News

San Mateo County attempts to take on housing crisis

 

It's pretty hard to miss the fact that the Bay Area is having a housing crisis.

Employers are losing workers to other states or other parts of California, workers are accepting longer and longer commutes, and young people are either ganging together to rent bedrooms (or shared bedrooms) in single-family homes or moving in with their parents.

Home prices and rents are skyrocketing, the homeless population is growing and many families who had been living on the edge are finding themselves edged out of the Bay Area altogether.

San Mateo County is attempting to fight back, and on multiple fronts:

● On June 28, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new fund that will provide loans to those willing to purchase existing affordable multi-family rental housing with the promise to keep existing tenants and retain affordable rents for at least 30 years. The supervisors had earlier budgeted $10 million for the fund.

● The supervisors also heard a report June 28 from a task force made up of a diverse group of government, business and community representatives from throughout the county that has been meeting for the past nine months to find ways to close the gap between new jobs and new housing in the county.

● On June 29, county officials met with representatives of local apartment building owners to work toward a cooperative solution to another problem: many of those who have federal Section 8 vouchers to subsidize their rent can't find landlords who will take their vouchers.

● The supervisors also talked about how to fund the housing initiatives. At their July 12 meeting, the supervisors are expected to consider possible funding measures that could be put on the November ballot, including a housing bond measure or an extension of the county's existing sales tax.

● Another measure that the county figures will contribute $1.2 million a year toward affordable housing is a newly passed affordable housing impact fee that will apply to most new construction in San Mateo County starting July 7.

"Housing has really reached a crisis level not only in our county but in the entire Bay Area," said Supervisor Don Horsley at the June 28 Board of Supervisors meeting. Between 2010 and 2014, 55,000 new jobs were created in the county but only 2,000 new housing units were built, meaning there were 26 new jobs for every new unit, he said.

Last year the county helped MidPen Housing acquire and preserve nine units of housing in Pacifica and helped HIP Housing purchase a 16-unit building in San Mateo. This year, a report from Ken Cole, head of the county's housing department, said the county hopes to help save between 40 and 100 affordable units with the newly approved program.

"It's an important first step," Mr. Cole said. "This does prevent displacement."

Task force

The fund was one of the ideas that came out of the Closing the Jobs/Housing Gap Task Force that the county put together last year.

The task force's 55 members include representatives of every San Mateo County town and city, business organizations and employers, housing developers (for-profit and nonprofit), community organizations providing housing services, community advocates and legal aid organizations, labor organizations, the community college district and the county office of education.

The group has been meeting since November and came up with a plan that includes a "Home for All - San Mateo County" website with a "housing toolkit" with ideas for local government, the public and businesses, and information on adding second housing units to single-family homes.

Every council and board participating in the task force will be asked to approve a resolution committing to working on housing and on the task force's action plan. The plan envisions all the county's cities and towns cooperating to provide more housing, including lobbying Sacramento for legislation allowing cities to pool their affordable housing funds in joint projects.

Communities that don't have impact fees charging new development to pay toward affordable housing will be encouraged to adopt them.

The task force also recommended working to diffuse any community opposition to new affordable housing projects by setting up community meetings even before proposals go to local bodies for approval.

"There's a lot of good that could come from this," said Supervisor Dave Pine. He advocated housing being built on public land, including land owned by school districts as well as cities.

"I know we can't solve this problem alone, and it's going to be incremental in nature," board president Warren Slocum said.

"We've all heard horror stories about teachers" living in cars or classrooms, he said. "I'd really like to see us take some bold action ... in regards to teacher and employee housing."

Mr. Slocum said he'd also like to see more county funding of legal programs that represent tenants who are losing their housing.

"I totally agree we need to continue to keep people in their homes," Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said.

Section 8

Under the Section 8 housing voucher program, the federal government pays part of the rent for very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. When county officials learned that nearly 400 San Mateo County households with Section 8 housing vouchers don't use them because they can't find a landlord willing to participate in the program, the officials vowed to do something about it.

On June 29 owners or property managers representing an estimated 5,600 units of San Mateo County rental housing met to talk about the problem. The county asked those who weren't already in the Section 8 program to take at least one tenant with a voucher, and those already participating to add one more Section 8 tenant.

Mr. Horsley said the county's goal was within four months to recruit enough landlords to participate in the Section 8 program that all the vouchers would be used.

Paying for it

The supervisors acknowledge that their $10 million investment in preserving affordable housing "is a drop in the bucket" when it comes to solving the county's housing problems.

But on the heels of the news that two major housing bond measures will be the November ballot -- $950 million in Santa Clara County and $580 million in Alameda County -- and San Francisco's passage of a $310 million housing bond measure last year, the supervisors say the time may be right to ask taxpayers for funds for housing in San Mateo County.

The supervisors don't have much time to meet the Aug. 12 deadline for getting a measure on the November ballot. A ballot measure option will probably be on the supervisors' agenda when they meet July 12.

"I definitely am leaning toward the bond," Supervisor Slocum said. Stories about county residents facing evictions "are just heart-wrenching," he said. "If we were to do a bond measure, that would, in fact, be transformative. There are so many people out there who are hurting."

Many of those in the audience at the June 28 meeting agreed.

Christin Evans, one of the owners of Kepler's Books, said that her business is losing employees who no longer can afford to live in the area. "I know our bookstore's not alone," she said. "We're all experiencing it."

Ms. Evans told about one employee whose entire family had been evicted after his mother died.

Leora Tanjuatco said that she and others who are in their 30s are finding their fundamental life choices, such as whether or not to have children, impacted by the price of housing. "Please approve funding for affordable housing," she said.

East Palo Alto City Councilman Carlos Romero urged the supervisors to support a $500 million bond measure for housing. "Come forward with part of a solution so folks are not displaced, so tenants can remain," he said.

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Comments

37 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 1, 2016 at 12:01 pm

This article, while well written (thank you Barbara Woods), is exasperating.

UGH! All the efforts here are such a terrible waste of time, money, and effort. Government agencies want to address housing prices? How about trying this...


1: GET THE F OUT OF THE WAY.
Let developers actually develop develop-able land for more higher-density housing!

In this immediate area alone, I can think of 4 sites well suited for adding housing, all within walking distance of Caltrain: the old theatre (now torn down), the old Cadillac dealership, the nursery and other former dealership lots near Safeway. While those sites alone are not a silver bullet for peninsula housing, sites like the 4 I mention litter the peninsula near Caltrain.


2: Invest in useful public transportation instead of patchwork handouts. And have a longterm PLAN for public transportation that makes sense.

The way local public transportation agencies plan is atrociously bad. Check this out:

* $525 million: BART is ADDING diesel trains and 10 mile of standard guage tracks in Antioch that are incompatible with the rest of BART Web Link , meanwhile...

* $600++ million: Caltrain wants to REMOVE diesel trains and replace them with electric, meanwhile...

* $890 million: BART is adding a mere 5.4-miles of new tracks in Fremont, meanwhile...

* Regional Measure 2 mandated the Dumbarton rail project as a priority, yet the MTC illegally transferred all 90+ million for that project to BART.

That's over $2 BILLION dollars, and all we get is 15.4 miles of new track.

You resolve the price of housing by addressing both supply and demand. Supply is addressed by allowing developers to develop near public transportation; Demand is addressed by making public transportation from less expensive locations an economically and logistically viable option.



8 people like this
Posted by 70s gal
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Jul 1, 2016 at 12:23 pm

So sad. All of the loss. The bay area was always a wonderful place to call home. It has changed so drastically and there really are no plans to STOP the development in the surrounding areas. Why is it ok to add so many jobs when there is nowhere to live? All of these huge companies can have satellite offices in other areas. Why does Facebook want to add all of the new buildings on this side of the bay - and add 5,600 employees? Where are all of these people supposed to live? Why not develop Union City area or close to the other side of the Dumbarton Bridge? Look at all the land on the other side of the bay! The peninsula is full.


11 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2016 at 12:38 pm

pearl is a registered user.

What about additional affordable housing FOR SENIORS? I am 75 years old. I was born and raised here on the Peninsula. I have worked and lived here my entire life. The new owner of the Peninsula apartment building I've lived in for the last 15 years raised my monthly rent by $675/month overnight, so I am now paying $2,000/month for a one bedroom apartment in a 55-year-old building. With the next rent increase, I will have to move, and I have no place to go. I am on several senior housing wait lists, but they are all two- to five years long. Any ideas anyone?


13 people like this
Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 1, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Pearl,

Many of us would build small, affordable second units on our property but the city makes it so expensive that it just isn't financially possible. Permit fees are very high plus soils tests, surveys, fire department fees, sprinklers, etc. If the city was serious about expanding housing they would relax all of these regulations and help us build these units.


6 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 1, 2016 at 3:04 pm

@Joan, you're post could read like this, if it wasn't for our much beloved red-tape in Menlo Park:

Pearl,

Many of us have built second units thanks to the relaxed regulations now in Menlo Park. We've managed to used second-hand plastic tool sheds to rent out as habitable accommodation. We were able to simply drag a long extension cord out from our garage so that a microwave and space heater could be used by the lucky owner. There's no toilet, but people seem to cope with a bucket just fine. And even though the neighbors complain that we pushed it up against their fence, they need to appreciate that we're in a housing crisis and we're doing all we can!


Like this comment
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Really?

"...plastic tool sheds to rent out as habitable accommodation." "...no toilet, but people seem to cope with a bucket just fine."

You're joking!!!

Pearl


2 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 1, 2016 at 3:26 pm

Pearl:

Joking indeed. The red tape Menlo Park writes may be clumsy and seem over-arching, but it's there for a good reason.


4 people like this
Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 1, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Really,

That's ridiculous and you know it. Why is a soils test needed? My house has been sitting on this soil for 65 years. Soils tests cost upwards of $2000. Why is a survey needed? That cost is $3000-$5000. The basic permit is $8000. Sprinklers cost upwards of $6000. Those fees (and there are more) are before any construction.

Portland waived their fees to encourage second units. Why can't Menlo Park do the same? You clearly don't know what you are talking about.



53 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 1, 2016 at 4:24 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Joan:

sorry, as a builder I can tell you, you don't know what you're talking about.

Soils test? Just because your house has been there 65 years doesn't mean the soil conditions meet CURRENT requirements. In fact, most of what was built 65 years ago is substandard. (I could tell you many, many stories.)

Survey? You bet. You'd be shocked at how often the fences everyone assumes are on the property line are NOT. Since most accessory units are allowed to encroach into typical setbacks, this is important.

Sprinklers? I agree with you on this one. An accessory structure really doesn't need sprinklers. But, that's not driven by the City, it's driven by the Fire District and they are insistent that ALL new structures be sprinkled.

The fees? Plan checking costs money as do inspections. There are multiple inspections. The City has decided the Building Department should be budget neutral. This means they have to cover their costs with fees. Now, if the City truly wanted to encourage accessory units they would waive or reduce the fees.


2 people like this
Posted by zone for housing
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 1, 2016 at 5:11 pm

@peninsula resident "Let developers actually develop develop-able land for more higher-density housing! In this immediate area alone, I can think of 4 sites well suited for adding housing, all within walking distance of Caltrain: the old theatre (now torn down), the old Cadillac dealership, the nursery and other former dealership lots near Safeway. While those sites alone are not a silver bullet for peninsula housing, sites like the 4 I mention litter the peninsula near Caltrain."

Ain't gonna happen. The Council approved zoning rules that allow more offices and more housing when they upzoned properties along El Camino. So guess what, owners of the lots you mention want to build more offices than the housing they could. This means they add more housing demand than they solve. (except the Roger Reynolds lot where some luxury housing is planned)

Plain and simple: if housing is needed, the zoning must favor developing the land that way. Developers first and foremost want the highest profit they can get; they do not care about what that means to the housing crisis unless forced to help solve it.


6 people like this
Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 1, 2016 at 5:13 pm

"Now, if the City truly wanted to encourage accessory units they would waive or reduce the fees."

Yes, they would. Portland, OR waived their fees and it has been a huge success. It can be done. Menlo Park gives lip service to affordable housing but little ever happens.

I think what gripes me the most is that my neighborhood has many, many illegal cottages that never had a permit or a fee of any kind. They have all been rented for the years I have lived here. Yet when someone tries to do it legally, the costs the city impose make it impossible for an average person. I bet many of our seniors would benefit from having some extra income and providing an affordable living unit at the same time. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.



8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 1, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Joan:

kind of makes scofflaws out of those trying to solve a problem doesn't it? You could apply that to many situations in society that are managed by bureaucracies. Bureaucracies serve only themselves.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dollar Bill
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2016 at 10:25 am

No significant change is going to come out of this. Why? Because the entrenched homeowner community votes, and they don't have anything to gain from housing prices getting lower, or even from keeping them as unaffordable as they currently are! It's crazy, but most owners in this area consider their housing equity windfall luck as something they DESERVE, and they won't let anything happen to that. Someone has to change more fundamentally with tax policy or such to really address this problem. Purchasing a 16-unit building is still worthwhile, but don't pat yourselves on the back and think that things like that are scalable.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 2, 2016 at 11:07 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Public policy should allow for a continuum of habitats from which to choose.
Web Link

The nature of government is to distort healthy continuums.

That government is best which governs least. Thoreau


1 person likes this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 2, 2016 at 2:13 pm

@Dollar Bill is absolutely correct. homeowners are favorable to the idea of affordable housing in the abstract, just not in their neighborhood, especially if it means their home appreciates less.

Politicians listen to those who vote. They'll give lip service to affordable housing advocates and throw them a project or two, but won't get serious about truly bringing the cost down on housing. Because if housing prices become more affordable, that means current homeowners experience possible price depreciation. If voters think a politician's policy caused their homes to lose money, that politician will not survive the next election.

The only places that politicians try to help renters are cities that have more rental units than owner-occupied homes. The voter balance tips toward the renters there. Politicians become more open to renter-friendly policies, such as rent control, not that rent control necessarily solves the problem of affordable housing.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: other

on Jul 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 2, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Curious to know what the total number of accessory dwelling units that are permissible in the Bay Area with the current zoning regulations. Is it in the 10,000s, 100,000s? Seems to be a large untapped housing potential that simply needs to be made more attractive/simpler for home owners to design and build.

These guys seem to be doing something in this space – they design and build accessory dwelling units – www.cover.build saw a comment here earlier but it seems to be gone now.


8 people like this
Posted by Kelley
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2016 at 7:05 am

I've lived in the bay area for over 60 years. Do any politicians think about the well-being of the residents in our communities that have lived and worked here all their lives? I don't think so. all they want is as many people as they can get in their cities so they can get government subsidies and create more government jobs-- Anywhere you build "low income housing" You attract more criminals, and I've seen Daly City, that was once safe to live in become dirty and crime-ridden.
Everyone I speak to in our neighborhood complains about the crime, parking, housing, freeways being too crowded, parking lots full, drug addicts, aggressive panhandlers and so-on! and all you want to do is stuff more people into the bay area?


Like this comment
Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 6, 2016 at 1:25 pm

The illegal second units in my neighborhood are small, mostly studios. All have plumbing and cooking facilities. They are mostly older units, reasonably priced and occupied by one person. We have never had any trouble with any of the tenants. It seems we are missing the boat on needed housing by making these units almost impossible to build.

I do wonder how many people came forward for "amnesty" on illegal units. I bet none.


Like this comment
Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 11, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Menlo Voter:

"Joan:

kind of makes scofflaws out of those trying to solve a problem doesn't it? You could apply that to many situations in society that are managed by bureaucracies. Bureaucracies serve only themselves."

Of course, that is true. Little is done for those needing housing or those who are willing to build it. No wonder there are so many illegal second units. I prospose we waive some of the fees for second units if we really want to improve the housing situation. Portland did it, why not us?



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