Even as the city of East Palo Alto is reviewing proposals for more than 558 new market-rate apartments, condos and single-family homes, it is also embarking on an ambitious plan to build 500 deed-restricted affordable-housing units by Dec. 31, 2023.
The city has approved 91 units of new affordable housing at the Light Tree Apartments at 1805 E. Bayshore Road. Additionally, the city is also planning to build 120 below-market-rate apartments at 965 Weeks St. on property it owns.
The city's next step is to find locations for another 290 affordable units, Sean Charpentier, assistant city manager, said this week.
East Palo Alto currently has more than $18 million available to fund the additional housing from a variety of sources, including housing in-lieu fees and the Catalyst Housing fund from Facebook, among others. The city expects additional revenue sources could boost that fund to $29.6 million, according to its 2018 Affordable Housing Strategy plan.
One new strategy the city's considering for boosting its stock of affordable housing is an inclusionary housing ordinance, under which developers of market-rate housing would have to designate a percentage of the units as below-market-rate. Such an ordinance could require a 15% to 20% rate, Charpentier said.
East Palo Alto is also looking to develop underutilized land to meet its housing goals. The city could potentially leverage school district land, church sites and a small vacant parcel it owns at the corner of Bay Road and University Avenue. The city is also considering working with Barry Swenson Builder, which owns an adjoining property at Bay and University, to potentially use the 20-acre site for mixed-use development.
Like other cities, East Palo Alto is also hoping that secondary dwelling units, or granny units, built on existing single-family properties could contribute to its overall housing stock. The city has set a goal to create 50 additional second units, or 10 per year, through 2023, according to Guido Persicone, city planning and housing manager for the community and economic development department.
But that housing will just be a drop in the bucket in a city where there is already overcrowding.
"It won't be enough. We're out of space. We have to intensify (density)," he said.
The city has identified a number of areas in its Vista 2035 General Plan for much higher-density housing. The majority are on the city's west side, where 1,800 apartments in Woodland Park, many of which are rent controlled, are owned by Sand Hill Property Company.
Some areas north of University Avenue behind the University Circle office center, within areas owned by Woodland/Sand Hill, are designated for 43.1 to 86 units per acre and up to seven stories, known as "urban residential" zoning.
This area and south of University between the highway and the creek are zoned for high-density residential development (22.1 to 43 units per acre, maximum five stories) and medium-density residential (12.1 to 22 units per acre, a maximum three stories or 36 feet in height).
East of the highway, along University and Bay Road, the city has established a mixed-use corridor that would include low-and high-mixed-use developments.
No matter how many units the city creates, it won't be enough to meet current and future housing demands, Charpentier said. The housing crisis comes after decades of regional failure to create housing, and East Palo Alto can't be expected to shoulder all local cities' housing needs.
"We can't keep up. We do our best," Charpentier said. "It's frustrating for us. We can't build our way out of it. The problem is significantly larger than our impact."
• View this interactive map plotting some of the housing projects the city is set to review this fall and winter.