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Housing Authority looks to construct apartment building, replace aged dwellings

Buena Vista MHP February 2023
by Gennady Sheyner | Source |

When the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park was on the verge of being razed and replaced with a luxury-housing development six years ago, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority stepped in and bought the El Camino Real property, preserving it as one of Palo Alto’s few bastions of low-income housing.

Now, the housing authority is moving ahead with its own redevelopment plan for the park at 3980 El Camino Real, one that would replace mobile homes, community buildings and a motel on the west side of Buena Vista with a new apartment building. The authority also intends to replace existing mobile homes at the remainder of the site with new ones, according to a report that the agency issued ahead of a Feb. 13 meeting with the Palo Alto City Council to unveil the proposal.

The housing authority will solicit feedback about the new plan from Buena Vista residents and other stakeholders until June, after which it will submit plans with the city of Palo Alto and state Department of Housing and Community Development, according to a memo from the agency. If things go well, construction would begin at the end of this year or early next year.

For Buena Vista, the new proposal would represent the biggest transformation since the housing authority took ownership of the 4.5-acre property from the Jisser family in 2017. At that time, the county Board of Supervisors and the Palo Alto City Council each kicked in $14.5 million to help prevent the park’s closure. The Housing Authority contributed $12 million to purchase and another $19.9 million to renovate the residential community, a process that included replacing Buena Vista’s aged utility systems and bringing mobile homes up to code.

The agreement involved a mutual understanding by the funders that the Housing Authority would upgrade the mobile home park and preserve it as low-income housing for decades to come. To date, however, the process has moved much more slowly than some residents had hoped for. When the park operator, Caritas, concluded its work at Buena Vista in 2019 and the John Stewart Company took over, residents complained at a public meeting about the lack of improvements.

Since then, some mobile homes have been demolished and some residents have left. The park today has about 270 residents, according to the Housing Authority, down from about 400 at the time of the purchase. The 117 households in 2017 dwindled to 93 in 2019 and to 77 now, with a variety of income levels, housing types and family sizes.

The Housing Authority did not respond to questions from this news organization about Buena Vista and its planned development, but its new report touts the upgrades that it has made. In 2020 and 2021, it reportedly brought in 18 new recreational vehicles and manufactured homes to replace existing mobile homes, a program that it claims “created better quality housing for 61 park residents.” The agency has also reportedly cleaned out trash and abandoned cars, repaired homes, installed new electrical and gas utilities, replaced aged sewer and water lines and created new spaces for resident services and the community’s after-school program, according to the report.

The state agency and the John Stewart Company have also been inspecting units and bringing them up to health and safety standards, issuing compliant leases and certifying income levels, according to the memo. That work continues to this day.

The Housing Authority also acknowledged that its original plan to launch renovations shortly after purchasing the park and installing an operator has not gone as expected.

“Unfortunately, this plan was impacted greatly by the difficult realities of the park’s condition, including the state of the infrastructure systems, the physical condition and age of the units, a significant relocation project within the park, and the varying degree of barriers facing each household,” the report states. “While not insurmountable, these difficult realities have slowed down our efforts significantly.”

The goal, according to the memo, “continues to be the preservation and improvement of the park, and the stability and success of its residents.”

According to a report from the office of City Manager Ed Shikada, the upcoming council discussion will be part of a broader outreach effort by the Housing Authority, which will also include a meeting with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. The authority also held a meeting with about 45 residents last month, the report states, with future plans to meet individually with residents to hear their concerns.

The Housing Authority told residents in a Jan. 23 notice that its long-term plan is to replace all mobile homes with new units and that the new apartments will replace the dwellings that were previously on site. The company also informed residents that there will be “significant onsite activity” and that those who will be required to temporarily relocate will get financial assistance from Poco Way HDC, the Housing Authority’s affiliated nonprofit.

“The Housing Authority and Poco are working diligently to maintain long-term, safe, high quality affordable housing for the residents of Buena Vista,” the notice states.

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