News

Residential park's overhaul could cost $30M

New mobile homes, infrastructure upgrades planned for Buena Vista Mobile Home Park

Buena Vista Mobile Home Park plans to replace units at the affordable housing community, during which time residents will be temporarily housed elsewhere. Photo by Veronica Weber.

A sweeping transformation of Palo Alto's Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, including the replacement of all 103 mobile homes and 12 studio apartments with new units and other park upgrades, could cost upwards of $30 million, according to the organizations newly in charge of the park.

Park operator Caritas Communities, which was brought in after the Santa Clara County Housing Authority purchased the 4-acre El Camino Real site last fall, told nearly 50 park residents about the proposed four-year redevelopment at a meeting on March 2.

It is the first time that the scope of the plans has been made public since the Housing Authority bought Buena Vista for $40.4 million, using $14.5 million each from the city of Palo Alto and Santa Clara County and $26 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In addition to new homes for the residents, the renovation will include upgrading gas-line infrastructure, eliminating blight and vermin and adding social and health programs to benefit the low-income and largely immigrant population of about 400 residents.

Staff of Caritas, an Irvine-based nonprofit organization, unveiled its timeline for the redevelopment at the meeting:

• Gas-line repairs, March-May.

• New lease agreements signed through May.

• Architect selection in June.

• Site design from June 2018-March 2019.

• Construction design through December 2019.

• New-home construction from January 2020 to December 2021.

"All current homes will be moved off-site. Everyone will get a new home," Chief Operating Officer Tracy Bejotte told the residents. She added that the homes will be mobile units and not apartments or single-family homes. The studio apartments, built in the 1950s, will be demolished and replaced with mobile homes, she said in a follow-up email.

Caritas doesn't have an estimated cost for the replacements, nor a fixed idea of what they will look like, she said. Much depends on the appraisals of the existing units and the funding that is yet to be secured.

Katherine Harasz, executive director of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, said county officials had only "a ballpark guess" for the total cost of infrastructure improvements.

"We thought it could go as high as $30 million," she said, including the relocation of residents during construction, payment of federally required local prevailing wages for laborers and mechanics, and construction costs in the currently hot market.

The $30 million redevelopment estimate, in addition to the $40.4 million land price, pencils out to approximately $609,000 for each of the 115 units. In comparison, the median value of a single-family home in Palo Alto as of Jan. 31 was $3.1 million, according to the online real estate website Zillow. In East Palo Alto, the median was $907,000.

"We took on this project not because we had all the answers but because it was the right thing to do and we felt we had the skill and support to get the answers," Harasz stated in an email.

"We have $14.5 million in county funds set aside for upgrades. We expect we'll need more, and Caritas will likely approach the need in the same way most affordable housing developers do: They will look around for available sources at the time, determine what the best terms are and apply for those funds," she said.

Funding sources could include government, private and nonprofit monies and bonds.

Harasz said residents would be temporarily relocated during construction. That "adds cost to the project and is disruptive to working families, students and anyone who may be mobility impaired," she acknowledged. For that reason, she added, "It is our best judgment not to increase or replace the population at the park until the rehabilitation is complete."

Bejotte said that Caritas will look at whether any more renters could be added after construction is complete. The rent for existing residents would not be raised for at least three years, after which an increase might be necessary, she said.

Caritas' Chief Investment Officer John Woolley has reiterated Caritas' commitment to keeping the park affordable for low-income residents, even as he admitted the agency is "quite a way away from understanding solutions on how to keep the park affordable when the newer homes come in."

How that will be achieved depends on how much funding Caritas can obtain, the appraised value of the existing units and other factors and costs. Bejotte said Caritas is exploring a number of funding options, including grants and bond financing.

Even as the nonprofit works on its ambitious redevelopment plan, residents have already seen significant changes at the park.

Caritas is funding the repairs of existing homes to bring them up to HUD standards; about half of the repairs have been completed, Chief Mission Officer Thomas Mauro said.

The organization has also put an end to much of the drug dealing that was taking place, although staff said more must be done to eradicate the problem. The park now has security and a pest-control service and an attentive on-site manager, Mauro said. There is an afterschool homework club, and a dental-services van recently came to the park.

Depending on the park's reconfiguration, Caritas will look at the possibility of adding a small park and other amenities that residents said they want.

Caritas is also moving forward with a zero-tolerance policy for abandoned and inoperable vehicles, in part because parking space is limited. Woolley said the park cannot accommodate four or five vehicles per household. Currently, there are not even enough spaces for two cars per unit, he said.

"It's a universal problem. This has nothing to do with Palo Alto. It's just life today," he said.

Currently, the park is operating under the rules put in place by the previous owners. But Caritas is also working with the Buena Vista Park Residents Association to develop new rules for parking, trash, noise levels, loose animals, unattended children, parties and other conditions. Those regulations will be presented to all residents for discussion, as some of the new changes might be difficult for residents to accept -- particularly about parking and vehicle storage.

Erika Escalante, board president of the residents association, said she is pleased with the progress taking place.

"I feel like we are doing good work. Caritas is very inclusive and not just coming to impose their rules. I feel pretty good about the future."

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Comments

66 people like this
Posted by resident239
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 8, 2018 at 10:42 am

resident239 is a registered user.

I am in favor of assisting those less fortunate. However, this was a terrible way to spend money. Including the cost of the land and these upgrades (it will for sure cost more than $30m, these units, which are mobile homes, will end up costing $1,000,000 each. That same $100,000,000 could buy a building with 200 NEW units or 250 older units. Great intentions but a huge waste of resources.


27 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2018 at 10:57 am

Please replace the trailer park with 110 3-story 2-car rowhouses. Same density, much better living conditions. For this much money, let's do it right.


12 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:14 am

casey is a registered user.

How are all the current homes going to be moved off-site? I thought that one of the problems with closing the mobile home park was that some of these homes were not in a condition that could be moved.

I hope the Weekly also covers how the mobile home upgrades will work. Right now, the residents own their own mobile homes. If all the mobile home are being replaced, will the residents still own the new mobile home (presumably through Caritas financing). If a resident does not qualify for financing or cannot otherwise afford to replace their mobile home, will they be forced to sell out and then the new mobile home will be owned by Caritas?


30 people like this
Posted by Practical
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:16 am

For a currently estimated total cost of $70M which is surely to increase a lot of high density housing could have been built. The cost of upgrading the infrastructure was the original reason the Jissers sought to close Buena Vista. Sounds like the politicians and those cheering the "victory" forgot to factor in the cost of the upgrades to bring the park up to code.

Also, I thought that the Jissers were forced to pay the residents for the value of their mobile homes. Why are residents getting new homes as part of the upgrade? I sure hope that no public funds go towards replacing these privately owned mobile homes.


51 people like this
Posted by GoneOnTooLong
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:17 am

“Everyone will get a new home,"

Told you so.

$ 70M and counting so far.

Told you so

I predict $100M before they’re done




9 people like this
Posted by SourceOfFunds?
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:50 am

so to recap, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority now owns the park "for $40.4 million, using $14.5 million each from the city of Palo Alto and Santa Clara County and $26 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)."
Note that "$14.5 each + $26" = $54 million. I am assuming that the 'extra' $13.6 million is what is set aside for upgrades (see below).

The park operator (brought in by the Housing Authority) is Caritas Communities. From their web site: "For more than 33 years, Caritas has helped fill the need for safe, secure housing in Greater Boston."

The (necessary) park upgrades are expected to cost approx $30 million.

Here is what the article says about the source of the funds:

"We have $14.5 million in county funds set aside for upgrades. We expect we'll need more, and Caritas will likely approach the need in the same way most affordable housing developers do: They will look around for available sources at the time, determine what the best terms are and apply for those funds," she said.

So part of Caritas' job is to find and obtain that additional $15.5+ million for the upgrades. That's OK. It just should not be on our tax bill.


35 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:54 am

More evidence that a standard apartment building design would have been more cost-effective.


9 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2018 at 12:34 pm

Will these changes mean that people can no longer bring in their own units?

Will BV no longer quality as an "RV park" under the city and state ordinances? This is relevant because it would mean that the owner could raise rents and shut the park down without going through hoops (some of which are, as we have seen, impossible to jump through)?


46 people like this
Posted by Black hole of liberal guilt
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 8, 2018 at 12:38 pm

"The organization has also put an end to much of the drug dealing that was taking place, although staff said more must be done to eradicate the problem."

"The park now has security..."

Gee, when the purchase of this park was being pushed it sounded like a bunch of saints lived there. Now the truth is coming out. So glad public funds have been spent to preserve a drug dealing/using element in our community. And before people cry out that the dealers are not from BV park, the dealers would not be going there if there were not buyers.

"Caritas is also working with the Buena Vista Park Residents Association to develop new rules for parking, trash, noise levels, loose animals, unattended children, parties and other conditions"

Very concerning that these basic competencies of neighborhood living need to managed by Caritas rather than the BV residents managing themselves.

"Caritas will look at the possibility of adding a small park and other amenities that residents said they want."

[Portion removed.]


19 people like this
Posted by repair then replace?
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Two weeks ago there was an article about how workers were repairing trailers, putting in new floors, fixing plumbing ect.. this article has a picture of a guy carrying new laminate flooring into a trailer. But it also says they are all getting new trailers. Why are they spending money repairing trailers they are going to get rid of?


17 people like this
Posted by Installment Plan
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 2:21 pm

Just consider this an installment payment in a bottomless pit of funding. Sad that folks haven't learned that hand outs in the form of subsidized housing make problems worse for people, not better. Helping people succeed on their own is a noble and effective goal, but, entitlement to handouts will errode the dignity and self-respect of these good folks, if not in this generation, certainly in the next.


13 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Mar 8, 2018 at 3:04 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

From my discussions with Caritas and county Housing: The existing units are being repaired to bring them up to federal codes, a mandate of receiving HUD funds. This is just to make them livable and safe, as some units had damaged electrical systems or leaking plumbing and didn't have smoke detectors, for example. The work is minimal overall -- not remodeling.

The logistics of ownership, rental agreements for the land underneath the units and what will be done with the existing units still remains to be seen. Much depends on how much money Caritas can raise and the individual ownership agreements that are currently in place. My understanding from talking with Caritas is that there was no standard to these agreements under the previous owner.

The residents were only to be reimbursed for their units and relocation by the Jissers if they were being evicted. Since the county took ownership and doesn't plan to evict the residents, they didn't get money for their units.

It's possible that the residents will:

1. Have their units appraised as to value and then that amount might be given to them to be used toward the purchase of their new unit. The county/Caritas would take possession of the old units, which would then be sold off for habitation or scrap or demolished.

2. The residents could sell their units on their own, but they would have to remove them from the property to do so. They could use that money toward the purchase of the new unit, space rental, or move out.

3. If the new units were to be owned by the county or Caritas, then the residents would get the compensation for the sale price of their old units and they could do what they want with the money, such as use it toward rent. In some below-market-rate programs related to homes and condominiums, inflation is kept down because when an owner moves out of the home they can't sell for more than the original purchase price. This is one way the homes are kept affordable.

4. Whether additional mobile homes would be allowed to come in remains unknown at this time. Caritas must weigh many factors, including space for new units.

Please note: None of the scenarios, 1-4, have been communicated to me by Caritas. I'm just pointing out how these scenarios might work. It could be that none of the above will happen.


6 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Mar 8, 2018 at 3:05 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

P.S. I forgot to add that we'll continue to follow and report on the progress and decisions related to Buena Vista.


32 people like this
Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 3:33 pm

We all lost as the Jisser's are living in dream! what a joke and waste of public funds.

How does Joe Simitian screw the few of us paying taxes like crazy while working 80 hours a week. Oh ya, give homes away to people that will vote for him.


10 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:22 pm

[Post removed.]


21 people like this
Posted by Bogus
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:36 pm

I do not trust the weekly coverage of BV. Up until now their coverage had been one sided and biased, with liberal doses of jisser family bashing.


9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 8, 2018 at 6:35 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Well, well, well, another 'a nice dilemma we have here' situation, referring to Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial By Jury". The project is moving along in muddied waters...who owns what? who will pay for what? who will pay for the rest of it, and how will it be determined what the new units will be, i.e., how will they be sized for particular family needs? How much will they cost the residents and what will the new rental fees be? Where will the tenants be housed/moved to during the period of change? Where will their kids go to school? A horrible thought...not being able to graduate from Gunn. Their lives will be ruined!

These are all questions I asked, and many others did also, that never got answered before. Now that they have to be answered, there's so much waffling going on and not much wiggle room left. I would like an honest poll taken of the current residents, on how they think this is working out for them. They don't seem to be in control anymore. That must be a little disconcerting after the jubilation they showed at CC meetings.


7 people like this
Posted by Bogus
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Why doesn't the weekly interview winter dellanbach about what is happening


19 people like this
Posted by Concerned Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:44 pm

Concerned Observer is a registered user.

Another epic fail by the guilt ridden liberal progressives who run the City of Palo Alto as well as the County of Santa Clara. I need some decking replaced. I wonder if they'll bail me out.


14 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2018 at 8:30 pm

Ridiculous plan , likely never-ending for an odd, select few. Makes zero sense to us taxpayers who must fund this nonsensical scheme. But this is the way in California government.


Like this comment
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 8, 2018 at 8:32 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 8, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Allow the developer to build enough market rate housing to replace the same number of affordable units currently there.
Don’t throw good money after bad.


25 people like this
Posted by Omg
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 9:33 pm

What did these people do to deserve $70m in tax payer dollars. What message are we sending to Developers who buy the old and restore with new.


6 people like this
Posted by BP Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:13 pm

I hope that dealing with the inoperable/abandoned vehicle problem will free up enough space to stop the overflow of parking onto the nearby streets -- where vehicles are regularly being parked illegally on sidewalks, obstructing driveways, etc.


Like this comment
Posted by Me2
a resident of another community
on Mar 9, 2018 at 8:38 am

[Post removed.]


21 people like this
Posted by Winter
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2018 at 9:21 am

Let me shed light on a few things in this article -

As has been written of before, drug dealing to people outside Buena Vista was done by a few homeless people who nightly illegally occupied BV before and awhile after the property was sold. Along with so much else, the former owner left it to the residents to deal with. Their Assoc. Board of Director's even initiated a meeting with the PA police Chief to enlist help before BV was sold, but only when Caritas hired a security guard has the issue been effectively addressed.

The people of Buena Vista are hard working adults and parents, or elders (some needing extra support), or children in our schools. There are as many good hearted, aspiring, and civic minded folks living there as on any block in any other neighborhood of Palo Alto. Most have been living at BV for a long time. For those who are lucky to know BV or people there, know it as a close, lively place of mostly families, with children often playing among the very modest homes, many with lush container gardens of shrubs, vegies and flowers buffering homes from the asphalt.

Does BV need serious upgrading - yes. That was well understood before the purchase. BV is 92 years old and wasn't maintained well in the last decades. The homes are what residents could afford and met the legal California state standards, but not the federal standards that are now required under the new ownership.

It's a big undertaking, but just as Stevenson House on Charleston Rd. successfully just completed its massive (and certainly extremely expensive) retrofit and remodel in which all its senior low income residents were moved out in stages and housed elsewhere for 2 years, so too will BV successfully achieve it's upgrade.

Buena Vista's nearly 4.5 acres will, by legal agreement, remain affordable housing. It has never had the legal designation of a RV park.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2018 at 9:39 am

Posted by Concerned Observer, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Another epic fail by the guilt ridden liberal progressives who run the City of Palo Alto as well as the County of Santa Clara.

Lots of liberals, such as myself, never thought this BV project was a good idea or a good use of city and county resources.

Unfortunately, -nobody-, including market fundamentalists (presumably yourself?), conservatives, developers, moderates, or liberals, have come up with a good method for dealing with the housing situation we have right now (which is -not- unprecedented BTW). Another solution doomed to fail is rent control, but, I understand why people are tempted to try. I guess the real answer is ever increasing RV's in the streets...


2 people like this
Posted by Megan's Law
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 9, 2018 at 9:56 am

[Post removed.]


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