Updated: Mon, Feb 10, 2014, 8:25 am
Uploaded: Fri, Feb 7, 2014, 7:04 pm
Downtown affordable-housing complex officially opens
Local officials, organizations praise 801 Alma at a grand opening event Friday, stressing its importance in Palo Alto
A decade-long effort to build a downtown Palo Alto affordable housing project officially came to fruition Friday afternoon at the grand opening ceremony for 801 Alma Family Apartments, a four-story, 50-unit building for families earning 30 to 50 percent of the median income in the area.
"Sometimes you think 10 years isn't worth it, but I walked in today and said, 'Oh my god, this is so worth it,'" said Linda Mandolini, president of Eden Housing, a Northern California nonprofit that works to build and support affordable housing. "This is one of the nicest developments that we have ever built. It is in a community that desperately needs affordable housing."
The apartment complex, a product of years-long collaboration between Eden, the nonprofit Community Working Group and the City of Palo Alto, was approved by the city in November 2009, despite criticism that it was too dense, opposition from neighbors, concern about its close proximity to the road and a controversial building design, often described as fortress-like.
The city supported the project with a bankroll of $9,780,000; other funding came from federal low-income housing tax credits, county general-use funds, the Santa Clara County Housing Trust, the Sobrato Family Foundation and many donors.
801 Alma, which replaced Ole's auto repair shop and a city electrical substation, includes a large community room, outdoor courtyard, play structure for children, computer learning center, bike storage, bench-lined sidewalk, laundry room, on-site manager's unit and underground parking. The housing is meant to serve working families earning at or below the county's median income, which in 2012 was approximately $22,050 for one person at 30 percent of the median and up to $52,500 for a family of four at 50 percent.
Jesus Armas, chair of Eden Housing's board of directors, said the waiting list for 801 Alma's 50 one- to three-bedroom units was in excess of 1,000 families.
"When we saw the numbers of people who applied for this development, we were overwhelmed," Mandolini added. "And we continue to be overwhelmed in the Bay Area. We have 15,000 households on our waiting list right now for 6,000 units of housing. So we could turn our properties over three times and still not accommodate everybody that wants to live in them."
One applicant who did get a room at 801 Alma, Karen Purvis, spoke at the event. Born and raised in Palo Alto, the single mother of two was homeless for three and a half years. She said she spent those years hopping from one local motel or hotel to another, trying to stay in the area so her sons could attend Palo Alto schools.
"He didn't tell (his friends) he was homeless," she said of one of her sons. "He told them that he lived in downtown Palo Alto."
Nayeli Vazquez, another 801 Alma resident, opened her three-bedroom apartment for a tour on Friday. With twin 3-year-olds and a 7-year-old, she said it was not only the affordability but also the space in her new 1,192-square-foot home that has made all the difference.
"The space for my kids (is the most important)," she said. "The place we were before was a small space."
The message that affordable housing is still desperately needed in Palo Alto lingered at Friday's event, despite the celebratory atmosphere.
"We work hard to build housing and services for those who need it, for people who are doing the right things working hard, raising a family (and) who want nothing more than a good school district for their kids and a place to lay their head at night that's safe and clean and warm and a place that's near where they shop and where they work," said John Barton, president for the Community Working Group board of directors and former Palo Alto City Council member. "It's not too much to ask for, but it's very hard in this part of the world."
Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shephard voiced her desire to see Palo Alto continue its "quest" to support affordable housing. She referenced the Maybell Avenue housing project, whose plans had included affordable-housing for seniors but whose approval was overturned by voters in last November's referendum.
"We do have funds returning for the affordable housing category, sadly, for another project that the city had agreed to but the community was challenged by," she said. "But on the other hand, those funds are available, so we might have another project coming sooner than later."
Posted by SWE,
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 10, 2014 at 7:14 pm
SWE is a registered user.
>The Maybell project for low income seniors was voted down.
Sandra, please continue to further this idea, it only gives credence to the idea that Palo Altans don't want low-income residents, which is just cr@p. Measure D was whether to enact a land use ordinance REZONING a residential area for a high density use, it was not about whether to allow low-income seniors to live there or not.
Let me remind you again, the majority of the property (60%) was a market-rate development, upzoned for that for-profit developer's benefits, and the profits from the sale of those high-density homes of which were going to the for-profit developer only, NOT benefitting the rest. (PAHC could have done the project in a way to take those profits in order to make the affordable side more consistent with the neighborhood zoning, but it would have required a lot more work, a different time scale, and frankly, a modicum of regard for the neighborhood character.) There are a number of troubling consequences of ignoring zoning principles that were never dealt with, in order to focus politically on whether it was about seniors, which for the neighbors, it was not. Continuing to further this political point only helps the small number of people who really are against having low-income neighbors. Is that what you want?
Many people objected to the developer giveaway aspect. Many people objected that PAHC would design a project that relied on such utter disregard for zoning in a residential area, and be unwilling to work out alternatives (such as taking the profits from building the for-profit houses, not just the upzoned land profits, to make the affordable side more consistent.) There were many reasons not to like this rezoning that had nothing to do with "voting down" anything having to do with low-income seniors, and those who continue to conflate the two are only feeding those who truly don't want affordable housing, as this forum amply demonstrates.
This is why it was so egregious that the City Council got away with all of that illegal bias in creating the election materials via the City Attorney. In San Francisco, they had an almost identical election, but because they have an impartial ballot committee and had to stick with objectively what the ordinance was actually about, no one concluded that the electorate voted down affordable housing. (The law enabled a zoning change so their ballot asked if the developer could exceed the height limit by 80 feet, rather than asking whether residents wanted $12million for affordable housing which was in there,too. In Palo Alto, the need for the ordinance was to allow for exceeding the zoning, the height, density, parking, etc, there was no law needed to allow a low-income development there, so the ballot question should have mentioned the former, not the latter.)
In Palo Alto, it was the City that conflated the two, deliberately, for political advantage, but unfortunately, it then had the result of creating this false impression of a groundswell of antagonism against low-income residents in Palo Alto. This will only continue to hurt the cause of affordable housing in this town in many ways if people don't stop it. For one, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy for people who may have had leanings toward affordable housing but for whom asking that extreme a violation of residential zoning takes it too far. If you ask those people to choose, they'll think, maybe I am against affordable housing, and you lose that support forever.
Me, I very strongly support low-income housing, but I am vehemently against using that support in a manipulative way to come up with wolf-in-sheeps clothing rules that give even more incentives to for-profit developers raze REAL affordable housing in favor of new construction that is horribly expensive, and takes huge resources that could be used to save far more existing affordable housing.
We could have a lot more low-income housing available very quickly if we simply looked at incentivizing the retention and renovation of older housing stock to be retained or offered as affordable.
We have over 400 Palo Alto residents at Buena Vista Mobile Home park, in the last large patch of Palo Alto that is truly affordable, and it could be saved with far less of a public investment than was being planned at Maybell.
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