Palo Alto Housing, the nonprofit developer that manages the city's affordable-housing program, will be looking for a new leader after its President and CEO Candice Gonzalez announced her plans to leave the company next month.
Gonzalez, who has headed Palo Alto Housing for the past 10 years, is stepping down from her position to join Sand Hill Property Company, a commercial and residential developer whose recent Palo Alto projects have included the redeveloped Edgewood Plaza and the reconstruction of the recently demolished commercial building at 2600 El Camino Real. Gonzalez will leave in late August to serve as the chief housing officer and managing director for Sand Hill.
In a Monday announcement, Gonzalez called the shift "bittersweet" and said she was proud of Palo Alto Housing's recent accomplishments, including a new strategic plan, a stronger financial position and a "significant geographic and organizational expansion," which includes new projects in Redwood City and Mountain View.
Palo Alto Housing currently has about 600 residential units in various stages of planning and development, according to the company.
"With our substantial pipeline, we are on target to nearly double our number of housing units in the next few years" Gonzalez said. "More importantly, we will more than double the number of people we house, while also increasing the scope and quality of support services we provide.
"We will continue to change lives and create more vibrant communities."
Gonzalez said she is passionate about "housing for all income levels" and that her position at Sand Hill will allow her to make a positive impact in the housing world.
"I am confident that Palo Alto Housing will continue to be a strong force in the affordable housing industry," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is departing at a time when housing -- particularly affordable housing -- is one of Palo Alto's highest priorities. The City Council had adopted as its goal the creation of 300 units annually. So far, the only project it has approved this year is a 57-unit development proposed for the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road.
Sheryl Klein, chair of the Palo Alto Housing board of directors, will oversee the search for the new CEO, according to the announcement. Klein said the organization is grateful for Gonzalez's leadership over the past decade and for the strong team she has assembled, which she said "will make this transition seamless."
"Candice is leaving Palo Alto Housing in a very strong position with a healthy pipeline of projects," Klein said in the announcement. "We are looking forward to the next chapter at Palo Alto Housing and wish Candice the best in her new role."
For Sand Hill, the hiring of Gonzalez is part of a broader "pivot toward housing," according to the company. Sand Hill is now in the process of redeveloping Vallco Mall in Cupertino and construct 2,400 housing units at the site. It had also bought Woodland Park Apartments in East Palo Alto, which includes 1,800 units and makes up the city's largest portfolio of rent-stabilized apartments.
Gonzalez praised Sand Hill for the Vallco proposal, which is subject to the streamlined approval process created through Senate Bill 35, which was recently passed as a state law. Half of the 2,400 units in the Cupertino plan would be designed as below-market-rate units.
Peter Pau, principal and co-founder of Sand Hill, said the company looks forward to Gonzalez's expertise "as we look to grow our housing portfolio through our company's commitment to increasing housing supply and crating more affordable housing opportunities," Pau said.
This won't be the first working partnership between Pau and Gonzalez. The two worked together in 2016 to convert Hotel California on California Avenue into a single-room-only complex with below-market-rate units.
That, however, was the only glimmer of good news in what has been a frustrating few years for the nonprofit in its hometown. After Palo Alto voters overturned in a 2013 referendum a zoning change that would have brought 60 units of housing for low-income seniors, as well as 12 single-family homes, to a former orchard site on Maybell Avenue, Palo Alto Housing changed its name (it was formerly known as Palo Alto Housing Corporation) and began looking for opportunities beyond the city borders.
One Palo Alto Housing project, known as Eagle Park Apartments, would bring 67 below-market-rate units for veterans and residents making up to 60 percent of the area's median income to 1701 El Camino Real in Mountain View. It is set to be completed later this year, according to the company.
The nonprofit also plans to break ground early next year on another 67-unit complex in Redwood City, at 2821 El Camino Real, according to the company.
It is also looking to build a 61-unit affordable-housing complex Palo Alto -- its first new development since the 2013 referendum. If approved, that development would occupy a site on El Camino, near Wilton Avenue.
In announcing Gonzalez's hiring, Pau pointed at Bay Area's housing crisis, which he said has been caused by the "decades-long failure to build an adequate housing supply." The region's failure to address this housing crisis is "placing tremendous strain on our quality of life by exacerbating traffic, pushing people out of the communities where they live and forcing long commutes."
"We believe the solution to these main challenges is to increase housing supply at all levels of affordability," Pau said in a statement. "We know Candice will support and lead Sand Hill's effort to develop more mixed-use, standalone housing, and even some 100% affordable-housing developments."