Does Los Altos need affordable housing? Who would benefit if more affordable housing were built in Los Altos?

Community Services Agency of Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills is the community’s safety net. For more than 60 years, we have been helping the most vulnerable among us maintain and achieve dignity and independence, growing and changing our services to meet the needs of the community. We are passionate advocates for our clients; we know the hidden pockets of poverty, distress and unmet needs that exist even in the most affluent neighborhoods – including Los Altos.

It is not CSA’s intention to take sides in the debate over how much affordable housing Los Altos needs or the way our city addresses that need. But we do see an opportunity to provide value to the debate by sharing important information regarding poverty and the people we serve in Los Altos.

Los Altos is indeed an affluent community, with 82% of households owning their homes and 53% earning more than $200,000 per year. Many Los Altos families and individuals are important supporters of social service agencies and generously donate resources and skills to help the most vulnerable. We should all be very proud of that.

Out of sight, poverty does exist in this thriving community. The 2018 census data show that some 1,000 Los Altos residents (mostly females) live below the poverty line. The Los Altos community includes CSA donors as well as CSA clients. The CSA Senior Nutrition Program currently serves close to 50 Los Altos residents; the CSA Senior Case Management Program serves more than 20 Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents. Of the more than 100 Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents that CSA has served since July 2018, 92% have what’s categorized as “very low” or “extremely low” incomes.

Pockets of need in the community go well beyond the clients who contact CSA for help. Seniors, as clearly demonstrated by the COVID emergency, are a population at risk. In Los Altos, many are house-rich but income-limited. In private conversations, many express the wish for smaller homes that are less costly to maintain but would allow them to stay in their community – a critical need for continued independence and well-being for seniors. With few such options available, many seniors remain isolated, far from services, living in large homes that are not as well maintained as their owners would like.

In Los Altos, the major employers are the school districts, food services, health services and nonprofit organizations. Their employees include highly paid professionals, much more moderately paid professionals in social and educational services, and a significant number of low-paid employees who provide critical services in health and wellness settings. Many low-paid essential workers do not live – cannot afford to live – in Los Altos. In an emergency, they will not be able to come to work. Who then will provide emergency health care, food delivery, teaching assistance in Los Altos if essential workers cannot reach their place of work?

As we begin to emerge from the COVID pandemic, we need to thoughtfully begin to address the needs exposed by this crisis, if only to be better prepared for what lies ahead.

Rose Baldwin is president of the Community Services Agency Board of Directors and Tom Myers is executive director of CSA. Both are Los Altos residents.