Affordable is defined as housing costs that are 30% or less of a family’s income. This includes housing costs, HOA fees, and homeowner’s insurance. “Affordable housing” can also refer to housing units that are affordable by those whose income is low to moderate, often because they are subsidized by the government. These units are sometimes termed “below-market-rate” or BMR.
Affordable housing advocates refer to the “missing middle” as those who don’t earn enough to afford market rate housing, yet earn too much to qualify for government-subsidized housing. Missing middle housing is a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types—compatible in scale with detached single-family homes—that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.
Funding comes from cities that allocate or raise monies to fund units; developers who include inclusionary units as part of market-rate projects; the State and the County which provides funds, through voter-approved bonds or the State budget; and federal funds, some through HUD but mostly through the federal low-income housing tax credit program, which provides tax credits to developers who build the units.
The State Density Bonus Law, which is incorporated in Los Altos ordinances, gives developers the ability to expand a project beyond the “specified” zoning. In Los Altos there are “on menu” and “off menu” Density Bonus items. For instance, developers can receive leniency on height requirements if they build more below-market-rate (BMR) units. Developers can also add more units to their project depending upon the percentage that are affordable.
Affordable Housing in Los Altos
Affordable housing is a crisis affecting our entire region. As a city in the region we believe it is important to do our part to help find solutions to the jobs/housing imbalance. People who live and work in Los Altos also need affordable housing. Housing at all price points is important for an economy to thrive. In addition, because of the lack of housing (affordable and other) in all cities, long commutes are contributing to pollution and climate effects.
There are many people who live and/or work in Los Altos who need affordable housing, such a cashiers, postal workers, child care specialists, educators and teachers, baristas, supermarket employees, police and other safety officers, librarians, health workers, health aides and caregivers, city staff, and seniors and persons with disabilities living on a fixed income.
They could, if they found funding and land for such units.
The latest homeless count (2019) showed 76 unsheltered individuals in Los Altos. This does not count people who might be living in garages, sheds, or overly crowded spaces who could not be counted.
The state gives numbers to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), which develops the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers that are given to each city, including Los Altos. Numbers are given to each city on an 8-year cycle. The current cycle runs from 2015-2023.
There are numerous non-profit affordable housing organizations that build affordable housing developments, for example Palo Alto Housing, Mid-peninsula Housing, Charities Housing, and Eden Housing. Palo Alto Housing manages the below-market-rate (BMR) housing program in Los Altos.
In Los Altos, there are no all-affordable housing developments. Los Altos has several properties that include affordable units, also referred to as inclusionary housing, such as the Colonnade and the Terraces. Recently, a project at 5150 El Camino was approved with 28 affordable units.
We could, but we would not get RHNA credit for these and thus funding would have to come from non-traditional affordable housing sources.
Looking Beyond Los Altos
There are many organizations that are focused on housing in our region such as SV@Home, Destination Home, the Housing Trust, Non-Profit Housing, SPUR. Some are advocacy organizations, some focus on building affordable housing, some finance housing, and everything in between.
There are many ways to get involved:
- Volunteer with LAAHA
- Attend City Council meetings, speak in support of an affordable housing project
- Share a home
- Build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), also known as a granny flat, casita, or in-law unit
- Support better public transportation
- Advocate for legislation that increases housing stock and creates affordable housing