While residents of Palo Alto's College Terrace neighborhood have for years fretted over Stanford University's purchase of homes on their blocks, new research by a group of media organizations has found that the university's housing portfolio may be larger than even residents have imagined.
Stanford University owns at least $1 billion in single-family residences countywide — or 700 homes, according to research by the San Jose Mercury News, NBC Bay Area, KQED, Telemundo, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
In Palo Alto, Stanford now owns at least 37 single-family homes, including 32 in College Terrace, up from 23 in that neighborhood in 2017, when the Palo Alto Weekly did a survey.
The five media outlets joined forces to analyze county real-estate data for a project to answer the question of who owns Silicon Valley, Mercury News reporter Marisa Kendall said during a meeting of the College Terrace Residents Association on Wednesday night.
Residents expressed concerned about the upswing in acquisitions, which they say are increasing the cost of home ownership, taking valuable housing off the market for the general public and changing the quality of their neighborhood.
College Terrace is adjacent to the university's south side between Stanford and California avenues, southwest of El Camino Real. The neighborhood is comprised of about 900 households, according to the residents' association. That includes more than 600 single-family homes.
The university also owns five houses in the Southgate and Evergreen Park neighborhoods, across El Camino Real from College Terrace.
Stanford acquires homes through bequests and purchases, university spokeswoman Jean McCown told the Weekly in 2017. Single-family, off-campus residences in neighborhoods are popular with faculty members, especially professors. Stanford uses ground leases, by which the university retains ownership of a property while the "buyer" can build on it or purchase the existing residence.
Most of Stanford's housing is on-campus or on land it owns. The university recently has increased its housing stock on its own property by adding 180 units at its University Terrace subdivision in the Stanford Research Park between California Avenue and Page Mill Road, 68 of which are single-family homes; new residences at Escondido Village; 39 single-family homes at Olmsted Terrace, between Olmsted Road and Stanford Avenue; and a planned 10-home development in the San Juan Hills neighborhood.
Kendall did not say how many of the university's 700 single-family homes are located in Palo Alto and how many are on Stanford land. Stanford's general-use permit from Santa Clara County, which governs building on its campus, limits the number of on-campus residences the university can add.
College Terrace residents said Stanford's home-ownership is damaging the quality of their neighborhood, driving up prices and giving the university an unfair political advantage.
In terms of community life, the number of vacant or "ghost" houses the university has let stand has been an ongoing issue, neighbors contend. In May 2018, the Weekly found nine vacant properties: seven older homes and two vacant lots, which had been empty for at least a year or more. That number appears to have increased significantly. When Kendall visited the Stanford-owned College Terrace properties, she found 22 vacant, she said Wednesday. Of those, eight properties were under construction, she said.
Kent Stavn, whose family has owned property in the Terrace for generations, said Wednesday that homeless people were living in one vacant house on Oberlin Street.
"It is disconcerting," resident Irina Cross said about the vacancies. One home on Yale Street has been vacant for five years. Another, which she said is in "perfect condition," has been empty for three years.
Other neighbors said the university can afford to pay above the property's asking price and can out-bid other potential buyers. The result is that even current College Terrace residents with growing families can't buy a home in their community.
College Terrace residents also complained that purchases by Stanford for its faculty and staff are creating a scarcity of available housing. When Stanford buys homes and sells them through ground leases, those properties never go on the market again, a resident noted.
There's a balance of power that changes in the neighborhood when one purchaser owns 32 homes, one resident said Wednesday.
Ann Balin, whose family has lived in the Terrace since the 1920s, agreed. The university is changing the fabric of the neighborhood.
"I see it as an invasion. The character of the neighborhood is almost at a tipping point," she said.
Stanford spokesman E.J. Miranda said in an email that the university owns only about 5% of the single-family homes in College Terrace.
Stanford faculty have lived in College Terrace since the neighborhood's inception, he wrote.
"In an effort to meet the university's housing needs, the university has added to its inventory in College Terrace over the last few years. These acquisitions in College Terrace are part of a larger strategy by Stanford to provide housing for faculty where they have traditionally chosen to live and within walking and biking distance to campus," he wrote.
"They have been a means to supplement Stanford's larger housing efforts, including building housing communities for faculty, as represented by University Terrace," he stated.
"Many of the homes that Stanford acquired needed redevelopment or renovation," he added. "We continue to work with residents and CTRA as these homes are renovated and redeveloped and ready for occupancy."
He said the university put together its redevelopment timeline based on feedback from CTRA that the community wanted several homes rebuilt concurrently, rather than leaving the homes vacant.
Stanford not only dominates in private residential ownership in the county, the university owns nearly $17 billion in property, making it the county's largest private property owner. That includes $14.6 billion in commercial acquisitions such as Stanford Shopping Center, Kendall said. Its next closest competitors for overall property ownership are San Jose-based Irvine Co., at $5.9 billion, and Google and Apple, with about $5 billion each, the investigative report found.
The media consortium's report is expected to be published and air in mid-to-late October.
Addendum: Miranda provided the following accounting of the university's faculty and staff residential holdings, which are greater than Kendall's findings: 47 homes on Stanford-owned land throughout Palo Alto. Nineteen are currently ground-leased or rented to faculty and staff; the remaining 28 are owned by Stanford (read vacant). Many are being renovated or redeveloped to be ground leased to faculty.
In Palo Alto, there are an additional 180 homes at University Terrace (112 condos and 68 single-family homes), 628 rental homes at Stanford West, and 108 rental units at Welch Road Apartments. Colonnade apartments provides an additional 167 rental units in Los Altos.
In addition, 937 homes -- mainly single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, and condos, with six apartments -- on the unincorporated Santa Clara County portion of Stanford’s campus. Of these, 98 are owned by Stanford, including 25 townhomes built as rental housing for staff and the six rental apartments.