Posted on: October 2, 2023
City Council chooses new developer for the site, which could be up to 12 stories tall
A rendering of the affordable housing project proposed by Affirmed Housing at 87 E. Evelyn Avenue in Mountain View. Courtesy city of Mountain View.
The Mountain View City Council voted to pick a developer to convert the city’s safe parking site on 87 E. Evelyn Ave. into a multifamily apartment complex for low-income residents.
The city picked the developer Affirmed Housing, which proposed building 268 units on the site, with a dense building footprint that could go up to 12 stories in height. The project would be located at what’s known as the VTA safe parking lot, which is now owned by the city and houses homeless residents living in vehicles.
In a twist to how most cities pick a housing developer, City Council members expressed a deep reluctance to going with the lowest bidder, citing concerns that when something looks too good to be true, then it probably is the case. Others council members felt a competing developer offered a more tempting proposal for the site.
The decision squeaked by on a 4-3 vote, with council members Lisa Matichak, Emily Ann Ramos and Pat Showalter voting against the motion. The three showed a preference for Charities Housing, another developer with a different vision for building on the VTA site.
Affirmed Housing edged out four other competitive bids with its bold housing plan and an $8 million subsidy request from the city, substantially lower than the roughly $30 million requested from its closest contenders, Charities Housing and Alta Housing; or the $18 million requested from developers Bridge Housing and The Core Companies/Eden Housing.
“I think all of our eyes kind of popped out when we saw how little the subsidy was,” said Ramos.
Several council members expressed discomfort with the low figure, questioning the project’s feasibility and the potential of the developer coming back with a higher subsidy request after the city accepted its bid.
“How do we protect ourselves from a scenario where somebody, maybe in good faith, requested a very low subsidy only to find that it wasn’t realistic and achievable?” said Council member Lucas Ramirez, who ultimately voted in favor of Affirmed Housing.
The most council could ask for was a verbal commitment, said City Attorney Jennifer Logue, who also noted that if the funding request substantially changed from its initial proposal, the item could be brought back to council for further discussion.
An overhead view of the VTA safe parking site. Courtesy city of Mountain View.
Affirmed Housing sought at the Sept. 26 meeting to assure council members of its intentions. “We can deliver what we’re proposing here to the city,” said Affirmed Housing President Jimmy Silverwood, stating that the company was leveraging state tax credits and reduced parking spaces to keep the project costs down.
Contributing to its low subsidy request is that the city owns the land, Silverwood said, referring to the recent transfer of ownership from VTA to the city. The the total cost of the purchase was $13 million.
As an all-affordable housing site, the development will offer a mix of units that serve low-income households earning between 30% to 60% of the area median income. It will add 268 affordable units to the city’s housing stock, with 57 set aside for extremely low-income households and another 15 reserved as permanent supportive housing, according to the council report.
The project also includes a 7,000 square foot daycare facility and 3,150 square feet of community space that could be used by both residents and the public. Previous projects by Affirmed have used community space for mobile health clinics, training centers and gathering spaces.
The deep affordability, focus on family housing – with more than half of the units consisting of two and three-bedroom apartments – and commitment to childcare services was in line with the council’s priorities for the site, said Senior Housing Officer Deanna Talavera.
A rendering of Affirmed Housing’s proposed development at the VTA safe parking lot. Courtesy city of Mountain View.
The project’s building specs also distinguished it from the other proposals. Affirmed Housing plans to construct a seven-story residential structure in the first phase of the project. But for the second phase, it has proposed a 12-story residential structure, using a relatively new type of building material, mass timber, instead of concrete.
Affordable housing developments that exceed six or seven stories tall are rare in the county, said Ramirez, and non-existent in Mountain View, adding that the construction material was a novel feature too.
But while council members commended the environmental use of mass timber, Matichak worried about the towering height relative to the rest of the neighborhood. The limitation of parking, with 140 spaces proposed for the entire 268-unit project, drew criticism as well.
Showalter’s opposition took a slightly different approach, with her preference for Charities Housing, which already owns the adjacent lot with intent to build affordable units on the neighboring site. Combining the two projects would unify the service provisions and promote a sense of community for the entire neighborhood.
“I just keep coming back to how if it’s one developer and they make it into one community, everybody who lives on the site will have access to the same amenities, that is better in the long term for the people that are going to live there,” she said.
Although council members debated the pros and cons of the five proposals, they concurred that not much differentiated the top choice, Affirmed Housing, and the alternate, Charities Housing, from the rest of the pack in terms of their commitment to affordable housing.
With the selection of Affirmed Housing, the city has entered into a 90-day negotiation period that will lead to the development of a master site plan and application review in 2024. Construction is expected to begin in early 2026 and the project completed in 2028, according to the council report.
Tenants residing at the Evelyn safe parking site, prior to it being cleared for construction, will have occupancy preferences during the residential selection process, according to legal counsel from Affirmed Housing.
“I think if the Affirmed project proceeds and is delivered, it sets a very high standard for future affordable housing development in Mountain View,” Ramirez said.
In an update, Chief Communications Officer Lenka Wright clarified that the city needs to comply with fair housing laws regarding tenant occupancy preferences for the new housing development.
“It is still to be determined whether or not they have occupancy preferences, subject to compliance with fair housing laws. As the project moves forward, Affirmed Development will work with the City to evaluate affordable housing options for the Safe Parking participants to assist with their transition, including at the future Evelyn project,” Wright said in an emailed statement on Oct. 3.
Read the full article, here.
Posted in: News