Atherton housing plan includes new housing at Menlo College. That won't happen unless the school raises $20 million | September 23, 2022 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - September 23, 2022

Atherton housing plan includes new housing at Menlo College. That won't happen unless the school raises $20 million

by Angela Swartz

Menlo College, like many schools on the Peninsula, could use more housing for its faculty and staff, but without millions of dollars in extra funds, that's not going to happen, said Menlo College President Steve Weiner.

The town of Atherton is including some 40 units of new housing at the private four-year college over the next eight years to meet its state mandated housing requirements. The town must plan for the development of 348 new housing units from 2023 to 2031, a large jump from its designation of 93 units during the previous housing element cycle.

There is demand for more housing on the college's 95-year-old campus. Its existing units are almost always 100% occupied, and that shortage of affordable housing is a barrier to hiring, Weiner said.

Based on recent construction experience on the campus, the likely expense for housing and parking would be $20 million to pay for 40 units. Menlo College is committed to working with the Atherton community to support such an endeavor, said Weiner.

College officials suggested that the town could support the cost of constructing housing and parking on campus through a new source of funding, possibly by issuing bonds. City Manager George Rodericks said in an email that while "no solutions are off the table," the town is not actively considering a public bond issue in support of affordable housing.

"The town has encouraged Menlo College to reach out to interested groups in the community that expressed a desire to partner with the college to identify funding sources in support of their housing needs," Rodericks said.

Weiner said a donor could come along and provide the funding, but raising funds for housing isn't the school's highest priority. Fundraising is targeted at student scholarships, new classroom buildings and a new library, he said.

"If the town is looking for a solution (to its housing mandates) and could find a means to bring resources, I have the land to make it happen," he said. "Even in the absence of a bond issue, we remain ready to partner with the town to leverage any opportunity that might allow us to build housing units on our campus that would also serve to address the town's goals."

"The barriers of entry to the Bay Area housing market are well established. The Silicon Valley population has grown substantially since the latest recession, and multifamily developments are struggling to keep up," Weiner wrote to the town in a July letter. "The job growth and attractiveness of being close to the burgeoning tech markets in the area have helped fuel the population growth, which, in turn, has driven up housing costs throughout the Bay Area."

Weiner noted that Menlo College hasn't been able to provide salary increases sufficient to keep up with the cost of housing in the surrounding neighborhoods, something that will only be exacerbated with expected increases in local housing costs in the coming years.

Through its master plan, the college is exploring several concepts for faculty and staff housing on the campus including:

•Construction of new library and dining hall buildings (separate buildings) with parking at ground level, one or two levels for the library and dining hall, and one or two stories of housing above (maximum three stories over parking). The majority of the housing units would be set aside for low- and moderate-income faculty and staff households.

•Construction of a multifamily housing project on the site of the O'Brian Parking Lot at the corner of El Camino Real and Alejandra Avenue. The building could have podium parking at ground level and three stories of housing above. Most of the housing units would be set-aside for low- and moderate-income faculty and staff households.

•Construction of a new classroom building on the site of the existing Florence Moore Building with podium parking at ground level and two stories of classrooms above and one story of housing on top. Most of the housing units would be set-aside for low- and moderate income faculty and staff households.

•Conversion of student dorm housing to new apartments for faculty. This is anticipated to result in three to five new housing units.

Current and future faculty housing

Menlo College currently has 21 apartments and four freestanding houses for faculty and staff. Most of those units are rented at rates affordable to low- and moderate income households.

Keith Lambert, the school's head men's soccer coach, has been living in a duplex on campus with his wife, two kids and dog for four years. He said he would welcome even more housing on campus since having more people on campus helps create a better sense of community. Having staffers live onsite puts fewer cars on the road.

"In addition to the rental price being affordable within our budget, it allows me to be a good employee for the college, it lets me be a better dad and husband," he said. The family moved from Redwood City to the Atherton campus. "I don't have to commute. I can run home and start dinner to put something on the Crock-Pot."

Living locally also has an economic impact. He and his kids bike or walk to Santa Cruz Avenue to shop at Cheeky Monkey Toys.

There are several potential building sites on campus, any one of which could be developed to provide a mix of studio, and one-, two-, and three-bedroom units for faculty and staff rentals in order to expand the capability to offer below market rate apartments exclusively to Menlo College employees.

"Occupancy has consistently been 100% — a direct reflection of the high cost of living in Atherton and the immediately adjacent areas," Weiner said of the current units.

Any new building would, however, also need to address the associated increased in parking demand on campus, which will likely be addressed through a free-standing parking facility elsewhere on campus. To indicate the likely demand for the new apartments, a survey of full-time faculty and staff was conducted several years ago.

Staff survey results

A recent survey of 47 faculty and staff (accounting for about 45% of employees) indicated strong likely demand for new apartment rentals, according to the letter to the town.

Of those not living on campus at the time, 74% responded "yes" and another 15% responded "maybe" when asked if they would be interested in moving into a college-owned apartment building.

Reflecting the fact that most faculty and staff live more than 30 miles from campus, 66% of respondents indicated they would be willing to pay more than their current rents for the convenience of living on campus.

Recent residence hall

Donors are funding the college's sixth residence hall, according to a school blog post. Students moved into the 288-bed, three-story dormitory, dubbed John Arrillaga Hall, last week.

The college broke ground on the $20 million residence hall in May 2021, which was originally expected to be done in April this year. Room and board is $8,125 for a double-occupancy dorm room this school year, according to the school's website. Double-occupancy dorms in other residence halls on campus is $6,750 per year.

Incoming freshmen will live primarily in the new residence hall, according to the school website. The 100-bed O'Brien Hall will be closed for the full school year for maintenance and repairs.

Dorms do not count toward the town's housing production because they are not considered permanent housing, Atherton Town Planner Lisa Costa Sanders said last year.

Email Staff Writer Angela Swartz at [email protected]

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