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Menlo Park's housing plan outlines ambitious push for more affordable housing

A 700-page document outlines where city could add 3,800-plus housing units

The former site of James Flood Magnet School near 300 Sheridan Drive is one of 73 sites identified for potential housing development in Menlo Park's draft housing plans. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Menlo Park released a first draft of its roadmap to build 3,830 housing units for households of all income levels.

The detailed 2023-31 Housing Element document, released May 11, lists 73 potential housing development sites and more than 100 policies and programs Menlo Park can implement to help the city reach its target — a number that was calculated through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process.

Though the housing element addresses the creation of market rate homes, the overarching goal of the 700-page plan revolves around affordable housing, and it paints a stark, data-driven picture of why it's needed in the first place.

Citing surveys and data from the state, the U.S. Census Bureau and Zillow, among other sources, the draft housing element portrays a city that has seen, in the past decade, some of the highest population increases in the Bay Area and skyrocketing home values and rents at levels higher than the rest of the region. At the same time, the city's housing stock has not kept up with the increase in high-wage jobs, and a chunk of the population is cost-burdened by home payments.

The American Community Survey, covering 2015 to 2019, found for example that 35% of all households in Menlo Park are cost-burdened by housing payments, which means these residents are using more than 30% of their household income to pay for rent or their mortgage. About 41% of renters and about 31% of homeowners overpaid for housing, the survey found.

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"Particularly for lower-income households, having housing costs that exceed 30% of household income often means that households are unable to afford housing while also meeting other basic needs such as food and healthcare," the housing element states.

Chart shows how households making 80% or less than the Area Median Income tend to spend 30% or more of their household income on housing. The cost burden becomes much more acute for households with lower incomes. Courtesy City of Menlo Park.

This occurs against the backdrop of skyrocketing home prices. Using Zillow's home value index, the city saw an 89% increase in home values from 2010 when adjusting for inflation.

"Home values in Menlo Park are approximately 72% higher than typical home values in San Mateo County and over double the cost of home values in the state," according to the housing element.

As a consequence, the housing element argues that workers in Menlo Park are unable to afford housing in the city, and younger residents who grew up here or older residents who wish to remain in place are facing a future where they "may be unable to afford to continue living in the city."

Zooming out to the Bay Area, these constraints could also be creating a less diverse region, as renters are "priced out, evicted or displaced, particularly communities of color," the document states. Menlo Park itself is less diverse than San Mateo County, with 58% of the population being white, 17% Asian, 15% Hispanic, and 4% Black.

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"There is an acute housing need for lower-income households in Menlo Park," the document states.

Menlo Park's housing element seeks to alleviate the local housing crisis with an ambitious target of planning for 3,830 housing units. That's more than 3.5 times the number of housing built in the city between 2010 and 2021, based on data from the state Department of Finance, and three times more than the number of permits issued in the city between 2015 and 2019.

"One of the main goals I believe of the entire housing element process is to ensure that people who work in the community can actually afford to live in the community," said Geoff Bradley, president of M-Group, a consulting firm contracted by the city to help draft the housing element, during a study session on Monday.

Here are some key takeaways on the city's strategies to build more housing.

Potential housing sites

State housing mandates require Menlo Park to zone for 2,946 additional units for the 2023-31 housing element cycle, or 3,830 units when including a 30% buffer over the minimum. This breaks down to 1,516 lower-income units, 645 moderate-income units and 1,669 above-moderate income units which the city has already satisfied.

Menlo Park is required to plan for 3,830 housing units with a mix of affordability levels in its 2023-31 Housing Element. Courtesy City of Menlo Park.

The housing element states that the city could achieve a majority of its housing targets through projects that are already in the development process — also called "pipeline projects" — which accounts for 3,644 units.

However, the city would still be short of its affordable housing needs since most of the units in the pipeline projects are market-rate housing. State law mandates that a complete housing element needs to identify sites for potential development that will help achieve the housing goals. It does not mean that any particular site is guaranteed to be developed.

Menlo Park has identified 73 such sites, which make up about 84 parcels of land and about 72 acres throughout Districts 2,3,4 and 5 of the city. Fourteen of these sites were included in the previous 2015-23 housing element cycle.

District 1, located north of U.S. 101, has been left out of the potential site analysis. A vast majority of pipeline projects, which include more than 1,700 units from Meta's Willow Village development, are already located in District 1. In fact, there are six projects that account for the majority of the 3,644 units to be built in the area.

And unlike District 1, Districts 2 through 5 are more ideal for housing because they're considered "high-resource" areas, with their proximity to transit, parks, grocery stores, employment centers and schools. Most of the sites are within a 15-minute walk of these amenities, the document states.

The rationale is why a concentration of potential housing sites are in the center of Menlo Park near downtown in Districts 3 and 4. About 49 sites are located within the two districts, making up 58.6 acres.

A majority of potential housing sites identified in Menlo Park's draft housing element are located in Districts 3 and 4 due to their proximity to transit, grocery stores, parks, schools and employment centers. Map by Kristin Brown.

The sites chosen for development reflect one of the challenges of building housing in the city or in the Bay Area and that's the lack of available land. Only two sites out of the 73 are vacant: less than an acre of vacant land at Stanford Golf Course on Alpine Road near Stowe Lane, and the former James Flood Magnet School site near 300 Sheridan Drive, which has received considerable attention from nearby residents.

The rest of the "non-vacant" sites can be placed in six categories: religious facilities, parking lots, nonresidential sites such as commercial buildings that can include "carveouts" for housing, nonresidential sites that can be 100% housing, underutilized residential parcels, and sites in the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area. The city is relying on these parcels to achieve 69% of its RHNA lower-income housing target when including the 30% buffer.

"No one strategy is going to be the golden ticket to meeting all of our housing element needs."

-Deanna Chow, Assistant Community Development Director of Menlo Park

One of the more attractive options within those categories that the city has highlighted is parking lots, particularly because most of them are already city-owned. During a joint study session of the draft housing element between housing and planning commissioners on Monday, Bradley of M-Group said that parking lots are the "closest thing we have to vacant land."

"(Parking) is a very low-value use of land," he said, adding that repurposing parking lots for housing is a trend seen in other downtown areas and at Stanford.

There are nine parking lots that were identified in the site inventory list that could potentially be used for multi-family development.

In the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area category, there are 25 sites highlighted in the list, not including the parking lots. To achieve housing development in this area, the city is looking to upzone the sites or increase the allowable number of dwelling units per acre to a minimum of 30 units. (Addresses of these sites can be found on page 291 of 708 in the PDF of the housing element document.)

Commercial and office buildings are another point of interest in the draft housing element. There are nine sites identified that could potentially be used for "horizontal mixed use," or a commercial development area that could carve out a parcel of land dedicated to affordable housing, and 20 sites that could be completely rezoned for housing.

"No one strategy is going to be the golden ticket to meeting all of our housing element needs," said Deanna Chow, Menlo Park's assistant community development director, in an interview. "We would like to see housing spread throughout the city."

One approach that Menlo Park has avoided when choosing sites is redeveloping existing housing in order to develop more units.

"We've pretty much ruled out taking down existing residential units in pursuit of new residential units because of the equity and displacement issues that creates," Bradley said.

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are another form of housing that the city can rely on to meet its regional housing needs. By introducing policies that reduce the barriers to building ADUs, the city projects that it can build 85 units, 77 of which could be affordable.

In total, adding the number of housing units coming through the pipeline projects, opportunity sites and ADUs, the city projects that it could add up to 7,060 housings units with 2,578 of them affordable.

A draft map and list of Menlo Park's housing site inventory

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: Download PDF.

Policy changes and programs

The draft housing element lists more than 100 policies and programs that can help Menlo Park achieve its housing goals, some of which carry over from the previous housing element cycle. In addition, the document proposes changes to current policies to lessen potential constraints to development.

These changes touch upon seven overarching goals for Menlo Park, much of it centered on pursuing "fair housing," such as ensuring equitable access to housing, creating housing for the special needs population and developing housing for all income levels, particularly lower-income ones.

Some of the notable additions and modifications to the city's policies streamline the process for affordable housing and create more room for development by proposing changes to Menlo Park's zoning ordinances.

In order to develop more in the Downtown neighborhood, the city will modify the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan to remove the housing cap placed in the neighborhood and upzone certain parcels to a minimum of 30 dwelling units per acre.

The city could also consider removing parking requirements, which the housing element lists as one of the constraints for building more housing.

Other policy amendments to remove potential development barriers include changes to the language in the previous housing element. One of those includes the rule around site developments and how they should consider school capacity.

The draft housing element proposes to modify this so that school capacity cannot be used as an argument for delaying projects in compliance with state law. Chow said that the new housing element will have programs that continue dialogue and collaboration with the city's school districts.

Another modification removes a caveat for housing development in commercial shopping districts, which was originally encouraged so long as "adequate space for retail services remain."

Other notable changes to the city's policies include: a new mandatory rule to conduct outreach to neighboring residents of a development; applying ministerial review, a streamlined permitting process, for 100% affordable housing developments; and several modifications that could encourage development of more housing for those with disabilities such as a density bonus.

"New to the housing element requirements are the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirements and part of that is looking at addressing potential disparities in access to housing for persons with disabilities," Chow said.

A draft list of the 2023-31 Housing Element policies and programs

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: Download PDF.

The draft is open for public review period. An online version can be read here.

Copies are also available for review in the Menlo Park Library at 800 Alma St. and the Belle Haven Branch Library at 413 Ivy Drive.

Comments on the draft can be submitted online here.

For more information on the city's housing element visit beta.menlopark.org/housingelement.

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Lloyd Lee joined The Almanac in 2022 as the Menlo Park reporter. Previously, he was the editorial assistant for the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com. Read more >>

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Menlo Park's housing plan outlines ambitious push for more affordable housing

A 700-page document outlines where city could add 3,800-plus housing units

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, May 19, 2022, 11:34 am

Menlo Park released a first draft of its roadmap to build 3,830 housing units for households of all income levels.

The detailed 2023-31 Housing Element document, released May 11, lists 73 potential housing development sites and more than 100 policies and programs Menlo Park can implement to help the city reach its target — a number that was calculated through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process.

Though the housing element addresses the creation of market rate homes, the overarching goal of the 700-page plan revolves around affordable housing, and it paints a stark, data-driven picture of why it's needed in the first place.

Citing surveys and data from the state, the U.S. Census Bureau and Zillow, among other sources, the draft housing element portrays a city that has seen, in the past decade, some of the highest population increases in the Bay Area and skyrocketing home values and rents at levels higher than the rest of the region. At the same time, the city's housing stock has not kept up with the increase in high-wage jobs, and a chunk of the population is cost-burdened by home payments.

The American Community Survey, covering 2015 to 2019, found for example that 35% of all households in Menlo Park are cost-burdened by housing payments, which means these residents are using more than 30% of their household income to pay for rent or their mortgage. About 41% of renters and about 31% of homeowners overpaid for housing, the survey found.

"Particularly for lower-income households, having housing costs that exceed 30% of household income often means that households are unable to afford housing while also meeting other basic needs such as food and healthcare," the housing element states.

This occurs against the backdrop of skyrocketing home prices. Using Zillow's home value index, the city saw an 89% increase in home values from 2010 when adjusting for inflation.

"Home values in Menlo Park are approximately 72% higher than typical home values in San Mateo County and over double the cost of home values in the state," according to the housing element.

As a consequence, the housing element argues that workers in Menlo Park are unable to afford housing in the city, and younger residents who grew up here or older residents who wish to remain in place are facing a future where they "may be unable to afford to continue living in the city."

Zooming out to the Bay Area, these constraints could also be creating a less diverse region, as renters are "priced out, evicted or displaced, particularly communities of color," the document states. Menlo Park itself is less diverse than San Mateo County, with 58% of the population being white, 17% Asian, 15% Hispanic, and 4% Black.

"There is an acute housing need for lower-income households in Menlo Park," the document states.

Menlo Park's housing element seeks to alleviate the local housing crisis with an ambitious target of planning for 3,830 housing units. That's more than 3.5 times the number of housing built in the city between 2010 and 2021, based on data from the state Department of Finance, and three times more than the number of permits issued in the city between 2015 and 2019.

"One of the main goals I believe of the entire housing element process is to ensure that people who work in the community can actually afford to live in the community," said Geoff Bradley, president of M-Group, a consulting firm contracted by the city to help draft the housing element, during a study session on Monday.

Here are some key takeaways on the city's strategies to build more housing.

State housing mandates require Menlo Park to zone for 2,946 additional units for the 2023-31 housing element cycle, or 3,830 units when including a 30% buffer over the minimum. This breaks down to 1,516 lower-income units, 645 moderate-income units and 1,669 above-moderate income units which the city has already satisfied.

The housing element states that the city could achieve a majority of its housing targets through projects that are already in the development process — also called "pipeline projects" — which accounts for 3,644 units.

However, the city would still be short of its affordable housing needs since most of the units in the pipeline projects are market-rate housing. State law mandates that a complete housing element needs to identify sites for potential development that will help achieve the housing goals. It does not mean that any particular site is guaranteed to be developed.

Menlo Park has identified 73 such sites, which make up about 84 parcels of land and about 72 acres throughout Districts 2,3,4 and 5 of the city. Fourteen of these sites were included in the previous 2015-23 housing element cycle.

District 1, located north of U.S. 101, has been left out of the potential site analysis. A vast majority of pipeline projects, which include more than 1,700 units from Meta's Willow Village development, are already located in District 1. In fact, there are six projects that account for the majority of the 3,644 units to be built in the area.

And unlike District 1, Districts 2 through 5 are more ideal for housing because they're considered "high-resource" areas, with their proximity to transit, parks, grocery stores, employment centers and schools. Most of the sites are within a 15-minute walk of these amenities, the document states.

The rationale is why a concentration of potential housing sites are in the center of Menlo Park near downtown in Districts 3 and 4. About 49 sites are located within the two districts, making up 58.6 acres.

The sites chosen for development reflect one of the challenges of building housing in the city or in the Bay Area and that's the lack of available land. Only two sites out of the 73 are vacant: less than an acre of vacant land at Stanford Golf Course on Alpine Road near Stowe Lane, and the former James Flood Magnet School site near 300 Sheridan Drive, which has received considerable attention from nearby residents.

The rest of the "non-vacant" sites can be placed in six categories: religious facilities, parking lots, nonresidential sites such as commercial buildings that can include "carveouts" for housing, nonresidential sites that can be 100% housing, underutilized residential parcels, and sites in the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area. The city is relying on these parcels to achieve 69% of its RHNA lower-income housing target when including the 30% buffer.

One of the more attractive options within those categories that the city has highlighted is parking lots, particularly because most of them are already city-owned. During a joint study session of the draft housing element between housing and planning commissioners on Monday, Bradley of M-Group said that parking lots are the "closest thing we have to vacant land."

"(Parking) is a very low-value use of land," he said, adding that repurposing parking lots for housing is a trend seen in other downtown areas and at Stanford.

There are nine parking lots that were identified in the site inventory list that could potentially be used for multi-family development.

In the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area category, there are 25 sites highlighted in the list, not including the parking lots. To achieve housing development in this area, the city is looking to upzone the sites or increase the allowable number of dwelling units per acre to a minimum of 30 units. (Addresses of these sites can be found on page 291 of 708 in the PDF of the housing element document.)

Commercial and office buildings are another point of interest in the draft housing element. There are nine sites identified that could potentially be used for "horizontal mixed use," or a commercial development area that could carve out a parcel of land dedicated to affordable housing, and 20 sites that could be completely rezoned for housing.

"No one strategy is going to be the golden ticket to meeting all of our housing element needs," said Deanna Chow, Menlo Park's assistant community development director, in an interview. "We would like to see housing spread throughout the city."

One approach that Menlo Park has avoided when choosing sites is redeveloping existing housing in order to develop more units.

"We've pretty much ruled out taking down existing residential units in pursuit of new residential units because of the equity and displacement issues that creates," Bradley said.

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are another form of housing that the city can rely on to meet its regional housing needs. By introducing policies that reduce the barriers to building ADUs, the city projects that it can build 85 units, 77 of which could be affordable.

In total, adding the number of housing units coming through the pipeline projects, opportunity sites and ADUs, the city projects that it could add up to 7,060 housings units with 2,578 of them affordable.

A draft map and list of Menlo Park's housing site inventory

The draft housing element lists more than 100 policies and programs that can help Menlo Park achieve its housing goals, some of which carry over from the previous housing element cycle. In addition, the document proposes changes to current policies to lessen potential constraints to development.

These changes touch upon seven overarching goals for Menlo Park, much of it centered on pursuing "fair housing," such as ensuring equitable access to housing, creating housing for the special needs population and developing housing for all income levels, particularly lower-income ones.

Some of the notable additions and modifications to the city's policies streamline the process for affordable housing and create more room for development by proposing changes to Menlo Park's zoning ordinances.

In order to develop more in the Downtown neighborhood, the city will modify the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan to remove the housing cap placed in the neighborhood and upzone certain parcels to a minimum of 30 dwelling units per acre.

The city could also consider removing parking requirements, which the housing element lists as one of the constraints for building more housing.

Other policy amendments to remove potential development barriers include changes to the language in the previous housing element. One of those includes the rule around site developments and how they should consider school capacity.

The draft housing element proposes to modify this so that school capacity cannot be used as an argument for delaying projects in compliance with state law. Chow said that the new housing element will have programs that continue dialogue and collaboration with the city's school districts.

Another modification removes a caveat for housing development in commercial shopping districts, which was originally encouraged so long as "adequate space for retail services remain."

Other notable changes to the city's policies include: a new mandatory rule to conduct outreach to neighboring residents of a development; applying ministerial review, a streamlined permitting process, for 100% affordable housing developments; and several modifications that could encourage development of more housing for those with disabilities such as a density bonus.

"New to the housing element requirements are the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requirements and part of that is looking at addressing potential disparities in access to housing for persons with disabilities," Chow said.

A draft list of the 2023-31 Housing Element policies and programs

The draft is open for public review period. An online version can be read here.

Copies are also available for review in the Menlo Park Library at 800 Alma St. and the Belle Haven Branch Library at 413 Ivy Drive.

Comments on the draft can be submitted online here.

For more information on the city's housing element visit beta.menlopark.org/housingelement.

Comments

Belle Haven Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 19, 2022 at 5:51 pm
Belle Haven Resident, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
Registered user
on May 19, 2022 at 5:51 pm
Ronen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 20, 2022 at 8:24 pm
Ronen, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on May 20, 2022 at 8:24 pm

Yes!

My wife and I have lived in the city for nearly 20 years. We finally bought our house in 2011. Our 3 boys grew up here and went to city schools. The last two will be graduating from MA next year. We need to build a community where kids who grew up here can afford to come back and live in the area.

We need more housing. Please build it and ignore the NIMBYs!


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on May 21, 2022 at 8:24 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on May 21, 2022 at 8:24 am

Go ahead and ignore the NIMBYs. I think ignoring economics will be much harder.


JR
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 22, 2022 at 5:43 am
JR, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on May 22, 2022 at 5:43 am

Good progress on a challenging task. Parking lots, especially in downtown area, makes sense but the consultants’ comment that such lots are low value land is naive and just incorrect. That Quality parking is important to downtown economic and civic vitality, so use of existing parking lots for much-needed housing has to be accompanied by net new parking for these new residents and a first class parking garage to support local businesses. A multi story, modern garage can be built into the architectural character of the town and meet a vital need to support future growth and vitality.


PH
Registered user
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 25, 2022 at 8:35 am
PH, Woodside: Emerald Hills
Registered user
on May 25, 2022 at 8:35 am

Web Link

"In February of 2016, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reported that California’s shortfall of subsidized housing units—affordable to those who earn 80 percent or less of the median income where they live— was about 1.7 million housing units. The LAO estimated that closing this shortfall through new construction would cost in excess of $250 billion in public subsidies, though the report also noted: “There is a good chance the actual cost could be higher.”

That caveat now seems prescient. Between 2016 and 2019, the costs to develop a new affordable unit under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program have increased from $425,000 per unit to more than $480,000 per unit, an increase of 13 percent in just four years (after accounting for inflation). Costs per square foot have increased by 30 percent over the same time period, reaching $700 per square foot in 2019. A report by the federal Government Account¬ability Office (GAO) found that average development costs for new LIHTC projects in California were the highest in the nation, eclipsing those in New York City.

A recent LA times article shows affordable unit costs now approaching $1m per unit. Web Link


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