East Palo Alto eyes multiple strategies for shrinking the housing gap

City plans to add 500 new affordable units in five years

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."

Related content:

View this interactive map plotting some of the housing projects the city is set to review this fall and winter.

Developers propose to build more than 800 housing units in East Palo Alto


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Like this comment
Posted by Cinder
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Anything for BMR homes in the planning??

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2019 at 2:28 pm

Posted by Cinder, a resident of East Palo Alto

>> Anything for BMR homes in the planning??

Yes, described in the article.

But, I'm not sure why they are building so much "market rate" housing. What we need is BMR housing.

2 people like this
Posted by M&M
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2019 at 3:17 pm

Anon - what do you mean by "they" regarding market rate housing? The city isn't looking to build that. As the article says, it's reviewing proposals for market rate housing - from developers. All types of housing is needed, including market rate. What's wonderful is that the city is focusing on more BMR housing, as officials know the city is no longer considered very affordable. We're not seeing this in Portola Valley, Atherton, Woodside. We're certainly not seeing this eagerness in Menlo, which had to be legally carried, kicking & screaming, to do their part with affordable housing.

5 people like this
Posted by Yasmin
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2019 at 11:29 pm

East Palo Alto is in dire need of more section 8 projects based housing. BMR unit's rents raise yearly. It’s similar to the balloon loan, one day your bound to pop and force to move out, Ask the families living at Peninsula Park Apartments & Nugent Square under the BMR program. The BMR rent raises yearly unlike people's income. Don’t be fooled by the name BMR. The BMR program is like the wolves in sheep clothing. Section 8 project based housing is sustainable, if families experience a sudden loss in income, they’ll have the opportunity to request for a rental reduction. BMR doesn’t offer the same type of protection nor flexibility if families are unable to pay the rent under BMR, they can expect an eviction notice.

4 people like this
Posted by Rich
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2019 at 6:44 pm

They need to raise the Section 8 income law. People earning 110k or less should qualify for sec8.

Like this comment
Posted by Newell Resident
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jul 23, 2019 at 10:41 am

Are they still preserving the existing rent-controlled apartments?

Never heard of another builder doing that so, if so, thats pretty awesome

2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Posted by M&M, a resident of East Palo Alto

>> Anon - what do you mean by "they" regarding market rate housing? The city isn't looking to build that. As the article says, it's reviewing proposals for market rate housing - from developers.

M&M -- I'm sorry, but, I tend to see most city governments and office-space-developers as all part of the same team. Cynical, or, realistic-- you decide. I refer to the actors as "they". Either way, "they" keep building new office space, and then, "they" act surprised when everybody who works in that space has to commute from Modesto. So, a "crisis" is declared, and, for every 10,000 new jobs, 100 new housing units are built. Well, I'm sorry, but, I've seen this same sorry process going on since the late 70's. And, I don't know what is worse-- are "they" all that corrupt, or, are "they" all that incapable of seeing the obvious arithmetical error? Either way, it is demoralizing.

-No more office space.-

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

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