Letter of Resignation from the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission
Kate Vershov Downing

The resignation letter and a lot of the former commissioner’s commentary mixes two different issues. “Affordable Housing” generally refers to housing that is available specifically those making a fraction of the area’s median income. This is almost all rental housing. Someone making less than 50% of the median income might qualify for reduced rent that is equal to 30% of that person or family’s income. So that’s affordable housing.

Where the sense of entitlement issue comes in is when a couple making above the median income for the area is looking for a discount on an expensive piece of property as a purchase or investment in the future.

Palo Alto is an area with rampant housing speculation. There are large numbers of purchases of homes by people from outside the area and even outside the country. They pay all cash. They don’t even live in many of these homes, and some are not even rented to tenants. So this certainly affects the purchase component of the housing market.

The most common source of low priced homes is condominium developments, often in high rise office buildings. This is the only way Palo Alto would be able to get any kind of significant increase in units for sale. In this area, if such construction were allowed, the price on those units would be quite high, but lower than single family detached homes on separate lots.

However, one might argue that denser housing should be rental housing. Such housing would not be the situation described with an entire house with a yard available for rent, even with two couples sharing. So, again, we see this issue of the sense of entitlement. The real people suffering are the lower income people, below the median income.

It’s worth noting that Palo Alto has done a laudable job in the last decade in resisting the tendency to add office density. It has large areas with 2 story office construction that could be torn down and replaced by multistory dense buildings with underground parking. Neighboring communities had done just that. Palo Alto could easily have added capacity for 20,000 additional workers in the city, and it has NOT.