City fine-tunes plan for downtown housing | September 13, 2019 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - September 13, 2019

City fine-tunes plan for downtown housing

Lot 12 project could built city's largest affordable housing project

by Mark Noack

An untapped parking lot right in the heart of downtown may be the best opportunity Mountain View has ever had to build a large-scale affording housing complex. But the housing project still faces a considerable set of hurdles, namely how the city will make up for the lost parking and finding funding to build it.

City officials believe the site could fit a six-story complex with up to 120 apartments, which would be the largest affordable housing project ever attempted in Mountain View. The location for dense housing could hardly be more suitable, right across the street from the library and near transit, jobs and retail. City officials envision the future building could also host ground-floor retail, some kind of community center or perhaps some kind of kitchen incubator.

But that location also presents some problems. The site, known as Lot 12, is currently the city's largest public parking lot by area. On a daily basis, all 160 spots are occupied, and city officials agreed that any future development should replace that parking.

At their Sept. 10 meeting, the City Council reviewed initial proposals from six developers on how they would build the new Lot 12 housing and parking garage. The developers, which included several housing nonprofits, all informed the city they would need a hefty subsidy. Their requests ranged from $11.5 million up to $40.7 million.

At the meeting, city staff members sought further direction from the City Council as they prepared to send out a formal request for proposals from the developers. To fine-tune those bids, city staff urged elected leaders to clearly spell out all their requirements and preferences.

For the City Council, including ample parking in the project was not negotiable, even though it is considered one of the main drivers of cost. Building a new garage was calculated to cost about $53,000 per parking space, according to past city reports.

From talking with business owners, Mayor Lisa Matichak said she was convinced that parking is absolutely vital to the economic success of downtown shops and restaurants.

"Every single business I spoke with said their top issue is parking, especially the restaurants who think they're losing business because their customers can't park," she said. "I hope that in the future we won't be as car dependent, but we don't know when that will be."

City staff warned that funding to pay for parking may have to come out of the city's general fund. Mountain View's parking in-lieu fees that the city draws from new developments could not be touched for this project because those funds were meant for new additional parking, not replacing existing spaces. City Manager Dan Rich hinted there might be a way to use money from the downtown parking district. Meanwhile City Council members proposed mitigating the loss of parking at Lot 12 by building a larger garage on a different downtown parcel.

Over the course of the meeting, council members repeatedly emphasized that they wanted developers to find any and all sources of outside money to help finance the housing and parking. In the past, Mountain View's affordable housing project have primarily relied on federal tax credits while the city has footed the bill for one-third or more of the cost. The last approved subsidized housing project, a 71-unit building at 950 W. El Camino Real, ended up costing the city about $327,000 per apartment, or about half the total cost.

This time around, city officials were insistent that finding other funding sources for Lot 12 was imperative. In particular, council members wanted to draw on Measure A, the 2016 Santa Clara County bond that provided $950 million for affordable housing projects.

About one quarter of Measure A's total funding has already been spent on 19 housing projects. Recent subsidized housing projects in Mountain View have been passed over for funding because they did not focus on addressing homeless individuals. Nonprofit housing providers speaking at the meeting gave assurances that the Lot 12 project could be designed to tap Measure A.

"We're here today because we think Lot 12 could be the spot where the nexus comes together," said Ray Bramson, chief impact officer with Destination Home. "We're anxious to see how we can bridge this gap."

To that end, council members emphasized that the Lot 12 project should target people in the low-income category because Measure A funding tends to be directed to the groups in greatest need. A majority of the City Council agreed that any future Lot 12 housing should be designated for households earning in the range of 30% to 80% of the median income, or about $40,000 to $105,000 for a family of four.

Email Mark Noack at mnoack@mv-voice.com

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