Palo Alto Affordable Housing

Jamisen Ma

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The median home price of Palo Alto is the second highest in the Bay Area at $3.3 million. Due to this relatively high price, many people are not able to pay for housing. To solve this problem, the city has created a comprehensive, affordable housing plan that is projected to finish in 2030, and they are partnering with different companies, such as, Palo Alto Housing, Windy Hill, and Support Teaching Housing to complete this project.

According to the city’s comprehensive plan, housing is considered affordable when a household pays no more than 30% of its total income for housing costs. Affordable housing, or Below Market Rate housing, is only served to low-income workers. Within this group of low-income workers are four income tiers: extremely low income ($20,000-$40,000), very low income ($40,000-$60,000), low income ($60,000-$80,000) and moderate income($80,000-$100,000). Each house is specifically aimed to serve one tier, and each person must be qualified within the income tier to buy or rent the unit.

On April 10th, the Palo Alto City Council passed a new zoning ordinance that increases the maximum building height to 50 feet, doubles the current floor space per building. With the new policy, building organizations have fewer restrictions and more leeway, making their plans easier to get approved and implemented by the city, so more affordable housing can be made.

Palo Alto Housing, a non-profit organization designed to create more affordable housing, currently has two plans in the works: 50-60 units that are 100% affordable housing at 3709 El Camino Real and an unspecified location with 30% of the units for special needs adults and 70% for affordable housing.

Another organization that aims to support those who cannot afford this expensive housing is an advocacy group for teacher housing known as Support Teacher Housing. “Having teacher housing allows teachers to rent the house at a low cost, so they could save up for down payment and eventually buy their own homes,” Support Teaching Housing Staff Member Sarah Chaffin said. “Afterwards, a new set of teachers can come in. This shows that Palo Alto cares about their teachers, which is a great way to retain and recruit teachers.” The plan and land have been approved and secured by former State Senator and current Supervisor Joe Simitian; he has set aside a piece of land at 231 Grant Avenue and 6 million dollars with 60-120 units that serves teachers who have a long commute to work.

Windy Hill, a private housing company, has a plan for 55-60 units of housing, with 15-20% of them being affordable housing, that was approved by the Architectural Review Board a month ago. Since the location of these units is at a corner on the intersection of Page Mill and El Camino, Windy Hill will be using a special type of overlay that can achieve higher density.  

Councilman Adrian Fine hopes that these houses will get built quickly: “We haven’t accomplished that much. Last year we produced 82, then we produced 16. The city’s comprehensive plan has targeted 315 units each year,” he said. so we have to triple the amount of housing created in the next few years to meet our official goal.”

However, according to Fine, it might be slightly unrealistic with the current review process. Housing plans has to be submitted to the City Process, which checks over the plan’s building materials and zoning codes. Then, the plan goes to the architectural review board and, finally, the transportation committee.  “Every building is a long-term discussion. We have a more complicated process than most cities,” Fine said. “Time is money for affordable housing developers. We should try to figure out how to get things done, not continuing to study it and sending it through countless levels of incoherent reviews.”

According to Fine and legislative intern Maximilian Goetz, the city is divided in affordable housing, which is leading to a slow rate of production. Fine hopes the Palo Alto community can slowly turn the ship and put the city in a more housing-positive direction like Mountain View, which has planned 10,000 units, doubling Palo Alto’s plan of 5,000 houses. Fine thinks that more housing, in general, would be beneficial. “We can use a simple economic principle for housing: the law of supply and demand housing; the more housing you build, the demand is matched, and the price will go down,” Fine said. Further, he thinks housing would “refresh and reinvigorate our city, physically and socially.”

However, Goetz has a different perspective, “There are some people that do not support affordable housing because they think that it will decrease home values. Those are more of the elderly.”