News

Affordable apartments debut at Wilton Court

Tenants begin to move into the long-awaited development at 3705 El Camino Real

For months, Dawn Wood watched hopefully as the four-story building down the street from her family's home transformed from concept to reality.

Every day, the Palo Alto resident would walk by and look through the fence and take note of all the progress: the laying of the rebar, the pouring of the elevator shafts, the installation of tiles in the building's facade, which she was pleased to see were not just Styrofoam boards with veneer.

Dawn Wood in her studio apartment at Wilton Court in Palo Alto on Dec. 6, 2022. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

"I was going, 'That's so cool — actual tiles. That's going to wear really well,'" she recalled.

For Wood, 42, the ritual was not merely an exercise in curiosity. Living with cerebral palsy and developmental Gerstmann's syndrome, a cognitive impairment that makes it impossible for her to navigate around the city, drive or handwrite, she needs assistance to get to her destinations and to fill all the paperwork associated with receiving aid. After living in San Jose, where she attended college and studied anthropology, she moved back to her family home on Wilton Avenue, taking up the back to bedrooms while seeking opportunities for independent living.

The new 50-foot-tall building at 3705 El Camino Real represented her best chance to remain in the community where she grew up. She corresponded with Alta Housing, the nonprofit that developed the project, during the construction and was happy to learn in recent weeks that she would be one of the first tenants at Wilton Court, a 59-apartment complex for low-income residents and individuals with disabilities.

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Her new apartment features a galley kitchen, a spacious bathroom and a large closet on the side of a living room that overlooks an outdoor podium furnished with tables, chairs and lemon and lime trees. Every floor in the building is color-coded for easy recognition, and the ground floor features colorful murals, a laundry room, a storage room for bicycle parking and a community room that will feature game nights, fitness programs and classes offered by the Palo Alto Adult School.

"It's like winning a lottery to have it land in your backyard," Wood said during a recent interview in her new apartment. "Normally, you go where the housing is. So, I think it's wonderful that it's an actually available place."

The project, which hosted a grand opening ceremony on Thursday morning, also represents a major milestone for Alta Housing, which was founded in Palo Alto and suffered a stinging setback in 2013, when voters overturned in a referendum a zone change that would have enabled it to build a residential complex on Maybell Avenue with 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes. In the years following the vote, the nonprofit, which was then known as the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, left its hometown, changed its name and pursued projects in the neighboring communities of Redwood City and Mountain View.

Alta Housing CEO Randy Tsuda speaks to attendees at the grand opening of Wilton Court in Palo Alto on Dec. 8, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Wilton Court took nearly a decade to plan, design and construct. Randy Tsuda, CEO of Alta Housing, told a crowd of assembled dignitaries, housing advocates and city staff Thursday that the nonprofit is thrilled to be back in Palo Alto, which he said "will always be our home."

"As many of you know, Alta is now building projects throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, but building here in Palo Alto, our hometown, where we had roots for 52 years now, this is an especially meaningful and especially noteworthy occasion," Tsuda said.

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Wilton Court also offers a rare victory for housing advocates in Palo Alto, a city that has struggled over the past decade to address what city officials routinely acknowledge is a crisis of housing affordability. When the City Council voted in January 2019 to approve Wilton Court, the development became the first affordable-housing project to win approval in seven years.

Even as affordable housing has consistently topped the council's list of priorities, the city remains well below its regionally mandated target for below-market-rate units. In the current cycle of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which stretches from 2015 to 2022, the city has issued permits for just 101 units catering to the "very low" income level and 60 at the "low" income level, according to data from the city's Department of Planning and Development Services.

The task of adding affordable housing will become even more critical in the coming years, with state mandates becoming more ambitious and new laws adding consequences for cities that fall short. In the next cycle, which goes from 2023 to 2031, Palo Alto is required to plan for 778 residences in the "very low" income category and another 778 in the "extremely low" income bracket.

For Alta Housing, the journey toward Wilton Court was decidedly different from its Maybell experience. The Ventura neighborhood has been broadly supportive of the project and the council helped get it off the ground with two loans totaling more than $20 million. Members of the Ventura Neighborhood Association also toured the facility just days before its grand opening.

"It's not every time that you get to say thank you to the neighborhood, but I think it is incredibly noteworthy that the Ventura neighborhood came out in support of this project at the Palo Alto City Council," Tsuda said, singling out Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association and a project supporter.

Palo Alto leaders hope that Wilton Court will be the first in a series of affordable-housing projects to open in the coming months and years. The city is now working with the nonprofit LifeMoves to open a transitional-housing project on San Antonio Road, near the Baylands. Other projects now going through the city's development pipeline include 525 E. Charleston Road, a development by Eden Housing that will include 50 affordable units; a planned 110-apartment complex for teachers at 231 Grant Ave.; and a project pitched by Charities Housing that would bring 129 below-market-rate apartments to an El Camino Real site formerly occupied by Mike's Bikes.

Mayor Pat Burt highlighted these projects during the Thursday ceremony, calling them a reflection of the city's values.

"There is a shared value structure," Burt said. "There is a value of diversity in our housing and affordable housing. And neighbors will support these projects, we just have to engage and tweak things on the margins. Every one of those things can be accomplished if we take that approach."

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Affordable apartments debut at Wilton Court

Tenants begin to move into the long-awaited development at 3705 El Camino Real

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 9, 2022, 6:58 am

For months, Dawn Wood watched hopefully as the four-story building down the street from her family's home transformed from concept to reality.

Every day, the Palo Alto resident would walk by and look through the fence and take note of all the progress: the laying of the rebar, the pouring of the elevator shafts, the installation of tiles in the building's facade, which she was pleased to see were not just Styrofoam boards with veneer.

"I was going, 'That's so cool — actual tiles. That's going to wear really well,'" she recalled.

For Wood, 42, the ritual was not merely an exercise in curiosity. Living with cerebral palsy and developmental Gerstmann's syndrome, a cognitive impairment that makes it impossible for her to navigate around the city, drive or handwrite, she needs assistance to get to her destinations and to fill all the paperwork associated with receiving aid. After living in San Jose, where she attended college and studied anthropology, she moved back to her family home on Wilton Avenue, taking up the back to bedrooms while seeking opportunities for independent living.

The new 50-foot-tall building at 3705 El Camino Real represented her best chance to remain in the community where she grew up. She corresponded with Alta Housing, the nonprofit that developed the project, during the construction and was happy to learn in recent weeks that she would be one of the first tenants at Wilton Court, a 59-apartment complex for low-income residents and individuals with disabilities.

Her new apartment features a galley kitchen, a spacious bathroom and a large closet on the side of a living room that overlooks an outdoor podium furnished with tables, chairs and lemon and lime trees. Every floor in the building is color-coded for easy recognition, and the ground floor features colorful murals, a laundry room, a storage room for bicycle parking and a community room that will feature game nights, fitness programs and classes offered by the Palo Alto Adult School.

"It's like winning a lottery to have it land in your backyard," Wood said during a recent interview in her new apartment. "Normally, you go where the housing is. So, I think it's wonderful that it's an actually available place."

The project, which hosted a grand opening ceremony on Thursday morning, also represents a major milestone for Alta Housing, which was founded in Palo Alto and suffered a stinging setback in 2013, when voters overturned in a referendum a zone change that would have enabled it to build a residential complex on Maybell Avenue with 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes. In the years following the vote, the nonprofit, which was then known as the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, left its hometown, changed its name and pursued projects in the neighboring communities of Redwood City and Mountain View.

Wilton Court took nearly a decade to plan, design and construct. Randy Tsuda, CEO of Alta Housing, told a crowd of assembled dignitaries, housing advocates and city staff Thursday that the nonprofit is thrilled to be back in Palo Alto, which he said "will always be our home."

"As many of you know, Alta is now building projects throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, but building here in Palo Alto, our hometown, where we had roots for 52 years now, this is an especially meaningful and especially noteworthy occasion," Tsuda said.

Wilton Court also offers a rare victory for housing advocates in Palo Alto, a city that has struggled over the past decade to address what city officials routinely acknowledge is a crisis of housing affordability. When the City Council voted in January 2019 to approve Wilton Court, the development became the first affordable-housing project to win approval in seven years.

Even as affordable housing has consistently topped the council's list of priorities, the city remains well below its regionally mandated target for below-market-rate units. In the current cycle of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which stretches from 2015 to 2022, the city has issued permits for just 101 units catering to the "very low" income level and 60 at the "low" income level, according to data from the city's Department of Planning and Development Services.

The task of adding affordable housing will become even more critical in the coming years, with state mandates becoming more ambitious and new laws adding consequences for cities that fall short. In the next cycle, which goes from 2023 to 2031, Palo Alto is required to plan for 778 residences in the "very low" income category and another 778 in the "extremely low" income bracket.

For Alta Housing, the journey toward Wilton Court was decidedly different from its Maybell experience. The Ventura neighborhood has been broadly supportive of the project and the council helped get it off the ground with two loans totaling more than $20 million. Members of the Ventura Neighborhood Association also toured the facility just days before its grand opening.

"It's not every time that you get to say thank you to the neighborhood, but I think it is incredibly noteworthy that the Ventura neighborhood came out in support of this project at the Palo Alto City Council," Tsuda said, singling out Becky Sanders, moderator of the Ventura Neighborhood Association and a project supporter.

Palo Alto leaders hope that Wilton Court will be the first in a series of affordable-housing projects to open in the coming months and years. The city is now working with the nonprofit LifeMoves to open a transitional-housing project on San Antonio Road, near the Baylands. Other projects now going through the city's development pipeline include 525 E. Charleston Road, a development by Eden Housing that will include 50 affordable units; a planned 110-apartment complex for teachers at 231 Grant Ave.; and a project pitched by Charities Housing that would bring 129 below-market-rate apartments to an El Camino Real site formerly occupied by Mike's Bikes.

Mayor Pat Burt highlighted these projects during the Thursday ceremony, calling them a reflection of the city's values.

"There is a shared value structure," Burt said. "There is a value of diversity in our housing and affordable housing. And neighbors will support these projects, we just have to engage and tweak things on the margins. Every one of those things can be accomplished if we take that approach."

Comments

felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2022 at 6:58 am
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 6:58 am

Wilton Court is great news for everyone in Palo Alto.
I like the impressive list of several more needed below-market-rate housing projects planned for our town.
Well done.


Paly Grad
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2022 at 7:42 am
Paly Grad, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 7:42 am

Photos would be helpful!


Ugh
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 9, 2022 at 8:35 am
Ugh, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 8:35 am

This is such a great example of building smart- we need more of these bmr buildings, instead of market rate multistory condos.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 9, 2022 at 9:38 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 9:38 am

"Even as affordable housing has consistently topped the council's list of priorities, the city remains well below its regionally mandated target for below-market-rate units. In the current cycle of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which stretches from 2015 to 2022, the city has issued permits for just 101 units catering to the "very low" income level and 60 at the "low" income level, according to data from the city's Department of Planning and Development Services."

Only 161 out of 6,086?? What hypocrisy. But we know the pro-density lobbyists only care about more ugly market rate housing for the highly paid techies at the companies backing them while they destroy small retailers and restaurants.


Resident
Registered user
Midtown
on Dec 9, 2022 at 11:20 am
Resident, Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 11:20 am

We should ONLY be building affordable housing. Plenty of For Lease signs around town, yet rents remain incredibly high.

Example: a recent posting on a local FB group to sublease a 1 BR apartment in a recently built Palo Alto building. The rent is almost $5k per month for a 1 BR apartment! PTC and city councilmembers should not be approving construction projects without knowing the projected per-unit rents.


Amie
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:07 pm
Amie, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:07 pm

I am thrilled with Wilton Court's opening! We need about 50 more of these developments - so let's REZONE sites for them as part of the Housing Element.

Further, if we want to support local businesses, protect the environment, and bolster our (shrinking) schools; we need a lot more condos, apartments, and microunits of all price ranges. Imagine the boost for Cal Ave businesses if 1,000 units were developed on the City-owned parking lots over there. It would be transformative for our city.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:41 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:41 pm

I hope they don't have major staff turnover like Related / Mayfield Place. Since 2017 open, 4 site managers, 6 maintenence (Mayfield Agreement 2005) The quality of life at Mayfield 4 very low-income, working family residents is subpar. Structural problems, broken appliances, non life threatening fire & carbon alarms going off at 4am waking entire complex. Alarm company canceling fire department, burst pipes, flooding, deep cracks in concrete walls (building shifted from Sandhill properties smashing concrete, shaking the structure for months every day) floors buckling. Counters pulling away from walls, press board crumbling into safe food areas, carpets rolling up, filthy air vents. 7 tiny washers (no extra large capacity) for 70 families, ongoing boiler/water issues. In perspective: Seque construction was the contractor and went belly up in 2016. All finishes in units were shorted by 2 - 3 inches, power surges burning out appliances. Overcrowding families in units, no safe residential parking, harassing lease violations to tenants, threatening tenants to pay for broken cheap appliances, bullying tenants to find jobs. Posting on doors three day "pay or quit" notices when tenants are knocked out by COVID, No full time manager, no posted office hours, no support job search amenities, no access 2 bulletin board 4 community, no working printer or computers 4 residents 2 upskill jobs & job search, no access to dedicated/open, working computer station(s), stolen mail & packages, stolen bikes, car break-ins. Have not seen part-time contracted resource Project Access for 2 months. No after school program, dirty ill kept - unpicked up recycling bins... rats, maggots, wasps nests. Related / Mayfield place may be in violation of their ground lease 2 Stanford & Stanford in violation of Palo Alto Mayfield agreement .


BSK
Registered user
Stanford
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:46 pm
BSK, Stanford
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:46 pm

Wilton Court, Great achievement! It honors today and wonderful people like the late Anne Steinberg, Palo Alto Planning Commissioner, late Mickie Zatz, founding treasurer of Palo Alto Housing Corp board, and all the others who over 50 years inspired, advocated, recruited additional people, resources to create, maintain and carefully nurture now and future mix of housing choices that enhance Palo Alto as a great place to live.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:46 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 1:46 pm

Oh and Related owns Hudson Yard, newly built luxury apartment condo's in NYC.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 9, 2022 at 2:23 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 2:23 pm

"I am thrilled with Wilton Court's opening! We need about 50 more of these developments - so let's REZONE sites for them as part of the Housing Element."

Yes! And subtract them immediately from the 6.086 target by reclassifying all if the market rate developments.

"Further, if we want to support local businesses, protect the environment, and bolster our (shrinking) schools; we need a lot more condos, apartments, and microunits of all price ranges. Imagine the boost for Cal Ave businesses if 1,000 units were developed on the City-owned parking lots over there. It would be transformative for our city. "


Sure. And where would the shoppers park? Too bad most of the stores are already gone as I learned years ago when I scheduled my smog appointment, figuring I could spent the hour browsing the Cal Ave shops.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 9, 2022 at 4:35 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2022 at 4:35 pm

"Imagine the boost for Cal Ave businesses if 1,000 units were developed..."

Cal Ave businesses were doing better back when the local population was lower. That suggests something other than a lack of population is causing the problem, and therefore there's no reason to believe that increasing the population will solve it.

Wilton Court is good news, definitely. Congratulations to everyone involved.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 10, 2022 at 9:09 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 10, 2022 at 9:09 am

I join those in being glad about this housing. More would be great! This makes more sense to me than building more market rate housing that remains vacant. Alto Locale comes immediatley to mind. Is it unappealing even to those who can afford it?

Comments by Native to the Bay warrant investigation. If found to be true, the issues should be remedied and steps should be taken to make certain that they are not repeated anywhere. Affordable should not mean sub-standard.

Also, the caption overlooks a civic detail: Lydia Kou is Vice Mayor.


resident3
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2022 at 11:01 am
resident3, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 10, 2022 at 11:01 am

Annette,

“This makes more sense to me than building more market rate housing that remains vacant. Alto Locale comes immediatley to mind. Is it unappealing even to those who can afford it?”

A market rate one bedroom and studio are the same anywhere so unappealing” (or appealing) depends on what other options there are. I personally wouldn’t pay higher prices for a cookie cutter in Palo Alto (with no parking) unless all the cookie cutter buildings that have popped up just North or South of PA have no vacancies, and I had no other choice. Work from home reduces the amount of time one needs to be near a job, so there’s that too.


MyFeelz
Registered user
JLS Middle School
on Dec 10, 2022 at 8:26 pm
MyFeelz, JLS Middle School
Registered user
on Dec 10, 2022 at 8:26 pm

@Native:

You can familiarize yourself with the whole CA tax credit website. Especially this tab: Web Link which is the main page showing all of the regulations they are tasked with overseeing at CTCAC.

It's a sticky wicket, but there is a way to get the building inspected due to habitability issues from CTCAC, rather than going through Stanford City to try to get their code enforcement to effect change. Epecially when it involves any property they are party to. But, you know, Stanford is a law school city and they specialize in the art of De Lay. That's every lawyer's forte.


Local Resident
Registered user
Community Center
on Dec 11, 2022 at 1:17 pm
Local Resident, Community Center
Registered user
on Dec 11, 2022 at 1:17 pm

Wilton Court is a great example of how, when a developer meaningfully positively engages the local community it can gain broad support. I hope this example will be followed for future projects.

This article fails to mention saving Buena Vista and preventing displacement of many low income families from Palo Alto. It also does not mention the Palo Alto has the second most below market subsidized housing per capita of any city in Santa Clara County. Nor that Palo Alto voters just approved measure K that provides 3 million each year in affordable housing. Also that when Palo Alto does add housing, its not doing it in conjunction with large office projects, which negate any affordability improvement, unlike Mountain View and Redwood City.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2022 at 1:24 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 11, 2022 at 1:24 pm

The Maybell project was not primarily a low-income housing project and it did not fail because of opposition to low-income housing.

It was a "planned community project" that was largely large market-rate housing with a low-income element. The community felt it was too large. Various offers were made to the developer, who wanted his large project.

It went to a vote, with many people asking the developer to reconsider the market-rate housing's size. People voted against the project and expressed their regrets for doing so.

I am usually sympathetic to developers but in this case I was not.


Easy8
Registered user
Green Acres
on Dec 11, 2022 at 9:18 pm
Easy8, Green Acres
Registered user
on Dec 11, 2022 at 9:18 pm

Isn't one of the new council members (Julie Lythcott-Haims?) against affordable housing, preferring market rate housing instead? Someone please correct if wrong.

If so, what was the reasoning behind her stance?


Jerry Underdal
Registered user
Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2022 at 11:32 pm
Jerry Underdal, Barron Park
Registered user
on Dec 11, 2022 at 11:32 pm

A few weeks ago I suggested that the community should review the impacts of the Maybell Project and place them into three categories: good, bad, and yet to be determined. I consider the relatively smooth process that has delivered this wonderful apartment complex to be a good impact of the Maybell controversy. Lessons were learned in that bruising battle about what it takes to shepherd a multi family, low- and very low-income housing project through to acceptance by the neighborhood most closely affected.

I consider the savaging of the reputation and ability to function of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation to be a bad impact of the Maybell Project. PAHC had to give up on Palo Alto for several years and rebrand itself as Alta Housing before it could return to its role as the go-to support for low-income housing in the city. Unjustly characterized as a profit-seeking big developer, PAHC served as a convenient target for residents who wanted to register their dissatisfaction with the hand played in city land use decisions by actual profit-seeking big developers.

One point I haven’t seen made about the Wilton Project is that PAHC already owned the property it was built on, so acquiring the property was not a battle that needed to be fought to bring the project forward.

Congratulations to all who contributed to seeing the Wilton Project through to completion. It stands out in sharp contrast to its surroundings on El Camino Real. I wish the new council success in approving more projects to address our multiple housing needs.


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2022 at 9:57 pm
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 12, 2022 at 9:57 pm

Wow, I recommend that the city looks into all the problems with Mayfield Place. I would like to know if what is stated above is true!


Jerry Underdal
Registered user
Barron Park
on Dec 13, 2022 at 2:26 pm
Jerry Underdal, Barron Park
Registered user
on Dec 13, 2022 at 2:26 pm

"when voters overturned in a referendum"

Clicking on this blue text link in the article took me to the Weekly's story on the defeat of Measure D in 2013 and the Town Square discussion that followed. With the benefit of ten years of observation of how the politics of housing has evolved in Palo Alto since then, I enjoyed the chance to compare what I thought likely to happen with what in fact has taken place.

Thank you, Weekly, for the link.


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