community Working Group leadership what they think. Ask the Housing Trust, SV@Home, and the Affordable Housing Association of Northern California. What do they say?


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2016 at 11:33 am

@Campaign for Profiteering
Yes, those who signed the petition, who were also the ones that allowed all the offices to be built, should share the blame. Did they not consider the impacts of that growth...traffic, parking, et al? And thank you for making the distinction between 'low income' and 'affordable'. Good luck in finding developers to build 'low income' housing much less 'affordable', whatever that means these days. If our downtown tech workers are making close to or over 6 digit incomes and can't afford to rent here now, what is the grand plan the petitioners are hoping for? What will the rental rates have to be?

Now, to restate and make my position clear; I do support more housing in the transit hub areas, and the studio/micro units might work fine for the single or married workers sans children. And if the rental rates are reasonable they would be 'affordable' to those workers. There would be no impact on our schools and minimal on infrastructure. But the possibility of affordable housing for workers with families is a stretch. It's encouraging to know that there are so many downtown workers commuting on Caltrain. I think it was reported as 40%. Now if another 40% will become renters if enough units are built to accommodate them, then that leaves just 20% who will still drive. A big help in easing the traffic and parking problems we have now.

And to your point about cars. I agree. Let's not take that bait dangling in front of us. How would a 'no car' policy ever be implemented or enforced?

It's hard for me to imagine a groundswell of support for the 'grannies', 'big lots', and 'co-housing' ideas.

Also, bear in mind, this petition is trying to tackle today's problems because we know what they are. Tomorrow's problems (10-15 years) will be different and as business cycles go there could be be vacant office space downtown. My crystal ball is full of snow flakes and fogged up.


33 people like this
Posted by Bob Gardiner
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Executives have chosen to continually build and grow their companies here. And now they are asking palo alto residents to subsidize their companies by building cheaper housing for their employees.

The city council should not encourage poor management to destroy the quality of life in palo alto. Companies should relocate outside of this area if housing prices are too high. They have figured out how to outsource to Mumbai, Panama, and Bratislova. Why can't they figure out how to outsource to Tracy?

Palo alto forward is palo alto in reverse. Hopefully our council will have the backbone to stand up to their knee-jerk requests.


11 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident , Parent
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 20, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Thank you Gennady Sheyner for a thoughtful, data driven article about the concerns regarding the issue of housing in Palo Alto. You are an asset to Palo Alto Weekly. I learn from reading your articles.


Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2016 at 8:25 am

[Post removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Build transportation
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 21, 2016 at 4:35 pm

With those giant companies falling love with Bay Area, they bring lot of jobs to the region. So, the fundamental changes are needed for the surrounding cities, including Pal Alto. There is no more land to build more and more housing as City wants to ease the housing problem. Can the cities think another way to solve this housing problem?...I mean build great transportation to outskirt towns like Tracy. You all know New York City (Manhattan), which has all big financial firms, Wall Street, etc there. How many people work in New York City actually live there? Very few, most live outside of Manhattan taking a train/subway in daily. That is the life they accept when they accept a job in New York City. No one complains "publicly" and none of the Firm is responsible for their employee's house in Manhattan.... Ok, you see what I mean. The city of Palo Alto is NOT responsible for housing for the jobs around, but whoever takes a job is responsible to a find a housing to live. The problem here is that this area is in the process of transforming to a LARGE city but its transportation is way behind. If there is a good subway/train system like the one in New York, I am sure that many people will choose to live outside and commute in daily. The current Caltrain and BART is just not enough.

I would think that for the longer vision, build transportation to ease the housing problem in this tiny Palo Alto.


14 people like this
Posted by Oh, Pull-eeze
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2016 at 5:13 pm

The USA is one of only a few countries left that allows foreigners to buy residential OR commercial property. Australia just recently legislated Chinese nationals out of their country, Canada is working on doing the same.

Foreign speculation drives prices up out of the reach of hardworking citizens. Why is the USA ALWAYS LAST on the bandwagon???


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 21, 2016 at 5:52 pm

I have noticed that most of the new affordable housing in the Bay Area is being snapped up by foreign investors.
This is happening not only here, but also in SoCal, Napa, and Sonoma.
Many of these projects were sold before completion.

There is simply no hope until laws are changed.

When we were house hunting a few years ago, a group in India outbid us on a home we were considering on Garland Drive.

My husband grew up in Palo Alto and was hoping to return so our child could attend the schools he was familiar with.

We rent now, but our landlord doesn't live in the US.

We have decided that his job and salary in tech are no longer central to our happiness, so we are moving out of state this summer before our son enters high school.


5 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2016 at 7:25 pm

A solution to this artificial crisis is housing in East Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by Wealth disparity
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 21, 2016 at 8:41 pm

"The haves move inwards. The have-nots move, or are forced, outwards. There is a significant population who cannot afford the affordable. Privilege is centripetal. Want is centrifugal." The issue is not limited to Palo Alto. It's another facet of growing wealth disparity. Maybe it would help to see others pondering these questions in places not so close to home?

Web Link


18 people like this
Posted by Micro Apartments are Macro Exploitation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2016 at 10:14 pm

A new micro apartments development in Manhattan just opened up this month (Carmel Place). The nine story building has 55 units that are between 260 and 360 square feet. It includes 32 units that are market rate, 14 affordable units, 8 units set aside for homeless veterans, and 1 unit for the building’s super.

Drumroll please... As expected, the thirty-two market-rate units will go between $2,550 and $3,150 a month, depending on the size and amenities. Over 60,000 people signed up for the BMR unit lottery.

The real kicker is that these micro apartments are now breaking Manhattan records for price per square foot. You guessed it, they are now the most expensive apartments in the city on a per foot basis. The net result was a new higher benchmark for housing prices that will get used to inflate the prices for other properties.

Think about that economic reality when you hear proposals to provide density subsidies and height limit waivers to developers. It immediately increases the profit margin because the costs per square foot for these types of buildings are lower and yet the price is higher to the tenants.

The PAF proposals are just giant transfer payments from residents in Palo Alto to developers and big corporations. They will do nothing to increase affordability of housing.


7 people like this
Posted by Make them pay
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Why not make the big employers pay higher taxes? If they stay in Palo Alto then at least they pay the true cost for adding employees and help to fund infrastructure improvements and BMR subsidies. If they leave then we fix the housing imbalance.

Problem solved :-)


3 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto's Secret Shame
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2016 at 10:52 pm

Palo Alto has neglected the housing needs of its financially gifted seniors, who have for years found it necessary to relocate to other communities to obtain housing appropriate to their status. Peter Carpenter had to relocate to Atherton, Warren Thoits and Judy Kleinberg to Woodside, Roxy Rapp to Portola Valley, and even Steve Jobs was preparing a domicile in Woodside for his habitation. This critical shortage of manorial domiciles must be addressed immediately, or Palo Alto's standing in Silicon Valley will suffer immediate and irreparable harm.


3 people like this
Posted by Your_Getting_McBoatfaced
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2016 at 12:27 pm

The British government recently conducted an exercise to let the public name their next generation ship that will be a royal research vessel. With great fanfare that turned into great shock, dismay and horror, the most popular idea for a name with a vast majority of the votes was "Boaty McBoatface."

Rather than an example of how the magnanimous rulers thoughtfully solicited feedback from their subjects it has turned into a rare window of how the government will go through the motions with no intentions of listening to the people if they do not like or disagree with their input.

Having watched the process for city planning in Palo Alto over the last few years, I get the same feeling. There are meetings, studies, surveys and reports. The people point out that we are building too many new office buildings, approving too many variances, not investing enough in infrastructure and not doing enough to protect small select groups that are too vulnerable to their pro-growth policies.

Sometimes we get passionate in outrage but more often we look around at each other sheepishly and shrug that nothing ever changes. Meanwhile the tempo of disfunction, uncoordinated policies and seemingly corrupt exceptionism continues toward creating a landscape of random urbanization.

Inadvertently, the city is creating a new action verb for ignoring the feedback and will of the people. So relax folks, if you are frustrated that nobody is listening you are just getting "McBoatfaced."


1 person likes this
Posted by Buck Allday
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 22, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Ban foreign Nationals from buying homes. Send the ilegals home. And Viola homes in The Bay Area will be affordable again for the American citizen.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Salt & Straw Palo Alto to open Nov. 23
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 2,967 views

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 28 comments | 2,755 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 2 comments | 1,384 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,133 views

Can we ever improve our schools?
By Diana Diamond | 5 comments | 374 views