Housing proposed for people with developmental disabilities | September 24, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 24, 2021

Housing proposed for people with developmental disabilities

Eden Housing's plan calls for 50 apartments near Mitchell Park

by Gennady Sheyner

A partnership between the nonprofit Eden Housing and Santa Clara County may soon bring that rarest of commodities — affordable housing for individuals with developmental disabilities — to a Palo Alto site near Mitchell Park.

The proposal, which the Palo Alto City Council will discuss on Sept. 27, involves Santa Clara County-owned land at 525 E. Charleston Road. In April, after soliciting requests for proposals, the county chose Eden Housing, a developer that specializes in affordable housing, to create residences for lower-income residents with developmental disabilities.

The project will take advantage of a $40 million program that the county created in 2018 to support such housing projects at various cities throughout the county.

Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose district includes Palo Alto, strongly advocated for the larger program as well as for the Charleston project. In February 2020, when the county started exploring housing for the site, Simitian noted in a statement that these efforts are particularly necessary because people with severely disabling conditions often have limited incomes, which makes finding affordable housing extremely challenging. Furthermore, they normally don't qualify for supportive housing within the county unless they become homeless.

"And given that community members with developmental disabilities are particularly at-risk of grave harm if they become homeless, it's absolutely crucial that we find ways to keep them housed, with the services they need," Simitian said.

The area around the project offers numerous such services. AbilityPath, a nonprofit that provides educational, therapeutic and job-training services for individuals with special needs, currently occupies 525 E. Charleston. Its office would be demolished to make way for the new four-story building, which would then house the nonprofit on the ground floor. Mitchell Park, which is home to the all-inclusive Magical Bridge playground, as well as Cubberley Community Center and Charleston Shopping Center are all a short stroll away from the site. So is Ada's Café, which is next to the Mitchell Park Library and employs individuals with disabilities.

Eden's description notes that the abundant amenities in the area surrounding the project site make it an "ideal location" for housing residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities and that it will "enable residents to lead independent lives."

For Eden Housing, the proposal is its first Palo Alto venture since 2009, when the city approved its plan for 801 Alma St., a downtown development for low-income families. The 50-apartment project, which was completed in 2013, was the last major 100% affordable-housing development to win approval in Palo Alto until 2019, when the council gave the green light to a proposal from Alta Housing for a 58-unit apartment complex called Wilton Court in the Ventura neighborhood.

Much like the Wilton Court project, which is located at 3705 El Camino Real, the Mitchell Park development would reserve a significant share of its apartments for residents with developmental disabilities. Consistent with the goals of the county's program, the development would designate 25 of its 50 apartments for individuals with special needs.

According to project plans, the building would consist of 39 studio apartments, six one-bedroom apartments and five two-bedroom apartments, one of which would be occupied by the building manager. The project description argues that the development would meet a "great need for deeply affordable housing that is only expected to grow in coming years."

The apartments would be leased to households earning at or below 30% to 60% of area median income. In Santa Clara County, this amounts to between $34,800 and $69,600 for a one-person household; between $39,780 and $79,560 for a two-person household; and between $55,760 and $89,520 for a three-person household.

Studio rents would range from $870 to $1,740; one-bedroom apartments would be rented out for between $932 and $1,864; and two-bedroom apartments would go for between $1,119 and $2,238, according to the proposal submitted by Eden Housing.

The project comes at a time when the city is falling well short of its own housing goals, which call for about 300 new housing units per year, and regional mandates. Even after approving the Wilton Court project last year, the council has met only 15% of its housing allocations for both the "very low" and "low" income groups as of 2020 for the period that stretches between 2015 and 2023.

"We realized there was such a huge need for affordable housing," Matthew Indimine, communications and advocacy manager at Eden Housing, told the Weekly in an interview. "We do have another property in Palo Alto and we thought it would be a great place to continue to create homes for those that need it most."

The Mitchell Park project, which is next to the Greenmeadow neighborhood, takes some cues from the neighborhood's Eichler aesthetic. The preliminary design shows a sloped roof and the building will include clerestory windows to bring more light into the apartments, a key Eichler objective.

Eden Housing has been hosting community meetings to solicit feedback about the proposal, input that has helped to guide the project's design, said Kate Blessing-Kawamura, project developer at Eden Housing. Residents have urged the development team to pay particular attention to traffic circulation at the site to ensure the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. Some also urge Eden to protect the privacy of nearby residents.

Blessing-Kawamura said Eden responded to the traffic concerns by having a single entry and exit point at the site to minimize potential conflicts between cars and bicyclists or pedestrians. And to boost privacy protection, Eden included trees that screen the view in front of the building and designed the windows so that they wouldn't point directly across Charleston, she said.

"I think it's been an awesome, gratifying process to really work together with neighbors and community members to design this building together," Blessing-Kawamura said.

While the council is not scheduled to take any action on the Eden Housing development this month, planning staff expect to see a request for $2 million to support the project based on preliminary conversations with the applicant, according to a report from the Department of Planning and Development Services.

The report notes that the project is requesting numerous waivers and design concessions, including a request for greater height and more density than would normally be allowed in the "public facility" zone at the site. Because the project is within 150 feet of a single-family zone, it would normally be subject to a 35-foot height limit. A portion of the proposed building would reach a height of 44 feet. It is relying on density bonuses, in accordance with state law, for an extra 12,000 square feet of building area.

The staff report notes that after the council discussion, Eden Housing will determine how it wants to proceed. While there is no set date for a formal application to be submitted, the city anticipates that it will be subject to the streamlining provisions of Senate Bill 35, with limited opportunities for public input.

"If Eden Housing files an application in accordance with SB 35, the project would be processed as a ministerial application," the staff report states.

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by NIMBYest
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2021 at 10:38 am

NIMBYest is a registered user.

Excellent project in many ways. I hope it comes to fruition.

Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2021 at 11:04 am

Marie is a registered user.

I'm so happy to see a project to help those with disabilities. It is very needed. And more important, it is a permanent project, not like the latest Alta proposal where, despite the amount of public funds, the project will expire in 44 years. Does anyone really think we will have less need in 44 years? This short-term thinking is what led to the Hotel Nobu (with no additional parking) at $1K a night replacing a low income assisted living project, Casa Olga, when it's low income provisions expired after 30 years. There was no attempt to replace that low income housing. I am so happy we have a different more pro-housing council than when the Casa Olga was converted.

Posted by tmp
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2021 at 3:01 pm

tmp is a registered user.

Every advocacy group thinks their cause and their needs are more worthy than other groups, but just like all of the projects these days this one is - too tall, too big and destroys the environment. We need smaller more holistic projects that fit into the environment. Not large projects that destroy more environment. Moving forward we need to think long term about survival in the most polluted state in the nation - every project needs to be zero net energy, needs to have ample green open space surrounding it, needs to collect water and add oxygen to the environment and needs to plan to add as little pollution to the surrounding community as possible. These should be our guiding goals - not how many people can we shovel into how big of a building in the short term.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2021 at 4:21 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Please do not make the same mistake that was made at Mayfield Place. Entirely cheap materials and appliances. Made to break. What looks nice on the outside is nothing but slapped together schlock on the inside. The inside is where we humans live. The electronic car lift breaks and is not ADA or child safe. When the electric grid dies so does the lift. It’s NOT residential family friendly — a non solution. The floor plans are entirely built for wheelchairs which diminishes living space and everything was shorted by inches and feet. 7 washers for 150 residents is just wrong. Supportive services w MSW’s and true help to get people well paying jobs like having a computer room with open hours every day w a working printer . Also make it possible for families to secure community space to have movie nights with friends or access to WiFi outside of cramped living quarters. These are homes not just a roof and a front door. Too many policies and too little empathy or resources makes for bad recipes. Make the possible probable for doing and life maturing . Culture shift needed to thrive not just check a box.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2021 at 7:19 am

felix is a registered user.

To clarify - Stanford had Mayfield built and hired a company to find tenants that was not one of the usual non-profits that do this (Eden, Alta Housing, Midpen Housing Coalition).

Many there complain about the stacked parking - the machinery breaks down and doesn’t work. The city should beware of approving more of this kind of parking.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 22, 2021 at 1:56 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

To clarify — The parking lift was not made available in any documents known for lessees as an assigned residential parking space. Surprise! The lift came in after the fact and could only accommodate a certain European sized vehicle with Germany shipped parts that take 6 months to arrive. Mayfield initial lease up was a disaster in 2017. After one year of culling, vetting, proving extreme low income for tenants — Mayfield finally had their approved families set to inhabit the “vertical air space” March 2017. These human beings were supposed to move in March 1st 2017.Yet all then had to immediately scramble for temporary shelter because of a no fault to tenant screw-up between Segway construction, Stanford, City of Palo Alto and Related Calif. The land treaty signed between Stanford and City leaves Mayfield residents hanging in the wind. Meanwhile the other very nice Stanford Terrace associated residence that was the other part of the Mayfield treaty live way better lives than it’s poor Mayfield Place 3rd cousin. Do better next time, please. Mayfield residents like Indians on a reservation are afforded nothing but the dirt they reside on — not even a city resident parking permit or access to College Terrace neighborhood association or free access or Stanford Terrace pool or playground. Nor is there WiFi for residents in the so called community center. Children are not allowed to even toss a soft nerf ball in the courtyard and no nearby open park to play without the extreme danger of getting squashed by a car on ECR . The city sanctioned soccer field is only for that sport and Mayfield Place kids are not allowed there to play there .

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 22, 2021 at 2:47 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

A couple of more facts GS to report: Though Mayfield Place is geographically located with in a mile from Palo Alto High and in sight of the campus, and unlike the apartment dwellers/families across ECR, just South, who all get to attend Palo Alto High, Mayfield children are not afforded even that choice. The PAUSD shun resident Mayfield Place (not to mistake it for Mayfield overall). children are not attend that renown institution, or Greene or JLS — the last hope for Mayfield Place families that PAUSD might approve and welcome or afford some relief for equals a zero there as well. No they have travel four miles by bike or car to Fletcher and Gunn. The easement off Calif, also in Stanford’s jurisdiction, refuse to install speed bumps or signage for “Children at play” “slow down”. The auto traffic from the five total business’ that use and access at all speeds is all day long. Yes. Residents at Mayfield Place are jostled between: City, PAUSD, Stanford, Related and College Terrace neighborhood. Nimbyism at it’s most base. The collateral damage? 71 units full of humans of multi ethnic, multi aged, multi ability with very low income residents who are given no power of integration or investment, not to mature in the community for which they work, and try to learn & live. How to be and achieve? Ease up, please and allow some kind of freedom to move with dignity and hope.

Posted by It.is.what.it.is
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2021 at 12:11 am

It.is.what.it.is is a registered user.

What will happen to AbilityPath that services disabled now? I volunteered there and it served its purpose for preschoolers and adults with autism and other disabilities. Why can't they leave that on the bottom floor of the complex? It's been there for 40 years and people rely on it.

Why can't the entire apartment complex be for those with disabilities? Some of them cannot live on their own so they could have staff to help them.

This is a much better idea than simply low-income housing for anyone. This will specifically help those who really need it, versus those who only claim they need low-income housing because they refuse to work.

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