Menlo Park complex turns into affordable housing

Council loans nonprofit $1.85 million to help house veterans

Veterans facing a tough search for housing in San Mateo County just caught a break. At its Tuesday night (May 22) meeting, the Menlo Park City Council unanimously agreed to a deal that turns a Willow Road apartment complex into affordable housing with a preference for veterans as tenants.

Menlo Park will give HIP Housing, a nonprofit specializing in finding affordable housing for county residents, a 55-year, interest-free loan of $1.85 million to buy the 12-unit complex, located at 1157-1161 Willow Road. An appraisal conducted in March valued the complex at $2 million, although the nonprofit will need to complete renovations.

Nine units at the complex will be reserved for people earning less than 50 percent of the regional median income of $81,300, and three units for those making less than 30 percent. Rent at the complex would fall in the range of $610 to $1,016, according to the staff report.

Kate Harr, the executive director of HIP Housing, told the council that the location was particularly desirable because of its proximity to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Menlo Park. "I think the thing always to remember is that affordable housing isn't scary. It creates balance in a community," she said.


Affordable housing remains a hot topic in Menlo Park. Expressing outrage, the council also voted 5-0 to settle a lawsuit brought against the city for not complying with state housing laws, which include meeting a target number of affordable housing units.

The city now has until March to identify sites for adding 1,975 housing units, both market-rate and affordable housing, to its current stock of 12,500. One of the first steps will be an inventory of local housing, existing capacity for additional homes within current zoning, and any new housing built since 1998, which could be deducted from the preliminary number.

The settlement states that Menlo Park will also identify potential sites for affordable housing, create zoning that provides incentives for developers to build affordable housing at those locations, and set aside a portion of local below-market-rate funds for nonprofit development of affordable housing on those sites.

Menlo Park will pay $114,000 in attorney fees for the three housing advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit: Peninsula Interfaith Action, Urban Habitat, and Youth United for Community Action.

City Attorney Bill McClure said that fighting the suit in court could easily run the price up to $2 million, with little prospect for a victory based on cases filed in other jurisdictions. The court could also halt all nonresidential building permits, a move that would have left the Facebook campus expansion and the Bohannon Gateway project in limbo.

Staff presented four strategies for squeezing more housing into Menlo Park: increase the density in existing apartment complexes; rezone properties from nonresidential to multi-family residential; create an affordable housing overlay district; and allow in-law units.

Complying with state law will cost the city about $1.15 million, staff said, on top of the attorney fees.

Councilman Rich Cline called the juxtaposition of the lawsuit with the Willow Road project ironic. The need for affordable housing was motivating the city to approve the deal with HIP Housing, he said, not the "gun to the head" of a lawsuit.

"I never had a phone call (while serving) as mayor from any of these organizations -- none," he commented. "The first I heard of them was when someone told me they were going to sue. ... I don't think that's the best way to partner on this stuff."

Council members Andy Cohen and Peter Ohtaki were selected to sit on the steering committee responsible for overseeing the process of getting the city's housing policies in line with the state mandate.


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Does Atherton have to adhere to State affordable housing regulations? Could they also be forced to build or make available low-income rental units? Is this only enforced when a group sues for it, or is there active oversight to make sure every city and town in the state is in compliance? What happens if there is a tenant problems in this Willow Road complex? Is HIP Housing legally responsible for things that happen at their property site?

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Posted by Mrs. B.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Cut the euphemism "affordable housing". All housing is affordable to someone or the price drops. This is LOW INCOME HOUSING. Good question about Atherton. I'd ask the same about Woodside, Portola Valley, Hillsborough. Sure, everyone would like to live in these tony places, but does that mean these cities - and Menlo Park - need to subsidize housing for everyone who wants to live there? Menlo Park is doing just fine on the housing front and does not need government interference in our well-functioning real estate market. Let the market do its job for allocating housing based on price. Anything else is socialism.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Mrs. B:

you are absolutely right "affordable housing" is low income housing. The thing no one ever acknowledges is that the "affordable housing" that is supposedly to be for our police, firefighters and teachers isn't. THEY ALL MAKE TOO MUCH MONEY TO QUALIFY. I've seen what happens with low income housing. I've policed it. We don't want or need it here.

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Posted by answers
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2012 at 11:27 am

The housing element is intended to put housing that is affordable to employees near the businesses they work in. Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside don't have this issue.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm


really? Portola Valley has no businesses? Funny, isn't there a Roberts there along with several other businesses?

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Mrs. B. calls affordable housing socialism. That's ironic given the focus on this complex is to house veterans. Do we have to be socialists to care for our veterans? I say no - we have room in capitalism for this, even though inevitable there'll be some problems - as there always is, with everything.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm


this particular complex is different because it is focused on vets. Most of the rest do not have that focus and are just socialist nonsense. I do a lot of building in Atherton. It would sure be nice if I could live there too. I can't because I can't afford it and I have no expectation that the town should provide reduced price housing for me so I can. Real estate costs what it costs. It's all about location. If you and I can't afford to live someplace, we don't. If BMR housing actually helped those it was supposedly there to help - police, firefighters and teachers we'd be having a different conversation. It doesn't help them because they make TOO MUCH MONEY. So, who are we actually helping with BMR housing? Average folks that can't afford to live here under normal circumstances. That's socialism.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Where can San Mateo County residents find info on the laws re affordable housing? MV, thanks again for your pov - you have insight into the building, especially, & I know that of course it's a cash cow for those who look to exploit.

I have questions (some which echo others) such as:

-What about affordable housing regs for smaller towns w/high income residents, a la Atherton, Woodside, PV?

-Is it legally mandated that some of the housing be used to teachers, cops, firefighters?

-What makes people think this is "just socialism" & if so, what type of socialism? Democratic socialism? That's what it sounds like to me. What's wrong w/some democratic socialism mixed in w/capitalism - are there resulting evils of which I'm naively unaware?

-How do we care for the used & abused in our midst, who need help caring for themselves? This is a good question this Memorial Day weekend because it involved veterans among that demographic.

-If folks are do dead set against it, are they working to eradicate it legally, or just kvetching?

-Since Menlo's been dragging its feet all of these years, why weren't they nailed by the county or state long before, so that it wasn't such a shock.

I couldn't find answers online to most of my questions, so maybe it's my inability to find the proper housing element info online.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm


it's socialism pure and simple. I don't know of what variety, just socialism. Land and construction cost money. Borrowing money and or carrying the costs of construction have costs associated with it. The developer is working to make a living so there needs to be profit in the equation as well. When the developer is forced to sell some of his or her units below what it costs to construct them and buy the land, someone's going to pay the price and it isn't going to be the person buying the BMR unit. Either the developer takes a hit to his bottom line or he charges more for the other units in the project. Hence it is basically income (or cost) redistribution, i.e. socialism.

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Posted by George
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 31, 2012 at 4:22 pm

More proof that our society is no longer governed by law, but by the threat of lawsuits. The HIP project for veterans in Belle Haven would have been approved with or without the lawsuits. It is the thought that our local elected officials have their hands tied that concerns me.

Regarding Atherton, Woodside, and Portola Valley, it is not so much whether it make sense to have BMP housing there; it is WHEN will they be hit with the same lawsuits from these same groups. Be ready.

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Posted by Social Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 31, 2012 at 4:59 pm

"Do we have to be socialists to care for our veterans?"

off subject, but here goes...

Don't know if we 'have to', but we are. The best healthcare delivery in the US is indeed socialized medicine. It's called the VA. Government owned hospitals. Government paid salaries. Government funded healthcare.

The very definition of socialized medicine.

And it is the most *efficient* healthcare system in the nation, delivering quality healthcare with the lowest overhead, far lower than private, for profit insurers. Web Link

Our vets deserve it. Too bad no one else deserves efficient, low overhead healthcare.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Social Menlo, thank you for your thoughtful post. I also appreciate MV's pov, as different as it is from yours. I've seen the pluses & minuses of both socialized medicine abroad & of the VA system here. I've personally not experienced either, but of course I'm concerned about health care in this country. That gets extrapolated to the lower income folks who area crucial sector in Sili Valley's economy as well as the ethics of caring for those who've served our country & for various reasons, need help in being cared for down the line.

I appreciated George's comment as well. My pov is that it's absolutely shameful that Menlo has had to be dragged, kicking & screaming, into 2012 in order to obey the law they've ignored for years. That doesn't help anyone who lives in Menlo, does it?

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 31, 2012 at 6:32 pm


the law is wrong and it doesn't benefit anyone it is designed to benefit and it is socialism. With the exception of providing housing to our vets it is unnecessary and is social engineering. Sorry, but that's the bottom line for me. The law needs to be challenged and fought in court which is what I suspect many of the cities like ours are hoping; that by ignoring the law someonone is going to eventually sue them and they can get this stupidity overturned.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 31, 2012 at 6:48 pm

"Is it legally mandated that some of the housing be used to teachers, cops, firefighters?"

Cops and firefighters generally make more than the $81,000 to qualify for this housing. And most teachers won't qualify either, especially if their spouse has a job.

This housing is intended for LOW INCOME people. A firefighter making $100,000 isn't low income.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Thanks, MV & POGO.

I am not sure that Menlo was ignoring the law, hoping that they could challenge it that way. I'd like to think that they're that strategic, but there is much evidence to the contrary!

As a society, it's hard to say where to draw the line on social engineering. I say that because I don't think we have come to terms w/what going to war does to people & that if we don't help them, they truly are cannon fodder & we don't want to be that type of society. Or do we?

These issues become more complicated in expensive areas & I understand that the systems we have in place to help people can be taken advantage of and/or don't always work smoothly. I've seen it firsthand & it's unwieldly, to say the least. But if we don't have them, bad things happen as well. I'd rather read about housing vets than about private businesses trolling for money from the community.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 31, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Hmmm -

We should help people who truly need help.

If we would only use that simple rule as our guidance, we could provide REAL help to the truly needy instead of creating another handout to those who don't really need it.

And that admonition goes for handouts to the rich, too.

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