The effort to solve the regional housing shortage now has an unlikely new champion: NASA Ames.
Officials with the NASA Ames Research Center announced plans Thursday afternoon for building a massive new housing campus that would provide at least 1,930 new homes somewhere at Moffett Field. This would be among the largest housing projects envisioned for the area, but for now the agency is staying tight-lipped about many details of its plans.
NASA officials broke the news in a release on Thursday, announcing they would soon be looking for a private developer to partner with on the project. They expect to begin a request for proposals this fall to scout for interested developers to draft plans for leasing a 45-acre federal site for the housing project.
This project would consist of rental housing only, at least 10 percent of which will be subsidized as affordable housing, according to the release. Preference for housing would be given to Ames workers, contractors and students. The development will also include other amenities and 100,000 square feet of retail space.
Like so many other local employers, NASA has struggled to accommodate the housing needs of its employees. The agency has a sterling reputation for its talented workforce, but many of its employees still find housing unaffordable in the Silicon Valley area.
Last year, a NASA employee living in an RV on the streets of Mountain View became a clear example of this problem. Earlier this year, NASA workers were among the chief defenders of saving an aging military housing park at Shenandoah Square, saying it was one of the area's only housing options for federal employees.
NASA Ames administrators indicated that this housing crisis was on their minds as they designed this new housing plan.
"Housing in Silicon Valley is in high demand, and there's a significant need for our employees and our community to have more options," said Ames Center Director Eugene Tu in a prepared statement. "Plus, this housing will mitigate some of the increasing traffic and air emissions in the region."
The 45 acres slated for housing are located on the southern end of the NASA Ames property on Moffett Field running alongside Highway 101, and construction of the new homes will require demolition of "some existing buildings," according to Deborah Feng, an associate director at the research center. Traffic into the area will likely go through Ellis Street.
The land is not part of the large swath of Moffett Field currently leased out to Google, she said.
NASA is already partnering with Google on plans to build a 1.1-million-square-foot office project on the western side of Moffett Field. That project is expected to provide about 200 housing units.
The housing is expected to be built in phases over the next three to five years, and will include apartment of "varying sizes," Feng said. More specific details on the types of units will be developed once a lessee has been selected, she said.
Feng dismissed environmental concerns about the site, saying that NASA has experience in working with a Superfund site. "We’ll consult with relevant agencies and execute environmental mitigations, if necessary," she said.
Dan Rich, Mountain View's city manager, said that he, Mayor Ken Rosenberg and Vice Mayor Lenny Siegel were briefed by NASA the week before the announcement was made. As seen from an aerial photo, the area slated for housing is west of Moffett's runway and includes some baseball fields and the buildings nearby, Rich told the Voice.
"I believe NASA did an environmental review back around 2002 to look at developing a portion of their land for office, housing and educational facilities. That provided the authority for the housing they are now proposing," he said via email. "So the idea of housing is not new, but it has been dormant for many years, and the other components of the plan have been dropped.
With nothing but a notice of intent, it's too soon for the city to take an official position, Rich said, but additional housing that could shorten or eliminate NASA workers' commutes could be a positive opportunity. City officials will watch with interest for further information about impacts to traffic, local schools and public safety services, he said.
"The city would hope that NASA requires a substantial amount of the units to be affordable, which would be a great benefit to the area," said Rich.