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LINC in the News
Housing crisis requires some creative solutions
The Daily Journal, June 29, 2018
By Charles Stone

For many years in Belmont, we have tried to develop our last meaningful pieces of property owned by the former redevelopment agency. The properties include parcels located at Hill Street and El Camino Real, and the parcel known as Firehouse Square on Fifth and O’Neill avenues and Broadway. In a thrilling turn of events earlier this year, the city entered an exclusive negotiating agreement with LINC Housing for the development of a project including 100 percent affordable homes at the Hill Street and El Camino Real sites. Just last week, we learned of more exciting news. Sares Regis, which has a development agreement for Firehouse Square spanning several years, is working to form a partnership with MidPen Housing to develop a project featuring over 80 percent affordable units. This is a monumental leap forward for the project; previously, the term sheet included only 25 percent affordable units.

These developments represent a significant increase in affordable homes for our community. This is critical as our cities struggled to keep pace with demand for both affordable and market-rate housing for years.

Recently, the San Mateo County Housing Leadership Council — our local housing advocacy nonprofit — released a report reminding us of the severity of our affordability crisis. The report showed between 2010 and 2015, only one new home was built for every 19 jobs created. According to the same report, to purchase the median priced home in San Mateo County, a household would have to make an astounding $382,960 annually. Rentcafe.com, an online listing service, indicates the average two-bedroom apartment rents for nearly $3,500 locally.

This is not sustainable if we are to maintain a functioning local economy and avoid the displacement of more families — a driving force behind traffic congestion as many of these displaced workers continue commuting to Silicon Valley. Smart growth and innovative transportation solutions must be pursued. We must also work with the private sector to assure projects on private land include some affordable housing. Cities like Belmont, San Mateo, Redwood City and others have adopted inclusionary zoning ordinances ensuring affordable housing will be a part of these developments.

But local governments — the county, cities, school districts and transit agencies — also need to look to their land as part of the solution, just as we are doing in Belmont. The San Mateo County Community College District led the way locally in this regard. For years, both Cañada College and the College of San Mateo have offered high-quality, affordable homes to their teachers and staff. This helps ensure the district can retain and attract quality employees. As icing on the cake, these developments will eventually provide the district with a small revenue stream.

Last week, we learned the Jefferson Union High School District Board of Trustees — under the excellent leadership of Board President Andy Lie and Vice President Kalimah Saluhuddin — successfully passed the first high school district teacher and staff housing bond. In a few short years, the vision of the board will allow the district to offer something no other high school district in the county can: affordable homes for district teachers and staff. This is a shining example of how government land combined with visionary policymaking can help make inroads in the fight against the housing affordability crisis.

Transit agencies are also embracing this concept. SamTrans land was used for housing with generous affordable housing components in both San Carlos and Daly City. The district continues looking for opportunities to use its land to help build housing. Caltrain has recently moved forward with a transit oriented development policy which will guide the use of its land.

Remaining redevelopment agency land is also a fertile ground for affordable housing. In San Mateo, officials approved a 164-unit Mid-Pen Housing development on former redevelopment land — half of which will be for those earning 60 percent of the area median income and the other half will be for households making 80-120 percent.

In a housing crisis of the magnitude, we must continue to utilize a variety of tools to ensure low- and middle-income earners have an opportunity to live here. One of those tools is the use of public land. I hope we see this trend not only continue — but grow.

Charles Stone serves is a current Belmont councilmember and former Mayor, the Chair of the San Mateo County Transit District, and also serves on the Caltrain Joint Powers Board. The views and opinions expressed herein are his own.

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