Support independent, student-run journalism.

Your support helps give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to conduct meaningful reporting on important issues at Stanford. All contributions are tax-deductible.

City, community collaborate to tackle housing crises in Mountain View

By

Located just six miles outside of campus, Mountain View is an affluent city home to large corporations such as Google and LinkedIn, but the jobs-housing imbalance and swelling homelessness crisis there have prompted action from locals and city councilors alike — including open discussions of Stanford’s expansion plans and its implications for the housing crisis.

The shortage of available and affordable housing is a critical problem in Santa Clara County, where the effects of the technology boom have resulted in steep rents, stagnant wages and homelessness among local residents.

Hope’s Corner serves homeless individuals in Mountain View. (YASMIN SAMRAI/The Stanford Daily)

Housing shortage

Newly-elected mayor of Mountain View Lenny Siegel, a former Stanford student, attributed the source of the regional housing and jobs crisis to Stanford.

“Well, it started with Stanford,” he said. “Stanford is at the center of the jobs-housing imbalance. There’s very little housing on Stanford’s lands [for people] other than students and faculty.”

Siegel expressed his disapproval of Stanford’s petition for land expansion in its proposed 2018 General Use Permit (GUP) — which would see the University expand by 2.3 million square feet — suggesting that the proposal would worsen the jobs-to-housing ratio in the area.

“Stanford is a corporation … and it’s going to take a lot more community organizing or student organizing to get them to fully respond to the crisis that they helped create,” he said. “They’re basically externalizing the costs and burdening surrounding communities by doing that.”

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson EJ Miranda wrote that addressing the region’s housing challenge is a priority that has been incorporated into the proposed GUP. For example, Stanford has pledged to contribute $11 million to Santa Clara Country’s affordable housing fund in the next two to three years in addition to the $26.1 million it donated between 2000 and 2015.

“We have also been working to expand nearby housing for employees — a short distance away, if not immediately on campus,” Miranda wrote, pointing to the Stanford West complex off Sand Hill Road and the Welch Road Apartments, which are open to the public but give priority to Stanford affiliates.

The Colonnade apartment complex in Los Altos and Mayfield Place in Palo Alto have also recently become available to Stanford faculty and staff.

“In each of these [apartment complexes] there is a percentage of units with rents set at Below Market Rates (BMR) for low-income local residents, including those who are affiliated with Stanford,” Miranda explained in his message.

Siegel, who has been a local activist since his days as a Stanford undergraduate in the late 1960s, believes the low jobs-to-housing ratio has contributed to sky-high rents, long commutes to work and increased homelessness.

It was during his student years that Siegel first became conscious of the excess of jobs compared to available housing, after witnessing that many people were employed by Stanford, but few staff had housing on Stanford’s land.  

“I actually started working on the jobs-housing imbalance when I was at Stanford,” Siegel said. “A group of us formed an organization called Grass Roots, published a pamphlet called “The Promise Land,” and started organizing around Stanford’s land use issues.”

Siegel’s goals have remained largely consistent since his time at Stanford. He was elected on Jan. 9 after running a pro-housing campaign, and stated in his platform that he is committed to increasing Mountain View’s housing supply for local employees by 50 percent as mayor.

“The biggest [housing issue] which we are addressing is the need for more supply,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of employment growth and so we, like Stanford and Palo Alto, are suffering from the jobs-housing imbalance.”

Unaffordable housing

The few housing options available despite the shortage remain largely unaffordable for Mountain View’s low-income and homeless residents. The cost of renting an average-sized apartment in Mountain View has soared to $2,924 monthly, as has the median home value, which stands at $1,794,700.

For Siegel, the housing crisis was personal. He shared that some young adults, including his own adult children, have been forced to live with their parents because they can’t afford to rent or buy a house in the area and do not want to spend hours a day commuting to work.

According to Siegel, other young professionals starting out on a low wage — including teachers, service workers and waiters — may decide to leave the city when their attempts to get a foot on the housing ladder fail. Siegel believes their departure has led to other social problems in the area.  

“The housing shortage or the high cost of housing is forcing people to move out [of Mountain View],” Siegel said. “Teachers can’t afford to live here… that’s not just a problem for [them], it’s a problem for the people who live here who want their kids to have good schools.”

Concerned that the shortage of housing had reached a crisis level, Siegel spent three years working with City Council on a plan to build 10,000 homes, office spaces and retail uses. Known as the North Bayshore Precise Plan, the proposal was approved unanimously by the council on Dec. 12. The housing development seeks to transform the northern end of Mountain View into a residential neighborhood by supporting the local housing demand as well as Google’s growing employee population.

To support working professionals struggling to meet the city’s high housing costs, city councilors hope to build apartments at below market value by subsidizing 20 percent of the housing units planned for the North Bayshore project. However, the timeline for implementing such plans remains unspecified.

“That would be 2,000 housing units, which is more than all of the affordable housing that Mountain View has built historically,” Siegel said.

Homelessness

According to the 2017 Santa Clara County Homeless Census, homelessness in Mountain View has increased by 51 percent since 2015. The census counted a total of 416 homeless individuals in the city, 411 of whom are unsheltered.  

Bob Lee, co-founder and treasurer of Hope’s Corner, a non-profit that runs a meal program for hungry and homeless residents, doubted that the new housing project would be able to alleviate the city’s homelessness crisis.

“I honestly don’t think it’s going to help homelessness because none of the homeless can afford those kinds of rents,” Lee said. “Low-income housing has a way higher threshold than these folks [can afford].”

Co-founder of Hope’s Corner Leslie Carmichael added that the high cost of rent has intensified food insecurity in the area, forcing some minimum-wage earners and elderly people living in multigenerational households to turn to free meal services.

“A third of the people who serve here are homeless, and two-thirds are housed,” Carmichael said. “If you’re a senior and your rent goes up, your income is probably staying the same, so they are getting squeezed as well.”

Rev. Michael Love of Trinity United Methodist Church, where Hope’s Corner’s meal and shower program operates, argued that reserving housing units for homeless residents might minimize the number of people on the street, but said that housing projects alone may not be enough to fully address the crisis.

“There has to be a place for folks that fall through the cracks,” Love said. “If we were to end homelessness today at 12 noon, tomorrow someone would get in dire straits and it’s our job as a community to help them out.”

Stephen Fernandez, a homeless resident who alternates between living in a shelter and his car and has been visiting Hope’s Corner for over a year, described his personal struggle navigating the city’s competitive job market.  

“I got laid off — I would have to say — by three different jobs in a row,” Fernandez said adding that it was challenging to compete with younger job candidates. “It’s like you’re the broken cog in the machine… I was working at a place and I trained the person who took over my job.”  

Community-civic partnership

Since Thanksgiving, Hope’s Corner has also offered overnight sanctuary at Trinity Church to up to 50 people, mostly women and children, and the program will continue to the end of March. The program provides homeless residents in the region with a hot meal, access to showers and laundry services as well as case management services. 

City officials agreed to approve and finance this shelter after a country staff report informed the council that the cold weather shelter in neighboring Sunnyvale was forced to refuse 25 families due to a lack of available bed space. The case managers at Hope’s Corner, part of the Community Services Agency, are also funded by the council.

Despite these efforts, homelessness in Mountain View exists in plain sight. The city’s homeless dwell in tents along Stevens Creek, live in RVs and cars or sleep on the streets. The visibility of the growing crisis has stirred many locals to action.

Jovanka Ciric Vujkovic and her son, a member of the Cub Scouts group in Mountain View, served food and handed out pack lunches at Hope Corner’s Saturday meal program.

“[Homelessness] is a big issue especially in an area that is so wealthy in all other aspects,” Vujkovic said. “It’s really important that we take care of people who are less fortunate than us.”

Mountain View’s City Council and local community have also joined forces to champion a new initiative.  Spearheaded by Hope’s Corner, the initiative envisions the construction of a larger kitchen on Trinity’s site to cope with increasing food insecurity in the area and expand the meal program to three days a week.

The renovated kitchen would also host a culinary training program for the local homeless, which the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has agreed to help finance. Lee believes this program would equip homeless residents with employable skills to help them rejoin the job market.

“[We will] try to get these folks trained enough so that they can worked in a restaurant,” Lee said. “In some cases, it will be a minimum-wage job, but it will be something. It will be a starting place.”

Love said he believes the city must take a collaborative response to create a better balance between jobs and housing in Mountain View and alleviate food insecurity amongst the homeless and low-income residents.

“It’s got to be a community-civic partnership,” he said. “There are things that we could do better…There are things that clearly the County and Mountain View can do better.”

Nevertheless, Love said he has already started to see this partnership emerging.

“We really started to see the light shine when mayors started to turn up on Saturday.” Love said. “Our vision is aligned. We can and we are doing it.”

 

Contact Yasmin Samrai at ysamrai ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

Yasmin Samrai ’21 is a Desk Editor for Local. She hails from London, UK. She loves traveling, listening to 80s music and sipping Earl Grey tea. Feel free to ask her about her favourite James Bond or talk politics. Contact her at ysamrai ‘at’ stanford.edu.