By: Anita Enander
Los Altos Town Crier
August 31, 2022 – The city of Los Altos recently submitted a draft of its housing element to state officials for review. You may have seen signs around town or read articles and wondered how this could affect you. Based on state projections, Los Altos is required to plan for 1,958 new housing units to be built in the next eight years, including 1,115 that can be developed as affordable to people making less than 120% of the area median income (AMI) – $181,550 for a family of four).
Our first task was to identify sites that have a potential for new housing. After a year of hard work by staff and commissions – and significant input from residents – we submitted our draft to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). All those involved were elated to reach this challenging milestone! Parking plazas 7 and 8 were identified as sites that could accommodate new development, including affordable housing. We also proposed adding housing as an accepted use in some areas where only business and commercial uses are permitted today. The good news: We propose to meet state mandates without putting multi-family developments in single-family neighborhoods.
HCD will provide comments and we will submit a revised plan early next year. If approved, we have three years to modify our zoning code to match the plan; three years of intensive work by staff and commissioners, who will rely on your input and feedback. If you’ve ever attended a Planning Commission meeting, you know how many details must be considered in a development project.
The details can affect you: height, setbacks, parking (cars and bicycles), materials, green space, street access, noise, safety, to name a few. All will have to be specified in objective standards for new projects in areas rezoned for housing.
Our biggest challenge will be meeting state goals for affordable housing, which we need to serve teachers, emergency personnel, city staff and local business workers. HCD says 789 of our required housing units must be for low- and very-low-income families ($34,800 for a single person to $117,750 for a family of four).
Given the high cost of land and construction, building one affordable unit can cost $750,000. Developers don’t finance low-income projects because they don’t earn a profit. Recent developments approved by the city council include the small number of affordable units that we can require by law, but most affordable housing requires public or nonprofit funding.
As an example, the EAH Housing project at 330 Distel Circle will provide 90 units for individuals and families earning 30-80% of the AMI. The city council unanimously supports this important project by waiving $5 million in fees, the county contributes the land, and a combination of grants and nonprofits will fund construction.
We will need many more public/private partnerships, more state and federal grants, more corporate donations – and your support – to increase affordable housing, mostly for people who already work in our community. And we will have to determine how to pay for increased demand on our city services and infrastructure from the population growth inherent in 1,958 new homes.
That’s why your voice, your participation, will be essential in planning our city’s future.
Anita Enander is mayor of Los Altos.
Read more HERE.