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Facebook Project Unearths Deficiencies in Affordable Housing

Meanwhile, Menlo Park's Housing Department is dissolving.

With multiple large development agreements on the table, the city of Menlo Park is again discovering that it does not have enough affordable housing for low-wage employees.

“Menlo Park has one of the worst fits between jobs and housing in the entire Bay Area region,” said Richard A. Marcantonio, an attorney who brought to light deficiencies in Facebook’s environmental impact report

“Only 17% of low-wage worker households can find housing affordable to them in the city,” Marcantonio said in a letter to Justin Murphy, city planner working on the Facebook project.

The city is negotiating an agreement with Facebook that would allow the company to bring a net of 5,800 new employees into the city, many of whom may be forced to live elsewhere on the Peninsula where housing is cheaper.

The Facebook project’s draft environmental impact report states that 254 housing units would need to be created in town by 2025 to satisfy a state housing law that requires the city to create housing to accommodate workforce growth associated with new businesses. It also estimates that demand for more than 3,000 housing units would be created.

Simultaneously, Menlo Park is struggling to create affordable housing within its borders, having failed to update its general plan for the past two planning periods. It has not done so since 1992, leaving an affordable housing deficiency of about 1,000 units, according to data from the Association of Bay Area Governments.  

Affordable housing is defined as a home that takes 30 percent of a person’s annual income, according to the state’s health and safety code.

Problematically, it is unclear who would be in charge of managing the development of these domiciles in the area. The city will not have a housing department after July 2012, according to a “Housing Transition Plan” published on January 30. This fact is leaving many dissatisfied with the social disparity this could create in the city.

Anne Moser is a former chair of the Housing Commission and spoke to Patch as a private citizen of Menlo Park. 

Moser said this issue has arisen multiple times in Council Chambers without inspiring action from City Council. She cited the Derry Project and the Bohannon Gateway Project as a few examples of large-scale developments which offered the city opportunities to address the city's affordable housing need.  She is concerned that this will further exacerbate the perception that Menlo Park is a place where only wealthy people live. 

Moser said some apartment complexes in Belle Haven have increased the rent by 20 percent in response to Facebook’s move to Menlo Park.

Facebook is working with a developer to create housing in the city, although plans have not been finalized.

City Attorney Bill McClure said that housing is not an environmental impact during the City Council's January 31st meeting. McClure said in terms of mitigation it is not a physical impact on the environment, therefore it is not something that can truly be required through the environmental impact review process. 

City Council can, however, incorporate it into the conditional development agreement if it chooses to do so. 

During Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Council meeting it was announced that former city manager David Boesch will be aiding in the process to address these issues.  

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commuter February 15, 2012 at 08:32 PM
If people working at local jobs cannot afford to live in the city, they face long commutes from elsewhere, increasing traffic, congestion, and pollution. Then tax payers are asked to pay for bigger highways or more mass transit, and you know how expensive those can be. Better to consider housing issues now instead of too late.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) February 15, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Expensive with a capital E.
Sandy B February 16, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Poor people don't look for homes in Menlo Park. They look for places in Redwood City and East Palo Alto. Why is everyone coming to Facebook with their hands open like the company owes them something?
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) February 16, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Good question.
Andy Cohen February 16, 2012 at 02:59 PM
The ultimate question, according to most observers of the public process, seems to be whether the development agreement being negotiated can reconcile Facebook's beneficial economic impact with its adverse effects. In other words, will the city feel the increased tax revenue more than the heavier traffic, higher rents, and greater environmental impact. Above all, observers insist that the process be conducted in a spirit of partnership rather than arms length bargaining.
Area Man February 16, 2012 at 06:03 PM
I don't think any individual is coming to Facebook with their hands out as you put it. However if Facebook is going to add over 5000 employees virtually overnight, many of which want to reside in our neighborhoods, they DO have a responsibility to our community to help avoid displacing those of us who are not financially fortunate enough to own a home here in Menlo Park. As a "poor person" who lives and works in Menlo Park, I have seen rents increase as much as 40% in some cases in the last 12 to 18 months. Even though I am not a property owner and do not contribute property taxes, I do shop locally, our family donates to the elementary school that our child attends, we donate to the PTO, to the Menlo Park/Atherton Education Association, we donate money, clothing, and toys to the Fire Department, and we donate time to our community. We are not deadbeats who should be forced to live in Redwood City or East Palo Alto because we are what some consider "poor people".
Alan Dale Brown February 16, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Affordable housing is good, although we should consider the other side of the coin: the reason housing in some areas, particularly the Belle Haven neighborhood, has become more expensive is a result of it becoming more desirable. Isn't that a *good* thing? I know someone who bought a home in Belle Haven because it's where she could afford it .... now that it's hers, it to her benefit that it becomes *less* affordable. Part of the reason that area had been less expensive was the relatively high crime rate; address that, and affordability will become more of a "problem". There's winners and losers in any change in home value. I just hope any solutions in providing affordable homes doesn't undermine the benefits this change has produced.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) February 16, 2012 at 07:51 PM
@Area Man I hear you. 40%? Is your rent increase related to rumors of Facebook relocation? (My rent went up last year by $300 for no reason.) @Andy I agree with you about the spirit of the negotiations, although I think that sentiment is often forgotten when money is on the table. It's hard to say if the city will gain property tax revenue given that the campus is in what was an RDA zone, right? + The company doesn't sell a tangible product, so there goes sales tax. A few years ago, a business tax based on the number of employees was on the ballot. Would that be relevant here? And did that pass? @Alan Why is it to her benefit if it becomes less affordable?
Alan Dale Brown February 16, 2012 at 08:14 PM
@Vanessa: Well - by "less affordable" - it's not less affordable to *her* .... if she decides to sell, say, 5 years down the line, she'll benefit significantly financially if prices increase. People gripe about rising house prices until they're "in"; then, they love it. There's always winners and losers. I'm a little bit suspicious of attempts of government trying too hard to "correct" the situation; it should not be in the business of picking the winners and losers. Building affordable housing is OK; rent control tends to create all sorts of unintended consequences. I personally took a beating by buying at the wrong time (in San Jose), and seeing prices collapse. 10 years of saving, and I can confidently say I'm at zero equity - not below water, but not above.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) February 16, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Yikes. Sorry about about the zero equity situation. I hear the property values are on the rise. Does SJ have homestead exemptions at least? I wish I was in a rent controlled apartment. What kind of unintended consequences could there be?
Alan Dale Brown February 16, 2012 at 11:10 PM
I don't feel sorry for myself ... oddly enough, my cash flow situation is slightly better because of the price drop, because my property tax dropped, also. I've heard of two classic examples of the unintended consequences of rent control (Manhattan being the classic example). Fewer people are likely to rent out rooms if they are forced to provide them at lower prices. Therefore, while the lucky few may get cheap rent, but there are fewer apartments available, period. Most people are stuck commuting (from New Jersey). The other unintended consequence is the increase in black-market units. They're at what the market would charge anyhow, but the city doesn't regulate them (obviously), and doesn't collect taxes. Best solution: increase the supply of housing; build affordable units.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) February 18, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Well, some money coming in via rent payments is better than no money.

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