News

Editorial: The housing 'overlay'

Innovative approach to encourage affordable housing projects should be approved

The Palo Alto City Council Monday night will consider whether to approve a new mechanism that would, for the first time, allow for the easing of some zoning requirements for housing projects designed exclusively for lower income individuals and families.

The so-called "affordable housing combining district" would provide the city flexibility to ease some development standards for 100-percent affordable housing projects in areas that are in existing commercial zones and close to public transit.

For example, the city would be able to allow a development to have a greater density of units by relaxing current lot coverage, open space, parking and ground-floor retail requirements. The proposal maintains the city's 50-foot height limit and requirements such as setbacks and daylight plane restrictions when a housing project is adjacent to low-density residential neighborhoods.

The issue of how to encourage 100-percent affordable housing developments instead of market-rate projects that have only a few units set aside at below-market rate comes to the city council from a divided Planning and Transportation Commission.

The four-person commission majority was not ready to support the new overlay zone proposed by the staff and is instead recommending the council defer adopting it to allow for more study and outreach to both potential affordable-housing developers and the public.

Instead, for now, the commission recommended the council bring back the use of the highly controversial "planned community" (PC) zoning tool, which allows a developer to negotiate a specific project with city staff that allows for an easing of development requirements and greater density than zoning allows in exchange for providing "public benefits" — in this case affordable housing.

The two alternative approaches — the staff-recommended overlay zone versus the planning commission's proposed return of the PC zone — aren't dramatically different in their intended outcomes, but the PC process was repeatedly abused and lost all credibility, so much so that the city council finally chose to stop using it in 2013. We see little benefit, or likelihood of success, in trying to resurrect and fix all the problems the PC zone created and overcome the widespread public outrage it attracted.

The planning commission did suggest several improvements to the initial overlay zone proposal that have been incorporated in what the city council will consider, and since any specific project proposed under the new zone would be reviewed by the commission and the city council, we think there are adequate safeguards to protect affected neighbors and ensure public input.

City officials are anxious to move forward on an affordable housing strategy not only because of the acute shortage of units for lower-income residents and the need to meet our adopted and state-mandated housing goals, but because the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing is ready with a proposal for a housing project on land it has purchased at El Camino and Wilton Avenue, adjacent to the Ventura neighborhood.

It is exactly the type of housing project the city should be encouraging, and that rarely comes along because of the city's high land costs. Thus it is the perfect test case for the new overlay zone.

With the new affordable housing zoning in place, that project, which currently proposes 61 affordable housing units and ground-floor retail, could ask, for example, for relief from the ground-floor retail requirement, thereby reducing parking requirements.

As we have urged previously, the city should have a laser focus on encouraging 100-percent affordable housing projects aimed at the lowest-income individuals and families. Not only is this the group — earning up to 60 percent of the area's median income — that is most endangered due to housing costs, but these residents require fewer parking places, generate the least traffic congestion and enable the project to be eligible for federal housing funds.

We need not worry about a sudden onslaught of proposals. The last 100-percent affordable project, a 50-unit low-income family apartment complex at 801 Alma St., was approved nine years ago. While it will undoubtedly be improved with experience, the proposed affordable-housing overlay zone is a sensible first step in supporting the kind of housing to which we believe most residents of Palo Alto give the highest priority.

One thing the community doesn't need is inflammatory rhetoric from public officials disrespecting the positions of others and questioning their motives. Planning commissioners Michael Alcheck and Susan Monk, for example, undermine the process, inflame emotions and make it harder to achieve successful outcomes when they accuse their colleagues of not caring about the housing shortage and accuse them of "delay tactics" and "NIMBYism." That behavior and language seeks to divide rather than unite Palo Altans and is a distraction from sound policy making.

We hope for more from the City Council Monday night.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Comments

64 people like this
Posted by Sorry, It's a Sham
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2018 at 3:27 am

The proposed ordinance is a sham. It will actually harm true affordable housing in Palo Alto. Instead of truly helping "lower-income residents" as claimed above, the ordinance actually provides enormous special benefits for projects targeting people earning over $100,000 a year (120% of Area Median Income). Those fortunate people can afford market rents today, but this ordinance will let developers build huge underparked structures for such folks in the upper half of incomes and then charge them considerable rent.

So guess what will happen. Developers seeking huge profits will snap up eligible land for projects aimed at these well-off renters, pricing building sites out of reach of our true non-profit below-market rate housing providers. So low-income renters will lose, not win.

The ordinance should instead target people earning no more than 60% of AMI, just as housing tax credits already do, if it's truly going to help people with low incomes. And the ordinance should provide adequate parking to those renters rather than forcing them to park blocks away on crowded streets.


34 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2018 at 5:55 am

"the city should have a laser focus on encouraging 100-percent affordable housing projects aimed at the lowest-income individuals and families."

So why not focus on BMR housing projects rather then "affordable" housing projects? We are kidding ourselves and arguably exacerbating existing problems if we favor "affordable" over BMR. If I understand correctly, the AMI index is based on county figures, not city figures. That rather skews the definition of affordable for a Palo Alto address.


50 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2018 at 6:47 am

I would like to know where the CC gets the idea that lower income people are less likely to need parking spaces? From many of the apartment blocks around town that we have already, there are a large number of vehicles parked in the surrounding streets from these apartments which tells me that there is not enough parking.

I am afraid to say that I think this is not a realistic assumption. Lower income people are less likely to use Uber and those that work as office cleaners, restaurant workers and other essential jobs that perhaps finish very late at night or start very early in the morning are not likely to be able to do their commute by public transit at those hours and the need for a car is obvious. Anyone who thinks that someone working the graveyard shift as a hospital worker for example is going to finish their shift with a 30 minute bike ride as opposed to a 10 minute car ride is being very unrealistic.


22 people like this
Posted by Amend
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2018 at 7:03 am

Amend is a registered user.

PC could be used if rewritten to not include the old abuses do rightly pointed out in this article. Eliminate the abuse of public benefits - let it simply be a zoning only for all-BMR projects that allows these always complicated unique developments to be processed. This mash-up of an over-lay ignores this reality - just what we don’t need. Don’t let this new, rewritten PC be used for anything else - ie commercial projects.

Also, the council should not include as BMR housing, 80-120% average median income. Non-profit housing developers will be the first to tell you they can’t get the funding to build for people that well off. It’s not BMR housing and has no place in this ordinance.

And hats off to the Weekly for advising Commissioners Sue Monk and Michael Alcheck to knock it off. You both need an attitude and behavior change fast - you are embarrassing yourselves and disrupting the Commission by your behavior.


13 people like this
Posted by Mash-up
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2018 at 7:23 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


6 people like this
Posted by Mistake
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2018 at 7:30 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


41 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2018 at 8:47 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

On the good side: no one is arguing about density limits or higher Floor Area Ratio standards. We all accept that higher density is needed to make affordable projects pencil out for developers with Palo Alto's very expensive land. The expensive land is one reason why overlays are a bit troubling: if a parcel has a $5 use and a $10 use, guess which one will be developed more often? There simply aren't enough development bonuses possible that make affordable projects remotely competitive with market rate projects. If we really want affordable projects to happen, the City needs to buy land. But that is somewhat tangential to the current discussion.

We all know PCs have problems. But overlays have problems and bad zoning has problems, too. We recommended a PC to move a project forward while we fixed bad zoning. So what's wrong with staff's proposal?

The staff proposal gets parking wrong. Idealogues are still arguing we don't need parking: either private cars are over (which census and DMV registration data doesn't support) or parking your private car on the public street is ok - neighbors be damned. Pragmatists see that car ownership has not started to trend down and lightly parked streets are an amenity that many Palo Alto residents expect. The proposed .5 parking spaces per bedroom is an adequate formula for 3 and 4 bedroom, but not for studios and 1BR. Looking at the best available parking data for existing affordable studio projects in Palo Alto and excluding senior-only projects: .5/bedroom is 64% too few parking spaces to park all the cars. Alma Place is an outlier with only .6 cars per unit and that needs more study to explain. The rest of the studio developments have .8 to 1 car per unit. We know nothing today about guest and caregiver parking demand. If an ordinance is passed, the standard should be at least 1 space per unit to meet the actual demand. In the suburbs, the core demand is still approximately 1 space per unit even in studio and 1 bedroom developments. But 1 space per unit presents financing challenges for 100% affordable projects. If Palo Alto Housing has better or more recent data, publish it and we can discuss.

The staff proposal changes height limits without any neighborhood engagement. The existing de facto height limit on the El Camino corridor is 35 feet because it backs into lower density residential zones. 35 feet may be the wrong limit, but it's very unfair to neighbors to say, "This won't happen very much, but you happen to get the taller building next to you to meet a community need." We need to consider comprehensively if 35 feet is the right limit and how 35 or 50 feet plays against retail preservation. No one has asked what the Ventura neighbors what they want or are willing to trade off.

We have an existing retail protection ordinance. There are conflicting views on the future of retail, but one thing we know is that low margin and not-for-profit "retail" has no place to go in Palo Alto. Before we abandon retail protection we need to work out how to get spaces that fit community-oriented retail.

All three of these issues need city money to solve. 100%-affordable projects have restrictions on what their financing will pay for. The City doesn't have restrictions: as a community we can pay for adequate parking and pay for retail space if that's a priority. (If it's not a priority, we should reconsider what we're capturing in retail protection).

Finally, it's not enough of a protection to say, "Projects will need to return to the Planning Commission and Council, so we can deal with these issues later." If the zoning overlay says ".5 spaces per bedroom and 50 feet," then our only discretionary action is to grant the overlay or not grant the overlay. Once the overlay is granted, the requirements are set to the terms of the ordinance.

We want to move the only project we know about forward AND we want a framework that brings new projects into the pipeline AND we don't want a backlash to emerge because key stakeholders haven't been consulted. We think this is doable with a good ordinance, but a rush to pass this one won't accomplish these goals. Hence: a PC to move one project forward while we get the rest right and decide how much money we can spend as a City to actually get affordable housing rather than just talk about it.


21 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Thank you, Mr. Waldfogel, for your post; it is refreshing to read comments that explain the thinking and reasoning behind the Commission's recent action. Hopefully CC will take the "get it right" approach.


25 people like this
Posted by ...the comments here
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2018 at 1:54 pm

The comments here blow my mind! What negativity and lack of compassion! The city planning professional staff is recommending an overlay to get 100% affordable housing, and the comments here are all about "Stop housing! don't do anything!" Just a bunch of whining and xenophobia. Terrible!

This editorial from the weekly is well-explained and really not all that radical people! As they said, we don't need to worry about getting a ton of affordable housing - this is Palo Alto after all! Get over our process and pass something to get us more 100% affordable housing! Done and Done!


21 people like this
Posted by True colors...
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 6, 2018 at 2:37 pm

It’s so crazy that the post has taken the position that Alcheck and Monk are the problem. We see now their real political alignment. [Portion removed.]


23 people like this
Posted by not a lab rat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2018 at 3:18 pm

This is the "perfect test case for the new overlay zone"??

Please stop using our neighborhoods as places to do "test cases" for the City Council's ill-conceived ideas. "Experiments" (as they call the VTA lot) and "test cases" are the City Council code words for haphazard, careless planning decisions rooted in no numerical data. The residents of Palo Alto are the victims of the City's ever-growing list of failed experiments and the residents of Ventura are going to take a very hard hit on this one. By the time this is done they'll be wishing they had a street full of roundabouts and a grocery store run by Miki Werness.


20 people like this
Posted by Let's be honest
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2018 at 3:32 pm

The conclusions of this editorial are generally correct.

I am saddened to see several things, though.

Commissioner Waldfogel's comments are extremely disingenuous. He writes: 'Idealogues are still arguing we don't need parking: either private cars are over (which census and DMV registration data doesn't support) or parking your private car on the public street is ok - neighbors be damned"

He knows full well that no one is arguing that private car ownership is over. No one is proposing zero parking spaces or anything close to that.

Affordable Housing developers, backed by empirical evidence, are stating that there is a lower percentage of car ownership by lower income residents living near transit, and therefore need a lower parking ratio.

That is it. The hyperbole and misrepresentation are not helpful.

On that note, it is disappointing to see the editorial chastise Monk and Alcheck, who are standing up for facts and reason. Will the editorial staff also call out Waldfogel now for blatantly misstating the position of affordable housing developers?


9 people like this
Posted by Bravo for affordable housing
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2018 at 3:54 pm

The staff version of the ordinance only applies to below market rate housing and it is much overdue. Council set the priority of encouraging housing 300 units per year, and this is one step in the right direction, especially to help the most at need in our community, people who qualify for housing at 120% AMI or less. I hope city council, does the right thing Monday night!


22 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@the comments here - huh? What I read above is a concern by myself and others that the focus is on so-called Affordable Housing rather than BMR housing for those who truly need a break when it comes to the Palo Alto housing market. Urging CC to focus on BMR is neither xenophobic or whining. Nor is it negative or lacking in compassion. Quite the opposite.

I have a growing sense that the real goal of affordable housing proponents is to build compact, higher density units for those who wish to live here, cannot afford to buy into the housing market (or choose not to), but can afford an affordable or even market rate lease. Unless a good percentage of the units built are designated BMR and set aside for people with community-serving jobs what progress will have been made on the serious problem of driving people out and losing both our valued diversity and those among us who do their best with low and moderate income?

I read concern and support for BMR and the values this City supposedly embraces.


24 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2018 at 4:10 pm

"a new mechanism that would, for the first time, allow for the easing of some zoning requirements for housing projects designed exclusively for lower income individuals and families."

That was an original intent of our infamous much abused Planned Community PC zoning giveaway. I predict this overlay will be similarly misapplied to enable oversized developments of all kinds.

Resist!


12 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Annette, brilliantly said!


4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 6, 2018 at 4:12 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Annette

The ordinance while titled with the word Affordable is only for projects with 100% of the units for below market rate eligible residents.

I can see where the language might be confusing but the ordinance is for BMR housing not a broader concept of affordability such as the challenges facing teachers and school districts.

The ordinance in the staff report responds to the council's request for such an ordinance after considering other options including a PC ordinance.

The staff is honoring the council's request and moving forward on part of the Housing Work Plan adopted by council as well as moving forward on policies and priorities in the adopted Housing Element and Comp Plan with regard to the priority for below market rate housing.


17 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Stephen Levy, board member of Palo Alto Forward, How much B the M will these units be? I have read in these latest housing reports that a person making over $100K per year would be eligible for a BMR unit. To me that flies in the face of the "cover story" that this extra housing is to help our public service workers who want to live closer to their jobs.


14 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2018 at 5:05 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Stephen levy - thank you. Absolutely no part of this ordinance should be vague or confusing. Terms left ambiguous are far more easily used for unintended purposes than those that are specific. To my way of thinking, the maximum income for eligibility should be clearly stated and if it isn't low enough to be helpful to those who most need the help, the ordinance should be sent back until it is written as one that works for what is needed most.

My understanding is that qualifying for BMR housing requires a lower income than does Affordable Housing. If that is a misunderstanding on my part, please correct me.

Also, I know numbers change as time marches on but it would be helpful to know what the current Area Median Income is as that would help us calculate what qualifies as Affordable Housing. The first poster on this thread states that it is over $100k. If he is correct, I'd have to agree with him that this is a sham b/c that is an income level well above what many earn.


12 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2018 at 5:22 pm

Annette is a registered user.


U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Palo Alto city, California
Perhaps answered my own question.

Google search: what is the area median income for Palo Alto?

Search answer: Median household income (in 2016 dollars), 2012-2016, $137,043.

Source: Web Link




18 people like this
Posted by margaret
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 6, 2018 at 7:52 pm

My understanding is that the P&TC recommended that this proposed new zoning overlay apply to 100% for Below Market Rate housing developments. That is, for those earning up to $60,000 a year, or 60% AMI.

My understanding is that non-profit housing corporations are restricted by their funding sources to building Below Market Rate housing, the 60% AMI.

For-profit housing companies do not have this restriction. Since they are not subsidized they will by necessity have to build the more profitable units for those earning up to $120,000 per year, the 120% AMI. Referred to as affordable housing as oppose to Below Market Rate Housing.

The problem is that if the the for-profits can utilize this proposed zoning the non-profits will be shut out. They will not be able to compete for the land. In which case the new zoning will enable the more expensive housing and not a mix of housing.

If my understanding is wrong, please correct me.


11 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 8:38 am

@Margaret - thank you. I guess we hope it truly does work for BMR and is not manipulated to another purpose. I would have more confidence in that if policy and practice didn't favor for-profit as heavily as it does. Sadly, I think the essence of our community hinges on this happening.


1 person likes this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2018 at 10:34 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

There are at least two ways to access the facts about affordable/BMR housing in Palo Alto.

The first is to google those terms.

The second is to read the ordinance and notice that "affordable" is defined as the meaning in section 16.65.020 of the municipal code, part of a larger section on affordable housing.

What I found is that the city has two types of BMR/affordable housing.

One is for rental units and those eligible are restricted to incomes at 80% of the area median or less.

There is also a BMR purchase program and those eligible have incomes between 80 and 120% of the area median income.

Both programs have eligibility checks, prescribed rents and purchase prices and s host of other conditions.

The allegation that there is somehow a private developer giveaway is simply false according to the applicable municipal code section.


9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 7, 2018 at 11:42 am

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@stephen levy
How is the median income determined? What is the source of incomes. Who knows what my income is other than the IRS? What is the geographical area used? Is it just residents who live here? Or does it capture incomes of commuters who only work here?


4 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2018 at 11:52 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

area median income is collected from an anonymous survey conducted by the Census Bureau. This has been done for decades and you can access the data on the American Community Survey Factfinder site.

It is collected for various jurisdictions including Palo Alto and Santa Clara County

It is reported for residents in each geography regardless of where they work


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Posted on the other thread about this:

Read the proposed ordinance; read Municipal Code 16.65.020, did a Google search re AMI, read the Staff Report, read the two PTC memos. And still I think the crux of the issue is the word *affordable*. While the ordinance is for 100% AH, it does not make clear what % of the units will be for 60% AMI ($82,225 or less using 2016 data) or 61% - 120% AMI ($83,596 - $164,452, again using 2016 data). The majority PTC memo at least tackles this, suggesting two categories (under 60% and 60 - 120%).

If we are going to relax our building standards, shouldn't we codify assurances that we will in fact achieve the housing stock that is most sorely needed (extremely low)?

I would also point out that the proposed ordinance bears some stark similarities to SB827, which the Council has opposed. So what is the City's real position?

Finally, in the City's own Urban Water Management Plan (adopted in 2016) there's a statement on page 45 that "Palo Alto has few single family BMR units and does not anticipate that this will change in the future." So what are we really doing with this project? And have we planned for the projected water demand?

Affordable Housing is both a laudable goal and a compelling buzz term that can be slapped on legislation to assure passage. That can be fine provided there has been adequate examination of critical details. We need to get this right b/c corrections are near impossible.


13 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 2:28 pm

While the city may define Below Market Rate housing as up to 80% AMI (an income of up to $80,000 a year) I believe that the non-profit housing corporations are limited to 60%AMI by their sources of funding.

For-profit companies do not qualify for subsidies and need a return on investment. Given the cost of land they will by necessity build units aimed at those at the top end of the spectrum, earning $120,000 a year.

Therein lies the choice. Because it seems to me the zoning could facilitate or or the other, but not both.

I'm curious about what happens if the for-profit housing companies use this zoning to build. Will the Palo Alto Housing Corporation manage the units? If not, who will monitor whether or not these units remain continually occupied by the demographic they were built for? Because if not it makes the new zoning overlay meaningless.
Just another version of the "public benefit" in the PC zoning that was so abused.


Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 7, 2018 at 2:44 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@Margaret

Non profit housing developers like PAH are NOT restricted to 60% AMI units. Read their website [portion removed.]

For tax credit financing the units are restricted by as you can see on their website and the city's website they participate in the BMR purchase programs that go up to 120% of AMI.

Could you please explain to readers why you keep referring to for profit developers?

All units under the staff ordinance are controlled as to rent and price and other factors and are BMR units--either for rent or purchase, which have different eligibility ranges. They are not market rate units.


9 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 4:13 pm

It's not so much what the regulations and codes permit so much as what the practical outcome of this proposed zoning overlay is likely to be.

When I watched both the Planning and Transportation Commission meetings, and listened to the head of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation's presentation and responses to questions from members of the commission, my understanding was that, realistically, because of the high cost of land in Palo Alto and the complicated sources of funding the Palo Alto Housing Corporation has to cobble together, for them it only pencils out to build 60% AMI units. As a non-profit, this restriction is tied to their sources of subsidized funding.

So did I misunderstand? Which is absolutely possible. Does the Palo Alto Housing Corporation have sources of funding that can be cobbled together to buy land in Palo Alto AND subsidize the development of units between 80% - 120% AMI?





9 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2018 at 4:23 pm

@ Steve
You know this inside out. Who will manage the affordable housing units built under this zoning so they remain occupied by those they are intended for, no moe than 120% AMI?


8 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2018 at 7:15 pm

Other than fantasy, is there any hard documentation to backup this statement:

"...earning up to 60 percent of the area's median income — that is most endangered due to housing costs, but these residents require fewer parking places..."

/marc


15 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2018 at 7:28 pm

A follow up comment.

Do the people living at the Buena Vista mobile home have incomes that would qualify them for BMR units according to the overlay?

If yes, do they own cars?

Has anyone done an audit of all residents living in any BMR unit in Palo Alto and nearby communities to see if they own cars at a lower rate then the average population?

/marc


2 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 8, 2018 at 10:12 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

to recent comments

My understanding is that Palo Alto Housing manages both the city's BMR rental and purchase housing. that looks like what the code and their website says.

the county housing authority is in the process of verifying eligibility at Buena vista.

Since all projects under the ordinance are BMR units, that is they require subsidy, this allegation of private developers producing units makes no sense. the units are managed by PAH and who would subsidize private developers.


4 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Thank you, Steven Levy, for undertaking the thankless task of informing the misinformed about the basics of affordable and below market rate housing. All of these questions came up and were addressed during the Maybell campaign and later during the Buena Vista campaign, to little effect so far as I can tell.


5 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Perhaps I am not understanding what exactly "subsidy" means as applied to affordable? Can any builder qualify for official subsidies from government sources or foundations, etc., with strict strings attached and the definition of Below Market Rate is strictly limited.

Or can a company in the housing construction business say that because they did not build higher end units and realize a bigger profit they are therefore subsidizing those cheaper units? Because they rent Below (what could have been their) Market Rate? But there are no strings so in future they could end up as market rate housing?


9 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2018 at 12:44 pm

"the units are managed by PAH"

I thought this was not a site specific zoning document? While the Wilton Court project will be built by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, the zoning is intended to be an overlay that other sites may qualify for. So my question is, what is the likely outcome for what could be built on these other sites in the future.


4 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 8, 2018 at 1:25 pm

The Buena Vista boondoggle. The ultimate in price controls. Rent control, set asides usually go mostly to the undeserving. Those who can hang around the longest to wait the years or so to get into the lottery for their "bmv" subsidy. People who understand real estate investing and production were literally screaming on the Palo Alto online: don't do it it's a disaster in the making. Simitian and the city council chose to be "nice" instead. I put the checkbook in your hands would you invest money Palo Alto apartment housing when have the world famous Buena Vista staring you in the face? Zoning for "affordable housing" is a form of price controls. You put your land up for "affordable housing zoning". How nice of the government to depreciate your land valuation.


Like this comment
Posted by refresh
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2018 at 2:52 pm

"Sure, it shouldn't be illegal to build new housing in Palo Alto, just as long as [____]."

Looks like commenters here are mostly going with "just as long as [those new residents don't make it harder for me to drive and park for free]", but you get the impression they'd just as eagerly fill in that blank with some other rationalization...


18 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2018 at 4:59 pm

"Thank you, Steven Levy, for undertaking the thankless task of informing the misinformed about the basics of affordable and below market rate housing. All of these questions came up and were addressed during the Maybell campaign and later during the Buena Vista campaign, to little effect so far as I can tell."

Obviously not the desired effect. That's good for Palo Alto. The problem facing Levy, Underdal, and the rest of the elitist We Know What's Best For All Of You Gang, is a sophisticated populace that has learned to see through their pro-developer propaganda.


14 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2018 at 6:04 pm

@refresh: I think you are ascribing the wrong intent to some of the posters who are raising concerns. As I read through all the articles and the posts, I conclude that there's broad support for Affordable Housing AND an urgency about some critical details. Such as these two:

1. What is the AMI qualification going to be? Even with this project there's much higher demand for housing than there is supply. People who earn at or below 60% AMI are the most disadvantaged by the current market. People w/an income in the 61 - 120% AMI have more money and therefore more options. Since AH is in limited supply, why not use this project to support those who will benefit the most?

2. What is the parking formula going to be and what is the basis for that? Parking is a huge problem all over town. Rather than make the problem worse, why not build sufficient parking into every single project? Palo Alto values its neighborhoods. That's arguably one reason so many people want to live here. So why diminish them by creating an even bigger parking shortage?

Concerns voiced are concerns that can be addressed. Problems can be avoided. If the Wilton Court project turns out to be a bust in the sense that residents require more parking than is provided and the spillover causes neighborhood problems or the units are leased to people who are higher on the AMI scale than those who earn below 60% AMI w/the result that we don't address our most critical housing need, trust of Staff and Council will be further eroded and the next project will face greater resistance.

Said differently, what I am reading and hearing is DO IT, but DO IT RIGHT.


3 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 8, 2018 at 10:42 pm

Let's take this from the top. What money is now left over for bmv housing is being now consumed by more or less emergency housing for the most needy of all. Resources are scarce. BMV housing now is mostly a scam in other words. Developers are just agents for investment capital. Investment capital seeks demand in an area which has to build densely as has happened in all popular cities, Paris, Rome, London. Build upward and downward as land prices escalate. BMV housing is a lucky occurrence. The Buena Vista could have been a 200 million apartment house or condo development creating a big taxing increase: 3 million to 200 million property. Palo Alto has been financially bombed like Mountain View rent control. On the Palo Alto online this was explained by those knowledgeable about real estate investing over and over. Let's watch those numbers concerning the Buena Vista roll in and in. The problem: maybe only 10 percent of the population understands economics. Real estate (land economics) fewer than 10 percent. But once explained people do remember: There is no free lunch (except if you live in the Buena Vista).
George Drysdale land economist


7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 9, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@ margaret heath and Annette,

I like your posts for their simplicity, clarity, calmness, and your rational thought in writing them. But most of all for your way of asking hard questions or asking for clarity on issues. Have either of you considered running for CC?

Eyes and ears will be on CC members tonight. I have a hunch I know how they'll vote. The authors of the challenging letter, the minority of PTC members, will probably get their way since CC's majority is more aligned with their point of view and two of our CC members served time (no legally defined crimes committed, however) on that commission.

As written and presented, it sounds benign, but we're only talking about one specific development funded by PAH. That should be handled separately from a broad overlay ordinance that could be abused by profit driven developers. I remember and am reminded about the past PC projects. Not good, in fact, bad, with failed grocery stores. They could have worked if there had been 'teeth' put into the words re public benefits. And the city and PAH had the opportunity, but failed to act, when the VTA site was available for BMR housing. Let's see how that under-parked project, designed specifically for techies (far above low income), singles or couples with no children, works out. I am in favor of one of these projects getting approved, just to test the validity of the arguments made for getting it approved. That takes close monitoring and enforcement, however, and sadly, I don't think PA is capable of or willing to put effort into that happening...car ownership, under-parking, et al.

@ Marc

Thank you, also, for your posts. Eric Rosenblum, and others, have written in support of reduced parking in BMR developments, citing surveys and polls. I put more faith in your less sophisticated survey. Go count the cars in Buena Vista park. Two per unit I'll bet. Don't use 801 Alma as an example. It is right near the heart of the downtown area within walking distance of all the residents' needs...groceries, restaurants, nail salons, movie theaters, drug stores, coffee shops, et al. I'm guessing, but suspect, that most of them are not working anymore so don't need cars to commute to work. The Wilton Ave project doesn't offer those benefits, so it will be more akin to the Buena Vista project.


3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 9, 2018 at 3:20 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I hope you all got a chance to read a good and well researched and written article in yestereday's San Jose Mercury News. Front page feature article titled "WHO CAUSED THE BAY AREA'S HOUSING SHORTAGE?" It lays out all the steps necessary for any housing project to be built. It lists 8 of the top causes...contributors/culprits for the housing shortage problem. It was refreshing to know that us NIMBY's were way down on the bottom of the list...in 7th place, just above our good friends, the environmentalists...welcome company.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 9, 2018 at 4:53 pm

"Don't use 801 Alma as an example. It is right near the heart of the downtown area within walking distance of all the residents' needs...groceries, restaurants..."

That setup must seem like absolute paradise from the point of view of an affluent new urbanist living in the deep suburbs. Do you know that development is reserved for very low income tenants?

Groceries? Downtown is a food desert to the less than affluent grocery shopper. Having Whole Paycheck practically neighboring the place is an especially cruel joke. You need a car to access affordable grocery shopping from that location. No bus line within blocks, either.

Restaurants? Downtown is a food desert to the less than affluent diner. Having St. Michaels Alley actually neighboring the place is an especially cruel joke. You need a car to access affordable dining out from that location. No bus line within blocks, either.

Nail salons? Handy, but ...


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

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 13 comments | 2,272 views

Post-election reflections -- and sponges
By Diana Diamond | 13 comments | 1,704 views

Couples: Philosophy of Love
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,457 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 984 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 509 views