The proposal, which would create a joint partnership between the housing corporation and developer Prometheus Real Estate and Property Management, would take 1.15 acres of the 4.5-acre parcel at 3980 El Camino Real to build two-bedroom apartments next to existing housing-corporation property. If accepted by all parties and the city, the proposal could help solve a conundrum that includes finding replacement housing for the mobile-home residents and how to keep 103 Buena Vista children in Palo Alto schools.
The idea was raised publicly before the Palo Alto City Council on Monday, May 13. Five community supporters, including advocates for fair housing and a representative from the Palo Alto PTA Council's Buena Vista Advocacy Committee spoke about the imperative of keeping mobile-home-park residents in Palo Alto.
Prometheus wants to build up to 180 high-end apartments for tech workers, but that would force up to 400 people from the city's only mobile-home park by next year.
"This potential dislocation represents the single largest displacement of children ever in our town's history," Sue Eldredge, co-chair of the Palo Alto PTA Council's Buena Vista Advocacy Committee, told the council on Monday.
Dr. Donald Barr, a board member of the Community Working Group and a homelessness-prevention advocate, described the idea in general terms to council members. There are really only two alternatives: keeping the mobile-home park or developing a collaborative, cooperative joint development of affordable and luxury units, he said.
Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, confirmed Tuesday that the housing corporation has proposed the idea to Prometheus. The developer approached the low-income-housing nonprofit to assist finding solutions for Buena Vista residents, who own their mobile homes but not the ground beneath them.
Many of the homes are old or are not up to building codes and cannot be moved, according to a consultant's Relocation Impact Report submitted to the city on May 2.
Under the proposal, the housing corporation would build the units on a 1.15-acre parcel at the back of the property. The land abuts the housing corporation's existing Oak Manor apartments, which has 33 units, Gonzalez said.
There is precedent that such a model works in Palo Alto. The SummerHill Homes development compromise combined building Oak Court Apartments at 845 Ramona St. for low-income residents and Woodmark luxury condominiums on Channing Avenue south of downtown, Barr said by phone on Tuesday. He envisions housing for Buena Vista that is similar to the housing corporation's Oak Court apartments, with architectural details that are compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
"These developments are perfectly compatible and maintained diversity, and it hasn't affected property values," he said. "It would be so straight-forward to put 65 apartments there. My sense is that a number of residents would be open to the option, if assured high-quality, affordable rental apartments on the site."
The two-bedroom apartments would cost $800 to $900 a month — about as much as a space rental at Buena Vista, plus they would offer more privacy, he said.
The apartments represent an attractive model that still gives Prometheus a substantial number of market-rate apartments to build and rent, Barr said. He recently took Jon Moss, Prometheus executive vice president, on a tour of Oak Court.
The company has not committed to the proposal, but Moss said some affordable housing would be part of the plan.
"As part of our development plans to the City of Palo Alto, we plan on proposing an element of affordable housing. We have not yet determined in what form this will take place," he said by email on Wednesday.
The Buena Vista housing project comes on the heels of public scrutiny of another, more formally proposed low-income housing project: the 60-unit Maybell Senior Housing project off Arastradero Road and Maybell Avenue. Some nearby residents oppose the project. They are concerned about senior drivers in an area that serves four schools and is already plagued with heavy commuter traffic.
Jessica de Witt, housing-corporation senior project manager, said a land swap — trading seniors and families — could not occur between the two projects.
"They are two different sellers with two different timeframes," she said.