Atherton’s Draft 2023-2031 Housing Element Update Submitted to the State for Initial Review
Over the past year, the community has participated in various outreach and engagement efforts surrounding the Town’s 6th Cycle 2023-2031 Housing Element submission to the State. The 2023-2031 Draft Housing Element addresses how the Town will comply with the State-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation for the Town. Following that community engagement process, at the July 27, 2022 Special Meeting of the City Council, the Council directed final changes to the Draft Housing Element and authorized staff, upon making the changes, to submit the Draft Element to the State for its initial review. Submission of the Draft is the first step in what is expected to be a long process of discussion and review between the State and the Town.
The Draft Housing Element submitted to the State for initial review is available on the Town’s Housing Element Update webpage. The final Housing Element is anticipated to be reviewed by the City Council toward the end of the year after further public engagement and receipt of the State’s initial feedback.
The initial Draft Housing Element tells the Town’s story of land use opportunity and emphasizes that one of the most significant barriers to the production of affordable housing in Atherton is the high cost of land. Atherton is uniquely different than many other communities. The tools and resources that are available to a traditional community are not available here. As a non-entitlement jurisdiction, the Town does not receive Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds which provide jurisdictions with guaranteed grants from the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) specifically designed to assist communities in the development of affordable housing. The Town does not have any land owned outright by the Town aside from where City Hall, the Public Library and Police Department sit adjacent to the now closed train transit station and the Town’s one and only public park. This makes it very difficult to cannibalize Town-owned land to create subsidized opportunities for housing without materially affecting basic governmental services. Purchasing land in Town comes at a price that makes it difficult for any traditional multi-family development to attain the required affordability targets. There are no commercial or industrial properties in Town. This limits the Town’s ability to provide a fiscal incentive for land uses, such as mixed-use zoning, in support of affordable housing and limits the availability and walkable accessibility of resources to residents that might live in that housing, should it exist at all.
The Town does not have any existing, traditional affordable housing projects that could be leveraged toward more opportunities. The Town does not have blighted areas of the community that larger, more established communities used under the old Redevelopment Agency format to revitalize and create commercial revenue opportunities and affordable housing. Such projects also created opportunities for set-aside funds that jurisdictions could access to underwrite and subsidize future projects. The Town did not and does not have those opportunities.
Any one or more of the preceding challenges could likely be overcome, but in totality and combined with the high cost of land, affordable housing in the traditional sense in Atherton is not soon to be realized. Yet, the City Council and community recognize that the Town has a role to address the Town’s fair share of affordable housing throughout the region pursuant to the State mandate. While the Town and State disagree on what that fair share is, the Town is willing to step up and develop a strong and successful distributed affordable housing solution. Rather than using the traditional approach of a stand-alone, targeted affordable housing project, the Town proposes to galvanize the community behind a distributed solution using accessory dwelling units as the basic building block for the creation of affordable housing resources. The Town believes that through accessory dwelling units, workforce housing at schools, and through the potential of Senate Bill 9 lot splits, the Town can achieve the goals mandated by the State.
For more information on the Town’s Housing Element and the Update process, visit the Housing Element Update webpage and sign-up to join the conversation.