Photo: Taylor Hanigosky ©
Picture of Michele Beasley

Michele Beasley

Seven Reasons to Be Optimistic About Housing on the Peninsula

The housing situation in San Mateo County is dire, like in most parts of the Bay Area.

While job growth in the region leads the nation, the benefits of the booming economy are shared unevenly and skyrocketing rents are displacing more and more of our low- and middle-income neighbors.

“Back in 1975, the average home [in San Mateo County] was about $45,000 and the starting salary for a faculty member was $15,000. Today, the average cost of a home is about $900,000 and the starting salary for a faculty member is $60,000… so that ratio has gone from 3 to 1 to 15 to 1.”

– Chancellor Ron Galatolo
San Mateo Community College District

Some facts:

  • Rent for a typical 2-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County has risen by 46% over the last four years.
  • Market rate rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,425
  • The median sale price for a single family home is $1.2 million
  • In the last three years, San Mateo County has added 40,000 new jobs while only adding 3,000 homes

(Data Sources: U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, County of San Mateo Housing Authority, San Mateo County Association of Realtors)

Many of the jobs that are being added pay little more than the minimum wage of $9 an hour. These are your service workers- grocery clerks, home health care providers, custodians and bank tellers. A thriving economy and region depends on ensuring that all of our service workers, who make up the fabric of our community, are able to find decent, affordable housing.

Despite these statistics and the fact that many traditional funding sources for housing—like redevelopment agencies and inclusionary zoning—are no longer available or weakened, there is always a silver lining. May was Affordable Housing Month in the Bay Area and the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County hosted a week full of activities, which included hard-hat tours, a housing resource fair, and their popular Legislative Breakfast. Here are seven reasons to feel positive:

  1. The Grand Nexus Study: When it comes to countywide collaboration on housing issues, San Mateo County’s 21 Elements is a model. This was apparent when 15 cities within the county commissioned the development of nexus studies on commercial linkage fees (CLF) and housing impact fees (HIF). While a housing impact fee is a fee on new market rate homes, a commercial linkage fee is a fee on new shops, hotels and office uses. Together, these fees would be used to create more affordable homes—cities will begin considering their adoption this fall.Meanwhile in Santa Clara County, cities including Mountain View and Sunnyvale have been busy adopting impact fees. The most recent being Cupertino which on May 5 adopted a housing impact fee on multi-family housing projects that ranges from $20-$25 per square foot. 
  1. The “Building Homes and Jobs” package of bills: State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins recently introduced a package of bills that could jumpstart construction of shovel-ready affordable developments and includes the creation of an ongoing, dedicated source of affordable housing funding with the collection of a $75 fee on real estate-transaction documents. Read on for more.
  1. Public lands and creative partnerships: Church parking lots, community colleges, and government surplus lands are all opportunities for more affordable homes. AB 2135 (Ting) strengthens the Right of First Refusal for affordable housing when local agencies, such as transportation authorities, sell or lease land. First priority would be given to an entity that provides 25% of the units at affordable rents to lower-income households for at least 55 years.

    Out of the box thinking led to a three-way land swap in Half Moon Bay. Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) owned some ball fields; the County owned parcels along coastal bluffs, and the City owned a vacant parcel. Each wanted what the other had. The swap meant that POST got the open space, the city got the ball fields and the County got the vacant parcel. The County partnered with MidPen Housing to build Half Moon Village, 115 homes for low-income seniors.

  1. Zoning changes
    • Secondary units: Cities like Belmont have been considering making it easier to allow second units on properties. U.C. Berkeley Professor Karen Chapple has demonstrated how second units can add much needed affordable housing.
    • Community Benefits Programs: The City of Redwood City has been crafting a program that would ensure that the community receives desired amenities, like affordable housing, as part of future development projects.
  1. Cap and Trade revenues: Earlier this year, the Strategic Growth Council adopted guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program. The AHSC is tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the development of affordable homes near public transportation and by creating walkable, bicycle-friendly communities that encourage fewer car trips. The first round of funding produced $130 million which can provide partial support for about 20 affordable housing projects.
  1. Foster Square in Foster City: A new town center is being developed in the heart of Foster City on 15 acres of vacant land. This mixed-use community will target baby boomers and seniors and will include 155 senior assisted-living units, 200 for-sale homes and 66 affordable homes in addition to shops, parks, and a public plaza. MidPen Housing is the affordable housing developer and their project will include community rooms, a computer lab and balance studio.

    Once again, Foster City has demonstrated their commitment to affordable housing by requiring that MidPen’s project be built in the first phase of development. Two units will be set aside for formerly homeless seniors.

    Councilman Steve Okamoto attended the Affordable Housing Week hard hat tour of Foster Square and offered additional solutions to the affordable housing crisis, “Residents express concern that more homes equals more traffic, so we need to engage our local employers, like Gilead Sciences, to build homes for their employees, so people can walk and cycle to work, instead of commuting in from other counties.”

  1. Local employers: LinkedIn is hot to move into Mountain View’s North Bayshore area and as part of the deal, has pledged to give $40 million to MidPen Housing for affordable housing projects. More and more companies, like LinkedIn and Google, recognize the value of affordable, nearby housing, and are stepping up with funding.

There’s no silver bullet to solve the current housing crisis, but collectively, these efforts can make a huge impact. It affects all of us when members of our community struggle to find an affordable home close to their job. And it will take all of us, working together, to find solutions and ensure that the Bay Area’s high quality of life is enhanced for all.


Photo: Taylor Hanigosky ©

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