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Stanford sues Santa Clara County over housing law

University claims it’s been unfairly targeted by ‘inclusionary housing’ ordinance.

Stanford University on Wednesday filed two lawsuits against Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, charging county officials of unfairly and illegally targeting the university with a recently adopted law that aims to promote more affordable housing on campus.

The university is contesting the new “inclusionary housing” law, which the board approved on Sept. 25 and which requires the university to designate 16 percent of all new housing units as below-market-rate housing. The two lawsuits, filed in state and federal courts, allege that the county’s law violates the Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. and California constitutions, which prohibit government entities from treating one individual differently from others in similar circumstances.

The university also indicated that it plans to sue the county over a separate law that the board had also passed on Sept. 25, one that significantly raised the “housing impact fees” that Stanford has to pay for every square foot of new development. Under the law, the fee is slated to go up from $36.22 to $68.50 per square foot.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Stanford takes issues with both policies, though the new suit only pertains to the “inclusionary housing” law (Stanford has a later deadline for challenging the ordinance on impact fees). It argues that the county is illegally forcing Stanford to bear the burden of solving what the county itself had determined to be a regional problem: A severe shortage of affordable housing.

By targeting Stanford with its new affordable-housing requirement, the county is violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” the university alleges in a complaint.

“The County ordinance impermissibly singles out Stanford University,” Geoffrey L. Robinson, of the firm Perkins Coie LLP, wrote on behalf of Stanford in the federal lawsuit. “Through its ordinance, the County has intentionally imposed affordable housing requirements exclusively on housing development constructed by Stanford.”

Read more on Palo Alto Online

 

San Jose moves toward ordinance limiting Section 8 discrimination

Landlords in San Jose would no longer be able to advertise that they don’t take rental vouchers.

San Jose took a step toward making it harder for landlords to turn away would-be tenants who use vouchers to help pay the rent.

This week, the San Jose City Council directed the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance aimed at giving renters with subsidies, commonly known as Section 8 vouchers, a fair chance on the private rental market. The so-called source of income ordinance would not force landlords to take the vouchers, but it would ban them from judging potential tenants who use subsidies differently from those who don’t and from explicitly advertising “No Section 8” on apartment listings.

If everything goes according to plan, the council will vote on the ordinance in the spring.

While a number of landlords blasted the proposal, saying it would force property owners to navigate convoluted regulations and paperwork, the city’s Housing Department said an ordinance is necessary to make sure families are able to find affordable housing.

Right now, there’s no law that prevents landlords from turning away voucher holders, and a city survey found most do, leaving low-income families scrambling to find homes in one of the nation’s tightest housing markets. Several national studies suggest that when cities and states have such ordinances in place, the percentage of landlords turning away voucher holders goes down and more people with vouchers are able to find places to rent.

“Voucher discrimination is happening in San Jose,” said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, the city’s housing director.

Several landlords told horror stories about Section 8 voucher holders who left rental units in bad shape. But tenants and tenant advocates countered that there’s no evidence voucher users are any better or worse than people who don’t use subsidies.

“We can’t judge the actions of a few and put it on the majority of the people,” said Robert Aguirre, who has used vouchers. “Not all Section 8 holders destroy property or disrespect the people around them.”

“We see clients all the time who are not able to rent housing, have to move away from San Jose, have to live in cars. … it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see that and this ordinance would help,” said Nadia Aziz, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

 

 

Read more on East Bay Times

 

 

Trump is getting involved in Opportunity Zones, and experts think that’s a good thing

Opportunity zones have become the darling of real estate investors since their adoption last year, but the still-under-the-radar program is poised to receive a lot more attention, and possibly scrutiny after it was promoted in the Oval Office last week.

President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order to push more federal resources into the Opportunity Zone program is a step in the right direction and could bolster the little-known tax incentive program and the distressed communities that benefit from investments, experts said.

“I think investors in the marketplace are going to be excited that there are going to be a number of new federal benefits aligned to these zones,” Develop founder Steve Glickman said.

Glickman is a former Obama administration official and one of the original architects of the Opportunity Zone program, which was enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

“Frankly, these zones need a lot more than private capital,” Glickman said. “They need infrastructure investment, they need to deal with crime, workforce training, and other strategies and dollars. Opportunity zones were always meant to stimulate that kind of holistic activity not just on a federal level, but on a state and local level.”

Erik Marks, a Seattle-based commercial real estate attorney and founder of Opportunity-Funds.com, a website that tracks opportunity zone funds and designated areas, said the executive order still does not address the current shortcomings and problems that are present from people trying to do opportunity zone deals now.

“I think the regulation may be useful, but this is not a problem-solving regulation,” Marks said. “I don’t know what his strategy is, but I think when there are opportunity zone successes, he has a clear opportunity to put himself and his Cabinet at the locations for the photo opportunity. I don’t mean to say that in a derogatory sense … This is to make sure [everyone knows] he’s still part of it.”

For the past year, the at-first unheralded Opportunity Zone program, passed last year as part of Trump’s $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, has flown under the mainstream radar.

The program’s goal is to generate economic development in the form of the redevelopment or the development of market-rate housing, affordable housing, new offices, retail buildings and businesses in these communities.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow

 

 

Oakland may require landlords to retrofit seismically unsafe apartments

Oakland may soon require hundreds of old apartments to be seismically retrofitted in an effort to prevent a mass collapse of buildings in the next big earthquake.

The retrofit rules would apply to soft-story residential buildings: multiunit, wood-frame structures with weak first stories built before 1991. An apartment with garage parking in the ground floor or street-level retail could fall into the targeted category.

Such buildings are prone to collapse during earthquakes, when the combined weight of shaken upper levels becomes too much for the vulnerable first story, as Loma Prieta proved in 1989 and Northridge in 1994.

“You look at photos of (San Francisco’s) Marina District after ’89 — quite a few buildings looked like three stories when they used to be four,” said Thor Matteson, a structural engineer of the Bay Area firm Quake Bracing.

Oakland is believed to have more than 24,000 housing units in 1,400 to 2,800 soft-story buildings, defined as those with at least five units and two to seven stories, according to city estimates. The first step of the ordinance proposed by City Councilman Dan Kalb and Mayor Libby Schaaf involves finding out which buildings must be retrofitted and which are exempt, such as those that have already completed the work.

Building types would be divided into three tiers, and each category would be on a different timetable. Owners would have four to six years to complete the retrofit work.

Read more on the San Francisco Chronicle

City passes plan for new SoMa homes

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a sweeping, years-in-the-making plan to transform Central SoMa, potentially bringing thousands of new homes and tens of thousands of jobs to the area, and ending nearly a decade of wrangling over the ambitious package of zoning changes.

The city defines Central SoMa as the area south of Market Street, north of Townsend, and squeezed between Second and Sixth.

It’s a space that includes the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), swaths of low-income housing, nearly 30 landmark buildings, the Flower Mart, and, soon, a stretch of the Central Subway along Fourth Street.

The Central SoMa Plan changes zoning and height limits throughout the neighborhood to encourage more growth, more density, and more diversity of use in future development and redevelopment.

The final passage came as no surprise, after lawmakers unanimously voted in favor of the Central SoMa Plan the first time it came before the board in November.

But the ramifications of the proposal—which took eight years and ran over 1,600 pages in its final form—are so potentially profound as to generate an air of drama about the final vote all on their own.

 

 

Read more on Curbed SF

 

 

New effort to push more housing near transit stations by setting state rules

A state bill to allow dense housing near transit stops, alleviating long commutes and coaxing people out of cars, never made it out of committee last session. But backers think the mood has shifted enough in the housing debate to try again.

“I think the political climate is changing,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. He’s the lead sponsor of the More HOMES Act — HOMES stands for Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability.

“In talking to my colleagues, there’s more support than there was earlier,” Wiener said.

The new iteration, SB50, prevents cities from restricting density within a half mile of a major job center or transit hub, such as a BART or Caltrain station. It raises height limits to 45 feet, about four stories, within a half-mile of the station, and 55 feet or five stories within a quarter mile. It also eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments, a move that the Board of Supervisors is contemplating for San Francisco.

Those provisions are less dramatic than what Wiener proposed in SB827, his first attempt at statewide zoning reform. It would have barred cities from rejecting four- to eight-story apartment or condo buildings near transit nodes.

Wiener’s first measure laid bare an ideological divide in a state struggling with soaring rents, jammed freeways and a paucity of housing. The crisis has pushed people farther from jobs, forcing them into wildfire zones or soul-grinding commutes, Wiener said. But it has also ignited fears that new development will push out existing residents — or drastically change the landscape. And many opponents bristle at the idea of Sacramento interfering with local governments’ ability to shape their own neighborhoods.

“The issue seems to be that Scott Wiener and his bills are so often looking to undermine local control,” said Susan Kirsch, founder of Livable California, a San Francisco organization that advocates for local urban planning and moderate growth. It opposed SB827.

Political leaders in San Francisco and Berkeley fumed at the building heights in SB827, saying it would allow luxury high-rises to sprout up, unchecked, in quaint residential neighborhoods. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution against the bill after an emotional hearing in which residents compared it to a “hydrogen bomb” and an “undemocratic power grab.” Some detractors worried that their neighborhoods would be remade to look like Manhattan or Miami Beach.

To other critics, the original bill felt like an unfinished draft. It didn’t do enough to protect tenants from displacement or require affordable housing.

“It felt like it was a big proposal, it was a bold proposal, and there were a lot of details that had not been sufficiently worked out,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. The center opposed SB827 but has not taken a position on the new bill.

Yet in the last few months, the tenor of the debate has changed. London Breed was elected mayor of San Francisco on an ardent pro-housing platform — she’s among the politicians tentatively supporting Wiener’s revised legislation. In September, the Legislature passed a law empowering BART to fill station parking lots with homes. And Wiener is seeking an ally in Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who emphasized the link between housing and transportation in a post-election speech.

 

 

Read more on SFGate

 

 

 

As housing pressures increase in the Bay Area, multifamily developers focus on Contra Costa County

With several multifamily developments rising up around the Bay Area, many developers have started to turn their attention to Contra Costa County.

With rents and housing prices rising around the Bay Area, parts of Contra Costa are becoming more affordable comparatively and ideal places for millennials and other generations to raise families.

Developers are hoping to capture this shifting demographic as demand for housing shifts to the outer areas of the Bay Area. Walnut Creek and Concord have specifically benefited lately from new investment.

“We always wanted to be in Walnut Creek,” Bay Rock Multifamily CEO Stuart Gruendl said during Bisnow’s Future of Contra Costa County event in early November. “The government here in Walnut Creek is somewhat pro-development.”

The city has two active specific plans, and Bay Rock is a stakeholder in the North Downtown Specific Plan. The developer owns a large parcel and has plans to build 52 units, Gruendl said.

Unlike other Bay Area markets, there aren’t thousands of units teed up in Walnut Creek, Gruendl said. The costs are rising in the Tri-Valley and are becoming cost-prohibitive. A no-growth movement is growing in Pleasanton so there will be a natural cap on growth in that area, which bodes well for Walnut Creek, he said.

Bay Rock is focusing on projects in Walnut Creek, Berkeley and Oakland. “We find tremendous value in this market,” The Address Co. CEO and founding partner Eric Chevalier said. “There’s an affordability factor as well. People are getting priced out of the South Bay and the market. … They are migrating in this direction.”

The Address Co. builds both for-sale and rental properties. The company is working on a multifamily project called Riviera in Walnut Creek and has three other projects in the city. It also is working on entitling a project in Richmond, a city which the company is bullish on, Chevalier said.

 

Read more on Bisnow Oakland

 

 

New 155K SF Affordable Housing Project Planned Near S.F.’s Balboa Park BART Station

A new development that will bring more affordable housing to San Francisco is underway next to the Balboa Park BART station.

The 155K SF transit-oriented development, Balboa Park Upper Yard, will deliver up to 120 units of low- and very-low-income housing in a mixed-use project that will have community-serving space. There will be open space on a connected piece of property owned by BART.

The project from neighborhood nonprofit Mission Housing Development Corp. and developer Related California is in the design phase, and construction could start in late 2019 or early 2020. Mithun is the project architect.

Projects such as this one help Mission Housing better serve residents, particularly low-income Latino residents who have been displaced from one district of San Francisco into another, according to the organization. As it has watched residents pushed out of the city’s District 9 in the Mission District, Mission Housing has been looking at expanding into the Excelsior area in District 11 where those residents are moving, and eventually the entire west side of San Francisco.

“We are thrilled to have been given the opportunity to deliver more high quality, affordable housing to District 11,” Mission Housing Executive Director Sam Moss said in a statement. Mission Housing owns or manages 38 housing properties and is one of the area’s largest nonprofit housing organizations. “The community outreach, planning, design, financing, and construction will lead to delivering the excellent affordable housing and community services hub which the people of San Francisco deserve.”

The creation of 100% affordable housing is the biggest tool available to combat gentrification, Mission Housing officials said. They said the new site is expected to benefit from a piece of legislation now in progress for a citywide neighborhood preference that would make 45% of units specifically designated for families that currently live near the project.

 

Read more on Bisnow San Francisco

 

 

Contra Costa County setting itself up to be next Bay Area hub if only the jobs will follow

Several large-scale projects in Contra Costa County could transform the suburban county into a thriving employment center with live-work-play dynamics.

The region’s biggest challenge will be actually getting to that point. Many investors and developers think the county is well on its way.

“What is wonderful about Contra Costa County is that it is unmatched quality of life if you can afford to live here in terms of work, play, live opportunity,” East Bay Leadership Council President and CEO Kristin Connelly said during Bisnow’s recent Future of Contra Costa event. “I’m a huge champion of the East Bay. We are poised to be the center of the mega-region in Northern California because of our assets.”

While more development is occurring in Contra Costa County, many cities are struggling to be attractive to employers, and many residents are still commuting elsewhere for their jobs. The East Bay Leadership Council found that 78% of Contra Costa workers commute to Western Alameda County, San Francisco or San Jose, Connelly said.

Cities like Walnut Creek and Concord are having to build more housing to meet the needs of current and new residents.

“When you’re seeing the South Bay having a 10:1 job-to-housing ratio, we’re the ones in the East Bay and the suburbs having to pick up the slack because of that,” City of Walnut Creek Mayor Justin Wedel said.

Cities are working to create better balances that can be attractive for employers seeking a live-work-play dynamic.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow Oakland

 

 

Downtown San Jose developer drops hotel, apartments from massive Museum Place project

The developer behind Museum Place, a 1.4 million-square-foot downtown San Jose mixed-use development and Tech Museum expansion, is simplifying the project, shedding the previously planned hotel and residential units in the project.

Plans submitted this week to the city of San Jose show that investor and developer Gary Dillabough, who took over the project from Insight Realty earlier this year, is looking to reconfigure the previously approved tower by increasing the office space from 250,000 square feet to 850,000 square feet on the 2.3-acre site at 180 Park Ave., where Parkside Hall currently sits.

“The reality of the situation is that when you are trying to build a hotel, residential space and office, you can’t do all three in a world-class fashion, and our belief is that we want to build a world-class office tower,” Dillabough told the Business Journal in an interview Thursday morning.

That means the previously planned 184-room Kimpton Hotel and the 306 residential units that San Jose-based Insight Realty had gotten approved by the city last year would be no more. The project is now estimated to rise to about 19 stories — down from the currently approved 24 stories — and would still include parking and between 15,000 square feet and 20,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level.

Dillabough, who has become a major property owner in Downtown San Jose over the last year-and-a-half after setting off on a buying spree in the area, says he is still interested in hotel and residential projects in the city, just not at Museum Place.

“We still think the city needs housing and hotel uses, but we think they would be better in standalone buildings,” he said.

Read more on Silicon Business Journal