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Palo Alto looks to change affordable-housing law

Original post made on Jan 8, 2013

Seeking to comply with changes in state law and encourage construction of more affordable housing, Palo Alto is considering revising a local law that gives developers incentives for including below-market-rate units in their projects.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 8, 2013, 9:51 AM

Comments (25)

Posted by Take our town back, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

The city council is in the back pocket of the developers. The fox is guarding the hen house. Palo Alto needs to wake up.


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

That certainly has been they pattern thus far it seems to me.

One thing I'm wondering... I recall a historical law(?)/provision statewide that allows the affordable units to become standard rental units once the complex was paid for. Is this still the case?

If so, we end up with affordable units that are only with us for some period of time, but with concessions that are forever.

Disturbing, but I don't know if I'm up to speed on what's permitted and what isn't.


Posted by Yuan Gwen Fao, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 8, 2013 at 11:22 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2013 at 11:27 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Comtesse, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 8, 2013 at 11:39 am

Yuan, what do you consider "poor"? In my neighborhood, that means under 300K/year.
Stanford Hospital's Finance Dept considers 100K/ year to be poor. But the IRS considers neither of those figures "poor".


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Silicon Valley is booming, the house prices have gone up, got news for you they have been going and will keep going up. The whole area has added jobs, more jobs, new jobs, not to mention new tech firms. See Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, more floors, more space for workers. Sounds good.

What about the housing, we don't seem to add enough and if we do it gets snapped up, rented out to the highest bidder. Yes Free Market, nothing wrong it, but the free market is telling us to build more housing for the non tech, non finance or IPO set.


Posted by Raymond, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Yuan Gwen Fao would be the FIRST in line for Affordable Housing if she/he were in need.

I am disgusted by people that have no compassion for other people.

Where were you raised?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 12:52 pm

> I am disgusted by people that have no compassion for other people.

And I am tired of people who continue to champion wealth redistribution, and "compassion" for people who do not want to work for themselves--expecting a handout from government instead.


Posted by question, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm


Can someone please explain in plain English what the density bonus is, and how it measures with the concessions?

15%, 20%, 25%, before, after BMR, more/less concession, setback, encroachment - before the law, after the law, own Palo Alto law.

Does this change make it easier for developers to get concessions, or harder?

Does this change promote BMR or limit it?

Does this facilitate concessions, and eliminate Palo Alto process, or increase process?



Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:12 pm

There's tons of affordable housing around, it's called Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, San Jose. Just because you want to live in an area and can't afford it, doesn't give you the right to do so. This is purely benefiting developers who do not live in Palo Alto. The PAUSD will suffer in the coming years due to our city's stupidity on this issue and many others.


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Raymond - half my income is going to taxes for the less fortunate, exactly when is enough enough?

Exactly why do those "in need" get to live in the most expensive place in the country?

when do the handouts stop?


Posted by steph, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Chris Gaither, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Let's be clear about who qualifies for Affordable housing.

Affordable housing is set aside for households who have income that is below the median household income for the county where the housing is located. Simply put via example, if the median income of a county is $120,000, those who can qualify for affordable housing will usually have incomes that are between 30 to 80 percent of the $120,000 figure. True, some people who need affordable housing are seniors and disabled folks on fixed income like Social Security, SSI, cash assistance and small pensions. In many cases however, those who qualify for affordable housing are working people who simply earn significantly below the median income level in the county where they reside. Using the $120,000 figure as an example, the annual income for those who qualify for affordable housing can range from $36,000 to $96,000.

Secondly, affordable housing comes in many "flavors" depending upon its guiding contractural regulatory agreement. Affordable housing can exist as an entire section 8 apartment complex; an entire tax credit project; HCD project; below market rate units; individuals can have section 8 vouchers to use towards their rent in either affordable housing projects, below market rate apartments, or market rate apartments if the landlord/owner will accept the voucher.

Your neighbor might have a Section 8 voucher and reside in a market rate apartment, and you would never know, unless of course the person wanted to publicize the fact.

Just like any entitlement assistance, the affordable housing one exists for when one might need such help in life. You might own a home today, and years in the future, you might not be able to live in that home as you age, and as your income becomes fixed - and you just might need an affordable apartment complex to reside in - one where your social security is able to pay the rent, worry free, so to speak.

In the words of George Washington Carver " How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these."

Just a reminder for those who think more affordable housing equates to more poor people moving in.




Posted by jm, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Thank you Chris for the explanation and wonderful Carver quotation.


Posted by fortune cookie, a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2013 at 6:22 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by kmr, a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2013 at 9:56 am

I'm disgusted to read the comments whenever the subject of BMR comes up. I suppose some of you think living in Palo Alto should only be a privilege for the wealthy? That you somehow believe a person who doesn't make as much money as you just doesn't work as hard. This certainly isn't the Palo Alto I grew up in 30-40 years ago.

When a person is offered a BMR unit, they still have to qualify for and pay a mortgage, property taxes and everything else that goes with home ownership. It is by no means a "handout" and I don't see how this affects you "Citizen".


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2013 at 10:10 am

Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose have their own set or problems in the housing market upswing. Each city has jobs, jobs for high tech workers and jobs for others, we have only so many housing units for workers and their families.

Yes the prices are affordable in San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, each city has pros and cons of living there. Don't know the mind of a home buyer or what they are willing to spend.

What about all the low income workers, the workers that don't have high paying jobs, but jobs that require training or a college degree.
Just because they work in Palo Alto, doesn't mean that can afford Mountain View or Santa Clara.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2013 at 10:12 am

kmr - you know that a lot of the anti-affordable housing sentiment is disguised racism, right? It's dressed up in that flimsy excuse of the Protestant work ethic that doesn't translate well in the 21st century. People like to pretend that they've "made it" on merit alone, when the truth is that much of it's timing & luck. Since the majority of the adults on the peninsula, for example, work hard, what I've noticed among those who're wealthy vs. not as wealthy is luck & timing. In my view, one's profession falls under luck, as in you're lucky or not that what you're good at & trained for pays a lot or not. I see it in my own family, as well as that other smaller factor - inherited wealth, inherited position in society.


Posted by Take our town back, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2013 at 11:52 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Most of the BMR units in Palo Alto are not "low income" but "lower income". Many are people with college degrees who are in lower-paying jobs. Some are parents, or equivalent to the parents, of people living in the market-rate housing. Yes, some of the people in BMRs made unfortunate and regrettable decisions in their youth -- such a getting a PhD in French Literature -- but they have since managed to turn their lives around and become productive members of society, and "regular" Palo Altans don't hold this against them. :-)

Notice that the opposition to BMRs is not the BMRs themselves, but rather that what they are being used as excuses to enable (overdevelopment). The BMR issue is not about welfare/giveaways to the poor, but welfare/giveaways to the very rich.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Replacing and expanding some of what the portion of the previous posting because it was in response to "Hmmm" deleted post.

One of the goals of the Palo Alto BMR program is to make the fact that a unit is BMR largely invisible to other residents of the complex -- the units are supposed to be scattered throughout the complex and be roughly equivalent to the other units. This appears to be largely successful. The people who run the program report that not only is there no significant complaints related to BMR units, but most residents of the complexes are unaware of which units are BMR, and even that some are.

If people were resistant to living in a complex that included BMRs, you would expect the developers to resist such units or to isolate them. I am unaware of that happening. The closest is in Alma Plaza where the developer chose to locate the BMR rental units to form a sound wall for the for-sale units. In this the developer was supported by the BMR advocates and opposed by residents (who supported the policy of having the BMRs not be lesser and less-desirable units).

The long history of PA BMRs give lie to the claim that opposition is racially motivated.

And the nonsense of claim that Palo Altans seek to exclude "non-whites" (eg by "Hmmm") can be seen on any street.

Furthermore, look at the articles on the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park -- predominantly low-income Hispanics -- and one will see broad community support for find a way to keep those residents in Palo Alto.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Sorry, I should've been more specific...Palo Alto's issues w/people of color seem to be targeted toward African-Americans & Hispanics. There's a history of this, specifically w/the former & of course that's part of BMR housing. Institutionalized racism is exactly that, no matter what Doug says. I'm sure he's not racist, so it's not his reality, but to pretend its not an issue in his town that affects all aspects of life is naive.


Posted by PA native, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2013 at 3:13 pm

PA native is a registered user.

Dear Old Palo Alto & Citizen

I grew up in Palo Alto, went to college and came back and opened a business here. I pay
a good chunk of taxes including the property taxes on the commercial property that I rent.
We have a hard time affording living here. I guess the people that move here and make it
rich w stock options should have it all. The rest of us have no business trying to make
Palo Alto our home. Be careful what you wish for, it does come w some downsides for the fortunate.

Sincerely, Palo Alto Native


Posted by trainspotting, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm

trainspotting is a registered user.

Does anyone know if there's a reference of the last 5 decades showing the ratio of parks, schools and other amenities vs. population? Because city council should also use this as a starting point to measure city growth and the quality of life for its residents.

I'm not a big fan of "let's keep building" since it puts a strain on our infrastructure, e.g. school system, traffic congestion, etc. I'd rather have city planners focus on improvements before trying to tackle an expansion plan to meet SB1818.

City council and the city's Planning and Transportation Commission should spend its time to improve planning ideas and its aesthetics to the city instead of catering to developers, e.g. the new Alma Plaza and its next-to-sidewalk experience.


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