Sequioa Belle Haven, seen in an artistic rendering, is an affordable housing complex for seniors that MidPen Housing is planning for the 1200 block of Willow Road in Menlo Park. Construction is set to start early next year. (Courtesy of Mithun)
MENLO PARK — Two powerhouses that tackle housing affordability in Menlo Park are joining forces.
MidPen Housing announced April 6 that it has tapped Hello Housing as an affiliate to help it craft solutions to the housing crisis in the Bay Area, the nation’s most expensive market.
In San Mateo County alone, median incomes in the past five years have risen just 2.5 percent, while average rents have jumped 60 percent and single-family home prices are up 45 percent, according to Hello Housing.
Given that MidPen is Menlo Park’s most visible partner on below-market housing, with 167 rental units and as many as 91 in the pipeline — and Hello Housing administers the city’s below-market-rate programs, the partnership could have an impact in Menlo Park.
Before the partnership was a week old, Hello Housing Executive Director Mardie Oakes said the nonprofits are already looking to purchase 40 homes in Belle Haven and East Palo Alto to protect and possibly rehabilitate, some of which otherwise would face foreclosure.
Hello Housing brings expertise in managing and preserving nearly 1,000 below-market-rate homes in the Bay Area. As part of the alliance, the pair will study how to “incubate ideas that housing innovators have previously been unable to fit into existing funding mechanisms,” according to the county, which is providing MidPen and Hello Housing with $200,000 of Measure A funds toward the study.
In East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, according to Hello Housing, rents increased 14 percent in 2015 and 160 percent since 2010. At the same time, a 2014 American Community Survey report found the annual median income for a Belle Haven household was $53,971 — citywide, the median was more than double that at $115,650.
According to a letter Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto submitted to the Menlo Park City Council this week, a UC Berkeley study on urban displacement determined that more than half of Menlo Park’s census tracts are undergoing displacement or at risk of displacement.
At a county seminar last weekend, county Supervisor Warren Slocum noted that 25 percent of people working in the county earned less than $40,000 in 2014, when the annual salary needed to afford a market-rate apartment stood at $110,000.
“We’ve got a big disparity,” said Jan Lindenthal, MidPen Housing’s vice president of real estate development. “Obviously, we’re increasingly partnering with employers to help them find solutions for their employees.”
MidPen is a much larger organization than its new partner. Since 1970, it has developed more than 7,500 affordable multi-family units worth more than $1 billion and has built a large pool of corporate sponsors and donors.
“We’re trying to expand our mission impact,” Lindenthal said. “We’ve been a developer for multi-family housing, but the needs are much greater than that. … A lot of housing stock, especially in East Palo Alto (and Belle Haven) is rental stock. Those people are at risk of displacement in a rapidly escalating market.
“That was the genesis of our proposal to the county; rather than reinventing the wheel, here is an agency already doing that. … We give Hello (Housing) more gas in the tank, so to speak, and they give us more tools, as well.”
MidPen essentially is able to bankroll Hello’s programs. Prior to the partnership, Hello Housing, which over its past 11 years has developed 125 affordable single-family homes, wasn’t able to purchase houses to preserve as affordable.
“We’re looking at the potentiality of buying homes at market rate,” Oakes said. “It’s on the table now that we could buy single-family homes that are already occupied … and keep them in place.”
Jim Cogan, Menlo Park’s economic and housing development manager, said he was uncertain whether the partnership would create more affordable housing in the city.
“Any change to either relationship isn’t something I’ve had any conversations about,” Cogan said. “Maybe we create new opportunities or new ideas on how to provide more housing units. I’m always looking for more strategies on how to build affordable units.”
The state in 2014 ordered the city to come up with 655 new housing units by 2022, of which 362 must be for low-income residents. The city envisions constructing or rehabbing 1,310 units by 2023, of which 720 would be below market rate.
Cogan said the City Council could vote May 3 on changes to residential rental developments, mandating that developers set aside a portion of properties for below-market units or pay fees into a rental fund.
MidPen is redeveloping Sequioa Belle Haven, formerly a 48-unit senior housing development, on the 1200 block of Willow Road, and adding 42 units. That development is slated to open in February with $3.2 million in support from the city.
MidPen also received a $1.4 million grant last year to rehab two properties it has along Pierce Road in Menlo Park, and it plans to boost those units from four to 17.
Earlier this week, MidPen was chosen to develop up to 137 below-market units on city-owned land in Redwood City.
Email Kevin Kelly at email@example.com or call him at 650-391-1049.