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Message from Mayor Filseth: Affordable Housing Victory

Message from Mayor Filseth: Affordable Housing Victory

At our second meeting of the year on Jan. 14, the Council approved an affordable housing proposal from the Palo Alto Housing non-profit. The project, known as Wilton Court, will contain 59 units of below-market-rate housing in the Ventura neighborhood at 3705 El Camino Real. Twenty-one of the units will be reserved for adults with developmental disabilities.

Council laid the groundwork for the project when it approved a new housing overlay tool last April that relaxes zoning restrictions for affordable housing projects located within a half-mile of a major transit stop, or a quarter mile of a transit corridor. The Palo Alto Housing proposal for Wilton Court was the first project submitted under the new zoning rules. The units will be designated for residents making between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income or between $28,000 and $55,000 for a one-person household.

Palo Alto’s planning staff, Palo Alto Housing and the architect firm responded to the neighborhood’s initial concerns about the height, density and traffic impacts and made changes that helped the project gain the support of the community.

Council’s approval included a condition to ensure the project's parking and traffic impacts would be properly addressed, a clause directing staff to evaluate a Residential Preferential Parking program in the neighborhood, plus a direction to staff to conduct a comprehensive traffic study for Ventura.

I want to personally thank both Palo Alto Housing and the Ventura neighborhood, whose hard work made this possible; and also Liz Kniss, who as Mayor last year was a chief champion and critical driver of this project culminating in the January 14 vote. 

While zoning is a factor, the most important obstacle to affordable housing is normally funding. Since Below-Market-Rate projects by definition generate lower rental income than market-rate projects, affordable housing developers must find extra sources of money in order to make the project economics work. In this case, Palo Alto will contribute $10 million out of its Affordable Housing Fund to help finance the project, leaving about $3 million in the fund. In May of 2017, the City contributed $15 million from the fund to help save the homes of 400 residents living at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park.

The remaining $3 million is tentatively targeted for Supervisor Joe Simitian’s proposed Teacher Housing project on Grant Avenue. The lesson is clear: if we want to have more Affordable Housing projects sooner, we must find ways of growing the City’s Affordable Housing Fund faster.

Last Updated: January 28, 2019