Homes, Less

Shortly after graduating from high school, before I went off to college, I decided to give the working world a try. I was a computer nut even back then (this was back in 1978), so Silicon Valley was the place for me. Accordingly, I drove up from my Southern California home, and, with the assistance of an old family friend, I managed to land a job with Memorex (remember them?). It wasn’t my dream job—I was helping to assemble computer terminals—but it was a job, and it was sort-of in the tech field.

Not having a place to live, I temporarily stayed with some close friends of my parents. While I went off to work, my mother, who had briefly joined me to help with the transition, searched for a place where I could live. As a newly minted high school graduate I naively assumed that I would have no trouble getting an apartment. I was quickly disabused of that notion, however: even back then my pay (which, as I recall, was around $5.00 per hour) wasn’t enough to pay for an actual apartment. Instead, I had to settle for a room in a private home in Los Altos. As a 17-year-old, though, that turned out to be fine for my simple needs, and it was just within my budget. If I’d had a family, however, or had more of a social life, a rented room (with a shared bath and kitchen privileges) would not have worked for me.

While I was by no means poor, and probably could have gotten help from my family if my earnings weren’t enough to keep myself housed, that brief period in my life gave me an appreciation for what it costs to live and what few options you have when you don’t earn very much. Since graduating from college with a Computer Science degree I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never had trouble keeping a roof over my family’s heads, but I can sympathize with the plight of those who haven’t been able to earn as much as I.

I can sympathize—and so, it seems, can our City Council. Looking over the meeting agenda for May 18 I was pleased to see three separate agenda items relating to low-income housing.

The first of these is centered around a pair of adjacent lots the city owns on Bradford Street: 707 and 777 Bradford, which are directly across from the Redwood City School District offices.

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In the above picture, one lot is on the left, where the cars are parked, while the other is on the right, behind the green fencing. As you can see, these lots are very close to the 469-unit “Indigo” apartments being built at 525 Middlefield Rd. They are equally close to the 196-unit, 8-story apartment building being built at 601 Main St. And like those two apartment complexes, these two lots are a relatively easy walk from downtown Redwood City.

So what does the city hope to do on its Bradford Street property? Well, they’re putting out an “RFP” (Request For Proposal) by which they hope to entice a developer to build “a well-designed, mixed-use project that includes affordable rental housing.” Note the word “affordable”: below-market-rate housing has to be part of the project. In fact, the project must include “a minimum percentage of units that would be made to very low and/or very-low and low to moderate income households.” In addition to housing, the project would also include other “community benefits” which may include some or all of

  • a park
  • childcare and/or daycare facilities
  • car sharing facilities

Details of the project won’t be forthcoming until a developer has been chosen and their plans made public. But that should happen soon: the City Council hopes to select a developer by next October, and hopes to have an agreement in place with that developer by January of next year. We should know more by then.

The second item on the City Council meeting agenda that caught my eye concerns a project I’ve mentioned before: the 20-unit condominium development that Habitat for Humanity hopes to build on a small lot that they now own at 612 Jefferson Avenue:

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The city received $1.42 million from the developers of the One Marina condos (over by the Boardwalk auto dealers, on the way to Pete’s Harbor) that is to be used for affordable housing, and the city is contributing this money to this Jefferson Avenue project. The agenda item concerned the mechanism by which this money would be made available to Habitat for Humanity: as a loan (with very generous repayment terms), or as a grant. But either way, the money will go towards the project, which likely will break ground either late this year or early next year.

The third item was one I was surprised, but pleased, to see. I have previously mentioned the project slated for 103 Wilson St. (across Jefferson Avenue from Sequoia Station), and how it will involve the removal not only of the small concrete-block apartment building on the corner of Franklin and Jefferson, but the small 1900’s-era blue Queen Anne-style house on the corner of Franklin and Wilson as well:

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The house at one point was offered to anyone who would take it for $1, but since the buyer had to shoulder the burden and the expense of relocating the house (and had to have a suitable place to put it), there were no takers. Now, it seems that the city has identified just such a place for the house: a small lot that the city owns at 611 Heller Street.

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As part of the City Council’s “consent calendar” for the May 18 meeting, there is an item to approve a contract with AJB Construction for the moving of the house. It isn’t quite that simple, of course: the new site has to be prepared and a suitable foundation built before the house can be moved. Then, once the house has been moved, it has to be repaired to the point where it can be lived in—which apparently will be done all or in part by  Rebuilding Together Peninsula, a terrific charitable organization that I’m pleased to have been involved with in the past. Once done it will be rented for a suitably low price, qualifying it as affordable housing. Thus, this project not only preserves a historic old home, but provides one more unit of housing to some lucky low-income household.

That was it for the meeting agenda items, but I wanted to bring one other housing-related action to everyone’s attention. If you haven’t seen mention of it already, the San Mateo Daily Journal had an article in its May 18 edition about the eviction of all of the tenants of an 18-unit apartment building in Redwood City. It seems that the building’s owner plans to do a full renovation of the building, and needs to have everyone out in order to proceed. Rather than updating the apartments one at a time, the tenancies of all 18 households will be terminated by the end of June. That is 18 families that are suddenly scrambling, looking for new housing. And given that these families were paying on the order of $1,700 per month for their apartments, it unlikely that they will be able to find anything comparable in the area for that price. I headed by the building—which is located at 910 Clinton St.—to take a look (the picture in the article focuses on some of the tenants; I wanted to see the building itself), and took the following picture:

910 Clinton

Those colorful bits of paper on the front of the building? Those are signs made by the tenants that are communicating their plight. They say things such as “No more evictions” and “I love my apartment” and “18 families, no where to go?”.

I’m not sure if the city can do anything to help, but if so I certainly hope that they will. I’m also not sure how long the renovations are going to take, but I’m guessing that once they are done the building’s owners will use the updated condition as an excuse to charge higher rents—either to the existing tenants, if they move back in, or to new tenants. While I hope that isn’t the case, I’m certainly not holding my breath on this one.

Housing in Redwood City—and in the whole Bay Area—is getting more expensive all the time. It’s getting harder and harder for the average person to live here. Back when I first lived here I got a very small taste of what it must be like for your typical minimum-wage worker who wants to live independently; it’s tough! And these days it must be significantly harder than anything I ever experienced. I truly wish I had a magic solution to the Bay Area’s housing problem. While individuals like me can only do so much, I’m heartened by what I saw on the City Council’s May 18 meeting agenda, and the efforts that they are making to put a dent, however small, in the problem.


The other day I received an email from the City of Redwood City stating that Encore Books—the used bookstore below the historic courthouse in downtown Redwood City—is having its semi-annual “half-off sale.” As if their prices weren’t low enough, for this sale they are cutting them in half! If you are as into books as I am, I’d highly recommend attending this sale. It will take place on Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31 from 10:00am-3:00pm. As usual, all proceeds benefit the San Mateo County Historical Association.

4 thoughts on “Homes, Less

  1. I was really happy to hear that the little blue house was going to get a new life. Always great info in your posts.

  2. Great post. I’d love to hear more stories about what is was like living and working here in the 70s and 80s.

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