Local politician says Stanford must do more to house its staff

Dec. 11, 2017, 1:18 p.m.

To describe what she sees as a toxic relationship between Stanford, Silicon Valley businesses and the local housing market, Palo Alto City Council member Lydia Kou referenced a passage from “The Great Gatsby.”

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and then retreated into their money … and let others clean up the mess they made,” Kou read.

In Kou’s eyes, Stanford is one of the most threatening businesses to the market because, she says, it fails to provide affordable housing for an increasing number of employees. Specifically, Kou argued that Stanford prioritizes particular members of its community over others.

“In the current General Use Permit [GUP], Stanford is including some housing for its valuable employees – research and teaching staff – and its valuable customers – students – but not for its work force and support staff,” Kou wrote in an email to The Daily.

Faculty and Staff Housing Director Jan Thompson noted only members of Stanford’s Academic Council qualify for faculty housing. This includes the president of the University, tenure-line faculty, non-tenure-line teaching faculty, non-tenure-line research faculty, senior fellows in specified policy centers and institutes and certain members of the academic administration.

According to Thompson, about one third of active faculty live on campus, and over one third of the developed academic campus is devoted to housing, but “a very small percentage” of staff receive housing accommodations from the University.

Jean McCown, Stanford’s associate vice president of government and community relations, acknowledged the lack of housing for support staff in the pending GUP application to Santa Clara County. Of the 3,150 new housing units planned for Stanford’s campus by 2035, McCown said only 550 are allocated for a group that may include staff as well as faculty, postdoctoral researchers and medical residents. However, she also pointed out Stanford’s increasing number of housing accommodations beyond the grounds covered by the GUP.

For instance, McCown expects Stanford faculty and staff to receive priority housing in the 215 apartment units that will be constructed in the newly approved Middle Plaza complex in Menlo Park. Ten of these units qualify for the Menlo Park affordable housing program, which offers below-market-rate units for applicants at low-income levels. She also noted Stanford’s April 20 purchase of the 167-unit Colonnade apartment complex in Los Altos, creating more accommodations for Stanford faculty and staff. On June 29, Stanford opened Mayfield Place, a 70-unit, below-market-rate complex in Palo Alto, to lower-income individuals in the local community.

“The University historically has focused on housing for students and faculty, given the importance of having a residential academic community as originally envisioned by the Stanfords,” McCown wrote in an email to The Daily.  “In more recent times the University has developed housing available to staff.”

“Most employers do not provide housing for their employees at all, of course,” McCown added. “But Stanford has been making efforts to expand the availability of housing given the increasing challenges of housing availability and affordability in the region.”

Kou argues that these efforts are not enough and that Stanford’s inability to house its growing workforce make the University a growing contributor to Palo Alto’s housing gap. She expressed concern over Palo Alto’s current jobs-to-housing ratio of 3.7 to 1.

“Stanford as a whole – the University, the Research Park, the Hospital and the Mall – must be better neighbors,” Kou wrote. “The biggest aspect of ‘the housing situation’ is that jobs have, and continue, to increase faster than housing.”

McCown did not respond to Kou’s criticisms that Stanford does not make enough housing available for the workforce and support staff. However, she did emphasize the University’s staff transportation programs, which aim to assist those who live far from campus. These programs include free Caltrain and Valley Transportation Authority passes, free shuttles to the East Bay and free parking for carpools.

Additionally, Stanford’s new satellite worksite in San Jose, billed to some staff as an alternative to long commutes, began a pilot in October that will conclude in November of 2018.

Thompson noted the relatively high cost of new faculty housing, which Stanford pays largely with borrowed funds and rents from the housing itself. Thompson said younger faculty members, who buy most on-campus homes, generally request houses with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a yard big enough for children.

In regards to Palo Alto’s housing woes, Kou wrote that statistics such as mean and median incomes do not accurately reflect the conditions of low-income families. She described a “vicious cycle” in which high-earning workers drive out lower-income residents in order to reduce their commute times and enter the Palo Alto school district.

“Consider the case where there are nine families, with four making less than $30K, four making over $250K and one making $120K,” Kou wrote. “Policies expressed in terms of that $120K median will likely do little to address the problem. If two of those low-income families are forced out, the median now jumps to over $250K, putting more pressure on those below that median.”

Both Thompson and McCown expressed concern over the amount and expense of housing near and on campus.

“We know that housing availability and affordability is a major concern for our community and for our region as a whole, and we intend to continue making progress on it,” McCown wrote.

But Kou, who recently co-sponsored a failed proposal for Palo Alto to consider broadening the city’s renter protection ordinance, said she sees too much talk and too little action, both at Stanford and in Palo Alto. Although she wrote Palo Alto’s City Council claims to support affordable housing, Kou finds herself asking, “Affordable for whom?”


Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Holden Foreman '21 was the Vol. 258-59 chief technology officer. Holden was president and editor-in-chief in Vol. 257, executive editor (vice president) in Vol. 256, managing editor of news in Vol. 254 and student business director in Vol. 255.

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