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Forum touts advantages of affordable housing

Increasing the availability of affordable housing in Los Altos doesn’t mean building tenements or attracting riffraff who will ruin the community. Conversely, supporters claim it will enhance quality of life by providing workers a place to live and decreasing job turnover, commutes and traffic.

Local advocates hope to drive the point home at a forum titled “Affordable Housing: Ideas for Los Altos,” scheduled 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Los Altos main library, 13 S. San Antonio Road.

Speakers will include Randy Tsuda, president and CEO of Palo Alto Housing and former community development director for the city of Mountain View, and Mitali Ganguly, project manager at Opticos Design. Ganguly will discuss the “missing middle” component of affordable housing.

Los Altos City Manager Chris Jordan and a representative from Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County will be on hand to answer questions.

The event also will include a screening of the brief film “Los Altos – A Place to Call Home in Silicon Valley?” which features stories of people who work in Los Altos but can’t afford to live here.

Proponents hope to get their message across that Los Altos needs more affordable housing for its workforce, especially those in jobs such as teaching and law enforcement.

Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone said affordable housing boosts surrounding property values because it provides homes for teachers at local schools, and quality schools are the “biggest driver of residential values.”

Affordable housing supporters also cited Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who noted that law enforcement personnel living locally means they can better respond to emergencies.

Los Altos is on track to meet less than 10 percent of its state-mandated share of affordable housing units by the 2023 deadline. Effective in 2018, Senate Bill 35 allows multifamily housing developments within planning and design guidelines to be built on qualifying sites without public hearings or environmental quality reviews in cities – like Los Altos – that fall short of their housing goals.

According to a 2018 city survey, affordable housing was the No. 1 concern among Los Altos residents (28.5 percent), followed by traffic congestion (24.4 percent).

Proactive approach

Los Altos falls “woefully short” in offering low-income housing, said local advocates Marie Young and Sue Russell, with most units in the “above moderate” price category. Even cities with tony reputations such as Saratoga and Los Gatos have at least one all-affordable-housing development.

Young and Russell are part of an Affordable Housing Work Group, the chief co-sponsor of Thursday’s forum. The group wants to urge Los Altos to take a proactive approach toward the affordable-housing problem. They suggest such steps as providing more publicity about new accessory dwelling unit regulations, completing implementation of in-lieu and impact fees, and working with the school districts to facilitate teacher housing.

“The high cost of housing is definitely impacting the retention of high-quality teachers,” said Erin Green, director of student and staff services for the Los Altos School District. “We hire them, put time, effort and money into training them. At the end of one to two years, when the realization of the homebuyer situation sets in, we lose them.”

Thursday’s event is co-sponsored by the library, the Los Altos Women’s Caucus, the Los Altos-Mountain View branch of the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters of the Los Altos-Mountain View Area and Los Altos Community Voices.

Admission is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.

For more information, call the library at 948-7683.

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