A long stretch of parking in downtown Mountain View could soon transform into a five-story affordable housing complex, complete with retail services and no loss in parking for downtown visitors.
Mountain View City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to pick the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing, which recently changed its name to Alta Housing, among a list of four candidates vying to woo the council with development plans for the site, each with perks ranging from cafes to on-site child care to accompany 120 affordable housing units.
But the deciding factor for council members was Alta Housing's flexibility on who would get to live in the coveted homes built on the site. While other nonprofits sought to tap into county funds for supportive housing -- geared toward the lowest-income residents and the homeless -- Alta Housing tailored its financing plans so people who live or work in Mountain View would have priority.
"That's what I'm looking for, is flexibility to house as many Mountain View residents as we can," said Councilman John McAlister.
The city's largest downtown parking lot, known as Lot 12, has been tagged for redevelopment for years, with council members agreeing in 2019 that the valuable real estate should balance the city's competing needs for affordable housing, parking and retail shops. Replacing all 160 public parking spots currently available along Bryant Street was mandatory, and would accompany up to 120 units of affordable housing.
The winning proposal by Alta Housing puts five-story apartment buildings along Bryant Street, tapering down to three-story townhouses as it approaches existing Franklin Street homes behind the parking lot. Public uses on the ground level, though still in flux, could include partnerships with the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA), Ada's Cafe or potentially day care, said Randy Tsuda, president and CEO of Alta Housing. Tsuda served as Mountain View's director of community development for a decade before leaving in 2018 to take a job with the housing nonprofit.
Behind each glossy presentation and touted amenities at the Tuesday council meeting was a deeply complicated spreadsheet for how to pay for it all, with varying funding sources and ways to finance construction costs starting at $73.4 million. Depending on which option the council picked, the city could be on the hook to subsidize the project by anywhere from $2.5 million to as much as $32.1 million.
City staff's top pick, EAH housing, proposed that 40 of its units be dedicated as permanent supportive housing, which would be eligible for funding from Santa Clara County's Measure A bond and reserved for the chronically homeless and those with disabling conditions in need of frequent support services from the county.
Another developer, Eden Housing, proposed tapping into Measure A funds to provide up to 26 "rapid rehousing" units available to those who recently became homeless and need an immediate, often short-term place to live.
Alta Housing instead offered a menu of options, two of which do not use Measure A money, instead relying solely on city and state funding sources to finance housing for a mix of low and even middle-income households. Tsuda said both options mean the city could give preference to applicants who live or work in Mountain View.
Louise Katz, a resident and member of the group Livable Mountain View, said the city shouldn't bother trying to use Measure A funds, and that the priority should be to build housing for those struggling to live in Mountain View or weathering brutal commutes to work in the city. People who work in retail, grocery clerks, hospital staff, teachers assistants and cleaners are all essential and should be served by the project, she said, rather than the chronically homeless coming from throughout the region.
"I have not heard anyone asking for housing for those on a countywide list whose qualifications were the highest level of need based on problems and conditions that rendered them the most difficult to house and employ," Katz said.
It remained murky at the meeting just how much control the city and nonprofit developers have over who would ultimately live in units funded by Measure A. Though countywide applications are permitted, targeted efforts can skew who will live in the Lot 12 apartments. Consuelo Hernandez, acting deputy director for the county's Office of Supportive Housing, said a large majority of the supportive housing units at the existing Eagle Park Apartments are occupied by people originally from Mountain View, thanks to a working partnership with local safe parking sites, the police department and city housing and planning staff.
Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said she still had concerns about using Measure A funds and losing control of the city's downtown affordable housing project, preferring proposals that have a Mountain View preference for all the units.
"For me what's most important is having the ability to have 100% say on the preferences for who will be living there," Matichak said.
The plan is to work with Alta Housing to refine the proposed housing project through the end of 2020, with a goal of approving the project in early 2022 and completing construction by fall 2025.