In order to meet the housing needs of its faculty, Stanford University has stepped up buying single-family homes throughout Palo Alto and other nearby cities in the last two years, with the lion's share appearing to be in the College Terrace neighborhood, according to county records.
"Single-family homes in neighborhoods is what a lot of faculty want," Stanford spokeswoman Jean McCown told the College Terrace Residents Association board during a May 31 meeting.
"There is demand for a diversity of housing types that Stanford wants to have available to respond to differing circumstances and needs of faculty owners and renters. This includes some neighborhood-based single-family homes to supplement the much greater amount of housing we have been constructing on Stanford lands," she said. "There have been a limited number of purchases as a part of a multi-pronged approach to providing housing in a challenging environment."
Some College Terrace residents expressed concern that their neighborhood could become increasingly owned by Stanford.
"College Terrace is surrounded on three sides by housing for Stanford: Peter Coutts, the Research Park and Escondido Village. It would be a logical step for them to buy up the neighborhood," a resident who lives next to one of the Stanford-owned homes and asked not to be named, said this week.
But McCown said there is no long-term goal for buying up College Terrace.
According to the Santa Clara County Clerk Recorder's office, Stanford is the recorded owner on deeds of at least 23 properties in College Terrace. The university purchased two of the homes in 1977; one in 2000; five during the 2008 housing crisis; two in 2015; nine in 2016 and four so far in 2017.
In an email Wednesday, McCown said seven of the homes and two vacant parcels are slated for redevelopment.
Throughout Palo Alto, the university owns 30 homes, according to McCown. It owns 12 in Menlo Park.
But county records indicate that number could be higher. Stanford uses ground leases, by which the university retains ownership of a property while the "buyer" can build on it or purchase the existing residence. Under such leases, the university can claim it "owns" fewer properties than it does.
In addition to College Terrace, Stanford owns several other single-family homes throughout Palo Alto, including at least three out of 10 homes at the recently built Edgewood Plaza in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood and some on Hawthorne Avenue in the Downtown North neighborhood, county records show.
There are also 120 homes in Menlo Park in the Stanford Hills and near Stanford Creek communities, built in the 1950s on Stanford land, that the university has under ground leases. Stanford didn't count them as "owned" homes in the recent email from McCown.
In College Terrace, Stanford has received some parcels as bequeathed gifts, McCown noted during the May neighborhood meeting. In many cases these are smaller homes or cottages that are not attractive to potential renters or buyers in their current state. Stanford plans to raze some of these homes or renovate them. The university does not plan to turn the sites into apartments or condominiums, she added.
Stanford filed an application with the city on July 14 to demolish a single-story, 1,283-square-foot home at 2040 Columbia St. and construct a new two-story 2,344 square foot home; an 809-square-foot one-story residence at 2070 Columbia would also be replaced by a two-story 2,344 square-foot home, according to City of Palo Alto planning documents.
Leah Russin, who lives next to the two homes, said she will be happy when the residences are occupied. There are currently three or four homes on her block that are vacant, including one by an overseas investor who only lives there a couple of months out of the year. The increased square footage will make the homes more attractive to faculty and their families, and she is looking forward to having the neighborhood be revitalized by families with children. Currently, her young son does not have any children on their street to play with, she said. Stanford has been a good neighbor, employing a management company to keep the yards and homes maintained, she said.
But the homes have been empty for nearly two years, she said, and she wonders if "ghost homes" throughout Palo Alto are contributing to inflated home prices that keep people out.
"It saddens me when I see the homes are empty. I see it as a missed opportunity. There could have been a family integrated into the community," she said.
McCown noted that Stanford's neighborhoods holdings are a small fraction of Palo Alto's 28,000 households and Menlo Park's 12,400. College Terrace has an estimated 900 households of homeowners and renters, according to the residents' association.
Stanford is branching out into other communities to satisfy its need for apartments and condominiums. The university has added to its off-campus housing stock by recently purchasing a 167-unit apartment property in Los Altos rented predominantly to university staff. It is also proposing to build 215 apartments in Menlo Park for staff and faculty on land currently occupied by the Stanford Park Hotel at 500 El Camino Real that is off the core campus.
The university is in the process of building 180 units, including 68 single-family homes and 112 condominiums for staff at University Terrace on Stanford Research Park land adjacent to College Terrace, between California Avenue and Page Mill Road, which is outside of its core campus. And it currently leases approximately 740 apartments for students from Redwood City to Mountain View, according to a list of off-campus subsidized housing.
While the university's general-use permit from Santa Clara County, which governs building on its campus, limits the number of on-campus residences Stanford can add, off-campus housing doesn't count toward that number, McCown said in an email this week.