News

Palo Alto chips in $10M for affordable housing project

City Council unanimously approves contribution for 59-unit Wilton Court development

A proposal to build 59 apartments for low-income residents and adults with developmental disabilities in the Ventura neighborhood received a boost late Monday night when the Palo Alto City Council contributed $10 million in public funds for the project known as Wilton Court.

By a unanimous vote that underscored the recent emergence of affordable housing as a high City Hall priority, the council authorized the expenditure, which will be funded from fees collected from residential and commercial developers. Both of these funds are earmarked for the creation of affordable housing.

The contribution from the city to the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing will help fund a 59-unit complex at 3705 El Camino Real, near Wilton Avenue. The project is Palo Alto Housing's first in its hometown since 2013, when it won the council's approval for a development on Maybell Avenue for 60 units for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes. Voters subsequently struck down that development in a referendum.

The Wilton Court, by contrast, is proceeding with strong council support and without any significant neighborhood opposition. In April 2018, the council approved a zone change to create an "affordable housing combining district" for residential developments that offer 100% affordable housing. The district decreases parking requirements, provides density bonuses, relaxes height limits and allows developers to get exemptions from the city's ground-floor-retail requirement.

The council then approved in January the proposal from Palo Alto Housing to use the new district in its proposed development, which will include 56 studios and three one-bedroom apartments. It will also include 21 units for adults with developmental disabilities.

The units will be restricted to individuals making no more than 60% of area median income. Monthly rents will range from $659 for $1,442.

The council's Monday action will help move the project from concept to reality. Palo Alto Housing estimates that the development will cost about $46.1 million to construct. Sheryl Klein, chair of the nonprofit's board of directors, said the nonprofit will now seek other funding sources to supplement the local contribution. Its expected funding sources include $16.6 million in low-income housing tax credits, $10 million in state funding and $4 million from Santa Clara County.

Klein thanked the council for its contribution, which she said will help Palo Alto Housing seek other funding sources.

"We're going to build on the funding you've given us hopefully to fund the whole project," Klein said.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a strong supporter of the project, pointed on Monday at the city's dismal recent history in creating affordable housing, with numbers dwindling in recent decades. In the 1980s, she said, Palo Alto supported 30 affordable-housing projects. In the 1990s, the number fell to 18. In the 2000s, there were 16. Since then, the city provided funding for nine such projects.

"The number of low-income affordable housing units has fallen way off," Kniss said.

Councilman Tom DuBois countered that while the number of recently generated units is low, the council did just adopt a series of zone changes that will make much more land available for new apartments. This included rezoning of San Antonio Road sites for housing, the creation of new incentive programs that provide density bonuses for residential projects and the loosening of rules around the construction of accessory-dwelling units.

With these changes, DuBois said, the city has almost doubled the number of units that local zoning can accommodate.

"We need some time to let that work," DuBois said. "But that is truly an amazing number of housing and we should congratulate ourselves for making progress."

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Comments

118 people like this
Posted by Spare Us Your Self-Congratulation
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 4, 2019 at 7:53 pm

Congratulations to the council for approving the first affordable housing development in many years. The limited progress that has been made isn't good enough to improve the lives of the people struggling to survive in this community.

Dubois praising himself is ludicrous. Palo Altans haven't forgotted that he, along with Filseth and Kou, worked very hard to kill 60 units (1 more than is being produced at Wilton Court) of affordable senior housing back in 2013. Dubois also voted AGAINST the significant ADU zoning changes (Web Link) so his claiming credit for the increase in zoned capacity is a bit ridiculous.


14 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 4, 2019 at 8:15 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Will this housing go to people already living and working in Palo Alto?
It should be given to local workers and residents.


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm

I'm confused about two things. I thought they already had the necessary funding, and, I also thought that the city had already exhausted the funding pool for projects like this. What funding source is the city using for this?


4 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 5, 2019 at 5:40 am

eileen is a registered user.

Anton is right, please explain why the city is forking over $10mil?
Also will they be Palo Alto workers and residents?
detail are slim...


8 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 5, 2019 at 6:44 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

We need full disclosure from the city finance department, legal department and city manager regarding the financing and rules of use for this transaction. We have a do or die funding action at CUB so this can satisfy the requirement trying to be imposed at the CUB discussions. We have been told that we had no money for low income housing. The city is tunneling vision on city projects so need full city disclosure on all projects on-going in city.


37 people like this
Posted by Anin
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 5, 2019 at 7:12 am

Actually Dubois and Filseth voted several years ago to increase impact fees on commercial development that the new council majority Including fine Tanaka and kniss overturned. these are the fees that create ouryv4M housing fund!
Our fees are much lower than communities around us including Stanford.

So once again Fine Tanaka and Kniss all voted against community interest to help their developer friends who find their campaigns.

Don’t fall for Fine and Tanaka’s hollow promises again!!!


34 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 5, 2019 at 8:38 am

Sorry about types in my post above.

To be clear; our Affordable Housing Funds come from impact fees on development.
Both Filseth and Dubois voted to increase impact fees on commercial development several years ago later a new council majority including Fine Tanaka and Kniss voted to lower them again.

Fine Tanaka and Knisss are not living up to campaign promises to represent the residents of this community!
Dont vote for them again!!!


32 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Jun 5, 2019 at 10:15 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@Anon

Our commercial impact fees are the highest in the county per the nexus study prepared for the county.


35 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 5, 2019 at 10:15 am

Pat Burt is a registered user.

The Wilton Court project is a great addition to our community, particularly because of its focus on developmentally disabled adults whose unmet needs are great. Due to the collaborative approach of the new leadership of Palo Alto Housing, the Ventura Neighborhood was strongly supportive of that project.
Unfortunately, the claim keeps getting repeated in the press and by others that Wilton Court is the first affordable housing project in Palo Alto in seven years. Actually, the city approved the Mayfield Place 100% family affordable project in 2014 and it had strong College Terrace neighborhood support. That project opened in 2017, Web Link. In 2016, the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park was acquired using city and county affordable housing funds and it became a deed restricted, 100% affordable project in 2017, Web Link. It had broad support from throughout the city and from the Barron Park neighborhood, including from many Maybell opponents.
However, the city's affordable housing fund is now depleted and we will not have more projects in the near future or enough projects unless several things are done. as Anon pointed out above, the city needs to adopt the higher developer impact fees that were supported by the outgoing council in 2016 and reversed by the new council majority in 2017. Those fee rates are also applied by the county to Stanford development so Stanford's payments for affordable housing were also reduced by that decision.
But even the higher impact fees will not be enough to fund our affordable housing needs. Significantly more dollars are needed from an overdue business tax, focused on big business, to pay for local transportation and affordable housing. After the council majority in 2017 also reversed its 2016 commitment to pursue such a tax, the council and city staff are now evaluating it.
Lastly, affordable housing is very constrained by the availability and affordability of sites. The city has already made significant progress in this area by adopting an Affordable Housing Overlay which allows for greater density and other incentives for such projects over other development. That overlay should be considered in the upcoming discussion of housing along San Antonio. Well crafted zoning, adapted to changing times, can drive the market toward desired results.


9 people like this
Posted by Tanaka Voted Against Maybell
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2019 at 11:48 am

When the Maybell affordable housing project came before the Planning and Transportation Commission, then Commissioner Tanaka voted against the Maybell project. He wondered aloud why there were no protesters apeaking against the project.


39 people like this
Posted by Maybell memories
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 5, 2019 at 12:36 pm

When I walked past the Maybell site last week, I saw the single family houses being built there. It made me remember the Weekly's editorial in favor of Measure D. The Weekly promised that voters could send a message to the city with a yes vote secure in the knowledge that the elderly housing would eventually be built there. It would be great to see an acknowledgement of that error by the Weekly. As Burt points out, land is scarce for housing and that was a previous opportunity lost to wishful thinking.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 5, 2019 at 12:53 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I have noted the building on the Maybell site. I looked it up on Google and it indicated that there was no carve out for seniors or low income. I am okay with what they are doing because the previous planned building on the site was way too much for the size of the overall parcel. They were cramming too much into the space. Add to that senior living problems require more busses to take people shopping and to medical calls, more traffic for services, etc. That was too much for that street. Tanaka was right - it was very poor planning and bad use of the property.
Hope the current plan works out - looks good and appears to fit in comfortably with the location.


11 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2019 at 3:31 pm

The impact fees are collected to improve municipal services so that the city can support the addition of new development, such as new roads, new parking structures, new electricity wiring, etc.

Impact fee is not for affordable housing!

This is an egregious misuse of tax dollars by the City of Palo Alto.

How many times did we complain about traffic jams, about the lack of parking, the lack of public transportation, or the potholes on our roads, or city wide Wifi? Where did the impact fees go??? Now we know. They are used to generate more traffic, more parking problems, and more demand for other municipal services.

This is insanity.


2 people like this
Posted by Bunyip
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 5, 2019 at 10:08 pm

Wait, is this the Palo Alto housing that's being built in redwood city on el camino?


19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2019 at 10:48 pm

@Stephen Levy “Our commercial impact fees are the highest in the county”


And still much, much less than the real housing impact of new commercial development.

Stephen Levy and PAF’s agenda is best understood as pro Big Tech development (“the economy” and yimby jobs), which relies on both new office space and new market rate housing for tech employees. Everybody knows most Palo Altans want to slow down on office space, so the talking point is Housing. But it should be clear the only use this group has for low income housing is an excuse to push for market rate housing, and argue it will trickle down.

Adrian Fine, who voted against office caps, against raising commercial impact fees, and twice against considering rent stabilization for low income renters, represents the same movement.


12 people like this
Posted by Downfall
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 6, 2019 at 9:50 am

We have an unfunded city pension & benefits liability estimated to be as high as ~800 million dollars. But by all means lets contribute $10 million to house 60 or so people. So glad this city council has its financial priorities in order!

I will never understand why housing has become such a priority. No one "deserves" to live in any city. Any adult with common sense & dignity 9of not living via constant handouts/subsidies from the govt) will choose to live in a city where it is within their means. The expectation we can house all those who would like to live in Palo Alto through more construction is fantasy, any housing built will be a drop in the bucket compared to the current demand.


11 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 6, 2019 at 1:03 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Downfall - we need the housing, the $10m is an appropriate allocation of funds. This project deserves community support.

The pension black hole is another issue altogether. The more I learn about CPA the more I marvel that our former City Manager was tolerated for as long as he was and praised (by some) when he left. Let's hope we do not tolerate such "good management" again; we cannot afford it.

I agree that no one "deserves" to live anywhere, but so what? We've got a serious housing problem and problems, including those like this that are self-inflicted, are best solved lest they get worse.

I have an arrow in my quiver for fighting this problem: my vote. I can contribute to the solution by not voting for incumbent candidates who nurtured the problem by promoting and approving inadequately mitigated commercial development or new candidates who are endorsed by those who did that. I can also stand in support of projects that improve our problems or in opposition to those that make them worse. I still believe in grass roots efforts. Join me!


4 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 6, 2019 at 3:00 pm

@Annette, it is wrong to claim that commercial development is "inadequately mitigated".

The developers paid hefty impact fees. Palo Alto impact fee schedule is extremely aggressive by any standards. The city is supposed to use the fees to adequately mitigate the additional demand on city services.

But impact fee is misused for affordable housing, and probably other "feel-good, virtual-signaling" projects. And you blames developers or the approval of the development? That is unfair.


10 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 6, 2019 at 4:27 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Regrettably, I suspect fairness became unattainable when balance was repeatedly ignored. With a jobs:housing imbalance as out of whack as our is, I doubt it is possible to remedy the situation in a way that is fair. If you have a solution, please share it with City Council.

Fair or not, the imbalance has been steadily fueled by commercial development that added jobs/workers who understandably need housing. It is painfully clear that the impact fees paid, however hefty, have not been adequate for the impacts of the development. The increase in homelessness, housing insecurity, and traffic stand as daily evidence of this. I am not an economist but I think that the more time passes the worse the numbers are likely to get simply b/c everything gets more expensive, particularly land. Developers want their efforts to be profitable and that means the housing will be expensive and that means Palo Alto is likely to remain unaffordable for most people.

Building higher and in-filling with density is one approach, but how tenable is that, really, if we cannot fully support the additional population? I am among those who think that the first step has to be enhancing transportation b/c if we grow our population w/o doing that we will have succeeded only in creating a bigger mess of things.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 6, 2019 at 4:53 pm

I have to wonder about why anyone thinks we need more growth. Yesterday at 5:15 PM, I was amazed to see two solid lanes of traffic for the 280 North onramp backed up all the way to the Page Mill light. TWO SOLID LANES of commuters trying to leaving down. Foothill was also solidly jammed and inching along --thanks to the "road furniture / traffic diet" that brilliantly eliminated traffic lanes to slow traffic.

Absolute madness.

Palo Alto Medical Foundation's says can't recruit doctors and the wait for PAMF appointments gets longer and longer, often running to more than 6 months and resulting in shoddier care. PAMF says they know they have a shortage and are trying to hire more doctors. Yet they keep advertising incessantly for more patients.

Also absolute madness.

We're maxed out. Before any elected official votes on more offices, more growth, Stanford's expansion, more traffic diets, they should be required to spend a week watching morning and evening rush hours.


4 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 6, 2019 at 10:01 pm

Online,

You can propose that Palo Alto do that, but you do not live in a vacuum. Try to get Mountain View, Menlo Park, and San Jose to go along. Remember, it is your esteemed Mayor Filseth who believes that Palo Alto can zone however it darn well pleases, any other jurisdiction or the state notwithstanding. Maybe the first step it for you to look inward at your own hypocrisy. In any case, other cities do not share the same feelings about development that you do. If you were rational, you would realize that a state law requiring all cities, Palo Alto and it neighbors to build more housing, is the only practical way to alleviate the jobs/housing imbalance.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2019 at 10:31 pm

@Chris

So, passing a state law requiring upzoning nowhere near transit, getting a modest amount of expensive market rate housing built, continuing to add vastly more jobs than supportable by that housing, driving more low income people out, and toasting yourself on your success and virtue. I’m sorry, you were saying something about hypocrisy?


7 people like this
Posted by Downfall
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 6, 2019 at 10:58 pm

@Annette

"The pension black hole is another issue altogether. The more I learn about CPA the more I marvel that our former City Manager was tolerated for as long as he was and praised (by some) when he left. Let's hope we do not tolerate such "good management" again; we cannot afford it."

Though the pension liability and lack of housing are separate issues there is still a finite amount of public funds. The pension liability was a critical issue long before the current housing "crisis". To me $10 million to house just 60 people is a grossly inefficient use of public funds. Better to try and pay down the pension deficit.

"I agree that no one "deserves" to live anywhere, but so what? We've got a serious housing problem and problems, including those like this that are self-inflicted, are best solved lest they get worse."

I believe the current housing issues are no longer solvable if the solution is to build more housing. The solution is to house the people that cannot afford to live hear using their own funds in lower cost areas.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 6, 2019 at 11:46 pm

@Chris, how is it hypocritical to suggest our elected officials do their homework -- and their jobs! -- and observe where we are NOW in terms of traffic and infrastructure before making things even WORSE?

When pro-development former Mayor Kniss claimed we didn't have a traffic problem, the outraged community response forced even the most hypocritical to pretend to care.

You say "you do not live in a vacuum. Try to get Mountain View, Menlo Park, and San Jose to go along." I'd reword that to say "try to get TO Mountain View..." in a reasonable amount of time! You can't. We're gridlocked and under-psrked.

What about all the job-poor communities like Portola Valley and Atherton, etc. Do they live in a vacuum?


Like this comment
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on Jun 10, 2019 at 11:45 pm

"I will never understand why housing has become such a priority."

Because you have two choices, lots more housing or plenty of traffic. The option endlessly proposed by zero-growth set, boot out the commercial enterprises, is completely unrealistic and isn't going to happen. Do you folks really prefer traffic and complaining over solutions?


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

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