Editorial: 5 Ways Palo Alto Can Ease the Housing Crisis Now

Should Santa Clara invest in affordable housing for seniors, low income familes and others? Photo by Paul Sakuma, AP

The housing crisis in Palo Alto and across the Bay Area is an inescapable problem.  The lack of affordable housing is most acute for people with limited income, but it takes a toll on everyone, regardless of resources. Businesses in Palo Alto are having difficulty attracting and retaining staff, which impacts availability of nurses and teachers, police and firefighters, and even prices at local stores and restaurants.  One of our high schools recently lost five excellent teaching candidates due to the cost of living and the Palo Alto police department has 14 vacancies it cannot fill.

From traffic to livability, housing impacts everything  

“The lack of affordable housing is most acute for people with limited income, but it takes a toll on everyone, regardless of resources…”

The housing crisis is more than just an economic issue as it touches on the environment (longer commutes increase greenhouse gas emissions), social justice (Palo Alto should be accessible for people of all income levels, not just the wealthy or people who already own their homes), and community livability (the surge of cars makes our streets less safe for walking and biking).

A tough problem, but there ARE solutions

So what can we do? Palo Alto Forward believes there are five steps the Palo Alto City Council can take now to ease the housing crisis and increase the housing inventory for all kinds of residents:

Photo by Palo Alto Forward

Photo by Palo Alto Forward

1. Add more small units: Encourage construction of more studio apartments and other naturally affordable smaller units.

2. Include housing in commercial development: Encourage buildings composed of apartments and condos over ground-floor retail. Current policy requires developers to build office space into any new four-story building in a commercial district.

3. Allow for second units: Make it easier for homeowners to build second units on their property, especially to accommodate multiple-generation households and caretakers.

4. Facilitate housing near transportation: Allow car-light and car-free housing in walkable, transit-accessible areas for residents who are able to not own a car.

5. Focus on senior housing: Foster the development of new senior housing, including alternative models such as co-housing, home sharing, and mixed-use senior communities with retail and services so older people who own  homes can consider downsizing and opening up new housing.

Send a message to Palo Alto City Council to act now 

If you’re a Palo Alto resident interested in this issue, please take a look, sign and share the petition with others who you think might be interested. The goal is to have Palo Alto City Council prioritize housing as an urgent issue and take a leadership role in providing a broader range of housing options for all income levels.  A companion background blog outlines several main actions that council can consider.

Join 8 former Palo Alto mayors and over 600 other people and urge City Council to take action on this issue that impacts ALL of Palo Alto!

Click to read and sign the petition.

Thank you-

Sandra Slater, Palo Alto Forward

About Palo Alto Forward: We are a group of residents interested in crafting a vision for the future of Palo Alto that expands choice, opportunity and quality of life. We believe in approaching challenges like traffic and parking with a “can-do” attitude and believe there are positive outcomes and opportunities when we plan for future growth holistically and in strategic locations. Learn more at www.paloaltoforward.com.

About the author

Sandra Slater

Sandra Slater

Sandra Slater has lived in Palo Alto for the last 26 years. Her current position is Northern California Director of the Cool City Challenge, a project to achieve deep carbon reduction, create resilient neighborhoods, promote green economic development and reinvent our cities from the bottom up. Sandra has served as a consultant to the Golden Gate National Recreational Parks Conservancy, to Zeta Communities (a net-zero energy, LEED Platinum start-up), has led her own design firm, Sandra Slater Environments. Sandra lives in downtown Palo Alto in a home she designed to showcase green design principles.

1 Comment

  • Good ideas! How about adding stop bending over backwards to accommodate developers who want to break rules to build huge businesses and to get out of allowing adequate parking.