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The Future of Peninsula Affordable Housing: Grim or Bright?

Advocacy groups contend more affordable housing is needed to ease congestion and increase quality of life.

Editor's Note: This is the first in an installment of two articles on affordable housing and public transportation on the Peninsula. On Thursday, Patch will take a look public transportation infrastructure.

A recent report released by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and Urban Habitat raises concerns about the lack of transportation and housing options available to lower income residents.

According to the report, entitled “Moving Silicon Valley Forward," the lack of affordable housing options combined with the lack of public transportation options has left many lower-income families spending as much as 70% of their income on transportation and housing alone.

As a result, the authors contend, Peninsula cities should work to construct more affordable, centrally located housing units.

Los Altos has a goal of 380 housing units built between January 2009 and June 2014, above the 319 goal that the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) set for the city. The City Council just approved a mixed-use retail and 167-unit apartment complex to be built along El Camino Real at the site of Los Altos Garden Supply. Seventeen of the luxury units will be affordable.

Proponents of creating affordable housing units contend that doing so will increase diversity, decrease commute times, thus reducing traffic congestion as well as create new opportunities for people who would otherwise be forced to choose between having a lengthy commute, or dealing with sub-standard accommodations.

Opponents of creating additional affordable housing units believe that they decrease home values, increase burden on schools, and represent a law enforcement challenge.

According to Evelyn Stivers, the author of the report, the arguments against affordable housing have been proven wrong.

“There are a lot of myths and a lot of fears about affordable housing,” said Stivers.

Stivers claims that most affordable housing developments are built over underutilized land, so their presence increases home values. In addition, she claims that the tax revenue provided by such communities compensates for the burden on the school system.

Lastly, Stuyver contends that most affordable housing programs screen prospective residents to avoid having residents that pose a law enforcement challenge.

The creation of affordable housing units also can give people new opportunities, particularly immigrants, according to Rod Diridon, Sr., Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and a former Chair of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor.

“New people in our society who are working hard to enter society, but don’t have enough to buy a home, need a place to stay,” he told Patch.

Diridon also contends that due to the higher density of affordable housing units, the cities will be able to take in an increased property tax yield.

On principle, most peninsula cities claim to support affordable housing programs.

Even the Town of Atherton, sometimes given the reputation for being closed off to lower-income residents, has embraced affordable housing programs, according to Mayor Bill Widmer.

The town participates in programs pairing residents with housemates, and is looking into creating more affordable housing opportunities closer to El Camino Real.

However, Windmer said that the main obstacle in creating new affordable housing units is land.

“We’ve got limited space,” said Widmer.

—Los Altos Patch Editor L.A. Chung contributed to this report 

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