A history of housing shortages: how the University accommodates consistent growth

May 16, 2018, 1:14 a.m.

This article is the first part in a series examining Stanford’s continued expansion and the impacts it has on the landscape of campus and its surrounding community.

At 8,180 acres, Stanford’s campus extends into six different neighborhoods — Santa Clara, San Mateo, Palo Alto, Woodside, Menlo Park and Portola Valley. While the main campus is home to 80 different residences and seven schools, the University hopes to add 2.3 million square feet of academic buildings and 3,150 new housing units over the next 17 years as it works toward gaining approval for its newest General Use Permit (GUP). If the current GUP draft is approved, by 2035, Stanford will have nearly tripled its size since 1960.

At the same time, Stanford’s efforts to grow have been met with a consistent resistance from the local community, which contends that the University’s continued expansion will aggravate the longtime Bay Area housing crisis.

In February, the Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution that claims there is a link between the GUP and housing shortages. The resolution asserts that on- and off-campus housing cannot support the population growth that this expansion would involve.  Local community members echoed similar complaints in a Town Hall meeting in October.

The Daily examined the history of the discourse between the local community and the University as Stanford fights against housing shortages.

Origins of housing shortages

Concerns about Stanford’s involvement housing crises can be traced back to the 1970s, when the University made plans to fill 1,163 acres of vacant land with industrial development, including excavations to Coyote Hill and the construction of an office-hotel complex by the Dillingham Corporation, which many refer to as the Dillingham project.

The Daily reported on Jan. 5, 1970 that the primary motivation for these projects was the financial revenue they would bring to the University, stating that the The Coyote Hill development would bring $200,000 annually to the University endowment, and the Dillingham complex between $100,000 and $200,000.

At the time, according to the Bay Area Census, Santa Clara county was facing its largest spike in population growth between 1960 and 1970. This growth is mirrored in the increase in Stanford’s total student and faculty population, which grew by 1,992 people in that decade, according to the University reports.

As a result, local organizations mobilized to work against these projects, which were projected to bring up to 36,000 more employees into the area. Grass Roots, one organization, demanded that Stanford halt construction of non-academic buildings aside from low-cost housing projects. Later that month, the Urban Coalition spoke before then-Stanford President Kenneth Pitzer’s Ad Hoc Housing Committee to request the University to contribute to the construction of flexible housing units built on steel frames so that they could be maintained and rebuilt at low cost.

Though the University eventually responded with a plan to construct 60 low- to moderate- income housing units in Palo Alto and 200 units on Stanford’s campus near Frenchman’s Hill, local stakeholders remained unsatisfied.

“These developments show that enough money can be found to keep people quiet. More money can be found,” Jill Joseph told The Daily in October 1970.

Joseph was a participant in a KZSU panel discussion on the housing crisis at the time.

Over the next 13 years, the University would embark on a much more ambitious affordable housing project.

Initial efforts for low-income housing

By 1972, construction plans of a similar scale to the Coyote Hill project were underway.

The Peter Coutts project initially planned to construct 225 housing units at the corner of Page Mill Road and Peter Coutts Road; 20 percent of these units were designated for low-income families, 40 percent for moderate-income families and 40 percent for middle-income families.

The project intended for Stanford employees to occupy half of the units; employees at Stanford-sponsored institutions would reside in the other half.

The project was met with fierce controversy. The San Francisco Chronicle claimed the project was insincerely designed and would not prove effective. Conservative voices worried that the initiative would bring too many low-income families into the area.

Regardless of community complaint, the project was tabled in 1973 when an 18-month moratorium on federal housing subsidies was instituted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

However, the project later resurfaced due to an expenditure authorization by former President Richard Nixon for 200,000 units of housing nationwide. The plan was modified to reduce the number of housing units to 140, ultimately gaining approval by the Palo Alto City Council in 1979.

Construction of the $19 million project began in July 1981. At the same time, the University allocated Coinvestment Monies (COIN), a second mortgage program designed to help faculty fund up to two-thirds of the cost of the units, which ranged between $165,000 and $225,000. Housing that wasn’t sold was up for short-term renting. By October 1982, 42 units were sold, and all remaining structures were occupied by renters or the units’ owners.

Despite this, housing shortages continued as former President Donald Kennedy announced in his address to the Academic Council later that year that by 1990, the University would need to provide housing or subsidies for 3,000 to 4,000 faculty and staff members.

Concern on the University end for housing, according to Kennedy, stemmed from the challenge housing shortages presented to recruiting faculty and the competition it breeds among University workers.

This concern persists into recent years. In their June 2016 meeting, the Faculty Senate approved a motion to create a plan for sustainable housing, including aims to increase affordable housing for workers and faculty as well as increase availability of on campus graduate housing.

“We are grateful for all that Stanford has done to address housing needs,” the board wrote in a May 2016 statement. “Yet housing costs continue to rise.”

On-campus housing concerns

Population growth not only put pressure on the University to increase affordable housing for its faculty and workers, but led to shortages in on-campus housing for students as well.

Before undergraduates were guaranteed housing for all four years, some students would be left without an assignment after the draw. Such was the case in September 1970, when six men were left unassigned, and 115 transfer students were placed on a waitlist. Meanwhile, graduate students faced a one-year waitlist for on-campus housing.

Shortages persisted throughout the decade, with waitlists 820 students long in 1974.

Former Associate Dean of Student Affairs Larry Horton told The Daily at the time that “the costlier and tighter housing market” led to a “dramatically increased desire to live on campus.”

As a result, the University began to make additions to the Florence Moore housing complex as well as Escondido Village, adding 4,410 units by the mid-1970s, according to the 2018 GUP.

Despite these residential expansions, issues surrounding graduate housing persisted. By 1983, the University was developing a plan to build part of the 3,000 housing units needed for graduate students and faculty, planning construction of 1,282 units on Willow Road.

By the time the plan got approval from the Palo Alto City Council, the intent had shifted to housing faculty and staff.

Meanwhile, trailers in Manzanita Park, which had been housing undergraduates since 1969, were opened up to graduate student housing as 554 undergraduates moved to new Governor’s Corner suites in Winter 1983.

Manzanita Park trailers, although intended as temporary housing, remained in place for 22 years, due to the fact that, by 1986, the University was profiting from the trailers more so than it would be from permanent residences.

At this point, Stanford was poised to revise the current GUP, which was instituted in 1962. After producing the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in 1988, the University predicted a 14 percent increase in Stanford’s population and a 20 percent increase in building space by 2000.

As a result, housing shortages continued. The Graduate School of Business began a 220-unit project, assisted by Charles Schwab ’59, that was underway throughout the 1990s. In 1992, Crothers Memorial Hall was converted to all-graduate housing after housing both undergraduates and graduates for four years. Crothers did not become an undergraduate dorm until 2009.

At the same time, rising undergraduate population placed pressure on graduate student housing.

“We have new undergraduates coming in, and we have a policy obligation to … make sure they receive their fair number of years of guaranteed housing,” Keith Guy, former director of Housing Services told The Daily in 1997.

Faculty and workers’ housing issues resurface

More recently, Stanford has made contributions to affordable housing projects in the surrounding community. At this time, the University began to seek approval for plans for 36 apartments and single-family houses in campus residential areas for faculty.

Since 2008, Stanford has made contributions to affordable housing efforts in addition to directly sponsoring construction of various projects. In 2008, the University contributed $2.3 million towards two affordable housing projects in Palo Alto.

Most recently, Stanford contributed $1 million towards affordable housing in Redwood City this February.

According to the 2018 GUP, by 2020, Stanford will have also built or facilitated the development of approximately 3,400 additional housing units on its lands, with 2,000 for faculty and staff.


Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Julia Ingram ’21 was The Daily's Volume 256 editor-in-chief. She is a New York City native majoring in English literature and working toward a career in news reporting. Contact her at jingram ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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