Visiting affordable homes along El Camino Real

Greenbelt Alliance has been busy along the Grand Boulevard! One event in particular resonated with me: the Affordable Housing Week bus tour that we hosted in partnership with the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.

While the weather in Daly City was gloomy and cold on the morning of Saturday, May 12, the spirits of those who joined us were bright. The tour was a comfortable one, as SamTrans donated a bus for the day. We kicked things off on a high note, visiting the Daly City War Memorial Community Center, a Grand Boulevard Award recipient that is near the busiest bus stop in the SamTrans district. Mayor Sal Torres welcomed us, sharing that many Daly City residents struggle to find safe, affordable homes. Average rents in San Mateo County have increased over 17% in the last year to levels not even seen during the height of the dotcom boom.  San Mateo County is already the least affordable county in the United States and skyrocketing rents continue to put more pressure on those earning lower incomes.

Just down the street, we donned hard hats for a tour of the Habitat for Humanity family housing project under construction there. With hundreds of volunteers hammering away, we spoke with a young couple who is working hard to build their future home. Prospective families not only have to meet income requirements but they must contribute volunteer hours painting, nailing, and flooring. This 36-unit building will be ready by March 2013.

We then traveled to Colma, where we visited Trestle Glen Apartments, another Grand Boulevard Award recipient, nestled conveniently by BART and with 119 affordable homes. Trestle Glen is a study in building community, with movie nights, a childcare facility, playgrounds, a homework club, and ESL classes for adults. And for those interested in a spontaneous game of basketball, a text is sent out to all residents encouraging them to join in. Trestle Glen is also beautifully decorated with over 40 works of art from Creativity Explored, a nonprofit visual art center where artists with development disabilities create, exhibit, and sell art.

Our last stop on the tour required hard hats again — MidPen’s housing development at 636 El Camino Real in South San Francisco, which will soon accommodate 109 families in affordable rental homes. A former mobile home park, this complex will include many amenities for healthy and green living, including a community garden, a fitness center, and a walkable location close to schools, parks and trails. Common areas will be powered by sustainable energy sources such as a solar pre-heated water system and rooftop solar panels. And right along El Camino Real, MidPen is creating 5,700 square feet of retail space. The need for affordable homes for San Mateo County workers is undeniable–more than 2,200 qualifying applicants are competing for these 109 homes.

Greenbelt Alliance organized this tour to not only draw attention to the affordable housing crisis in San Mateo County but to also spotlight the Grand Boulevard Initiative, which aims to improve the performance, aesthetics and safety of El Camino Real. When we increase the supply and diversity of housing choices, people at all income levels are able to live in the community in which they work. Greenbelt Alliance understands that more affordable housing is needed throughout the Bay Area to maintain our quality of life, and through these tours, we hope to build awareness that a strong community is an inclusive one and that El Camino Real is the perfect place to live local. For more information on Greenbelt Alliance’s work, check out our website.

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