Palo Alto’s Buena Vista Mobile Home Park will be sold to the Santa Clara Housing Authority for $40.4 million, preserving 117 units of affordable housing in Palo Alto, according to announcements last Thursday by the park’s owners and the Housing Authority.
Buena Vista is one of few opportunities for cheap housing in Palo Alto, the fifth-most expensive ZIP code in the U.S. as of 2016.
“At one level this was a test — a test of whether or not our region remains a place of inclusivity and opportunity,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian ’00 said in a statement. “In this instance, at least, I’m gratified to say we passed the test.”
The announcement to purchase and renovate the mobile home park comes after a four-and-a-half-year battle between the Jisser family, which currently owns the park and announced plans to close it in the fall of 2012; the residents of the park, primarily working-class Hispanic families who would likely have to leave the city if the park closed; and the City of Palo Alto, which hoped to maintain the affordable housing available at Buena Vista.
Contention over the future of Buena Vista began with disagreements over appropriate financial reimbursement for the would-be displaced residents of Buena Vista. The Jissers planned to pay residents the assessed value of their mobile homes, moving costs and start-up costs for new housing and rent subsidies, but advocates for Buena Vista residents claimed it was not enough.
The Jisser family argued that the City’s requirements regarding relocation assistance were applied unfairly, calling the ordinance requiring the relocation assistance “oppressive,” “unreasonable” and “unconstitutional” in a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court.
“Making the Jissers preserve a mobile home park — by taking private land to turn over for the benefit of a particular group from an individual’s private property — is not the kind of public service that traditionally comes to mind,” said Attorney Larry Salzman, who represents the Jissers, when their lawsuit against Palo Alto was dismissed in June 2016.
However, the Jissers were ultimately satisfied with their agreement with Santa Clara County Housing Authority.
“I am pleased we reached this settlement that will enable the families to stay here and also allow the Housing Authority to pursue the park’s renovation and upgrade,” said Joe Jisser in a statement.
According to Professor of Education Amado Padilla, who has authored reports on youth and teens living in the park, relocation packages like the one initially offered by the Jissers should not only reflect basic property value and relocation costs but should also consider the value of park residents’ education. Padilla said that many Buena Vista residents were reluctant to leave their homes in part because of the quality of education Palo Alto residence affords their children.
“They could have quietly left and moved elsewhere, but fighting to keep their homes shows they care about quality of life and education for their children, which are the same values that bring so many of the rest of us to Palo Alto,” Padilla told the Graduate School of Education’s news center in April 2016. “These families are no different, and a mere relocation package that does not include some regard for the intangible value of living in Palo Alto would be grossly unjust.”
Padilla’s work with youth at Buena Vista convinced him of the benefits living in Palo Alto has for the park’s residents. According to his report, co-authored with graduate student Juan Arias, dropout rates among students living at the park are much lower than those among Hispanic students in Silicon Valley as a whole, due in part to the quality of Palo Alto schools.
“We have college graduates living in Buena Vista, we have a Stanford student who grew up in the park, we have children with special needs who are attending schools here and receiving services they might not have gotten at less resourced schools,” Padilla said. “Our research is showing that children coming from low-income households, where many of the parents are immigrants, is not an impediment to completing a K-12 education in Palo Alto.”
The county’s acquisition of Buena Vista will be officially approved by the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners on May 23.
“For the first time, the residents of Buena Vista can exhale and be secure and feel safe,” Winter Dellenbach, Barron Park resident and leader of the Friends of Buena Vista group, told the Palo Alto Weekly. “This puts all of the unpredictability and insecurity to rest. It took a whole lot of resources, so much intelligence and a whole lot of faith and trust, and it all came together.”
Contact Zoe Sayler at zoeneile ‘at’ stanford.edu.