A proposal by the nonprofit housing developer MidPen Housing to redevelop the 1300 block of Willow Road into a 141-unit affordable housing complex got a funding jumpstart July 18.
The Menlo Park City Council voted 4-0 with Councilman Mueller absent to give the project up to $6.7 million in affordable housing funds.
The project, when completed, would offer new apartments to the people now living in the existing 82 apartments there and would add 59 apartments designated to be "affordable" for lower-income households.
The council agreed that new tenants would be given priority based on the following ranking system: first, households that have been displaced from Belle Haven; second, households that have been displaced from the rest of Menlo Park; and third, households that are homeless and have kids who attend the Ravenswood City School District.
City Attorney Bill McClure said he plans to check into the legality of setting such a priority system.
Initial plans for the project had up to 8,000 square feet dedicated for retail or possibly a library, which the council rejected, since the city would have to cover full cost of non-residential space. The council directed MidPen to look into a daycare center in that location.
Jan Lindenthal, MidPen's vice president of real estate development, reported that after looking into it further, that option "isn't financially feasible" for MidPen, especially if the goal of the daycare center were to provide affordable daycare. The site will enable MidPen to expand its afterschool program from 6 to 20 students.
Part of the reason for the expedited process on this project is that MidPen Housing intends to seek affordable housing funds from San Mateo County, too. MidPen is waiting for the county to release a notice of funding availability and intends to apply for the maximum amount allowed, Ms. Lindenthal said.
Speakers Rhoda Alexander and Nina Wouk said that affordable housing should be distributed across the city more equitably. Suggestions offered included doing a property swap between the east and western sides, or requiring that more units not be added east of U.S. 101 until a certain number of secondary dwelling units are added.
The issue with building affordable housing in western Menlo Park, City Attorney Bill McClure said, is the cost of land. The city has a housing overlay zone to encourage affordable housing, but to build affordable housing as a city, "it's an incredible amounts of dollars," he summarized.
In response to concerns from neighbors, changes were made in the proposal to lower the building from four stories to three on the side of the building nearest Carlton Avenue.
The changes resulted in the reduction of the number of units from a maximum of 150 to 141.
MidPen Housing also owns a four-plex on Pierce Road and a property at 1283 Willow Road. According to Ms. Lindenthal, the site might be considered for ownership housing.