Council creates housing task force

*This article was published on page 5 in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of EPA Today.*

Just when it looked as if East Palo Alto residents finally might have received some good news with the appointment of a task force that could help aid the city’s housing crisis, some residents are now asking what happened.

After being flooded with concerned residents that ultimately led to a Community White Paper being presented before the council, the city approved the creation of a task force to help find solutions to the housing crisis. The Community White Paper urged the City to extend 10- day eviction notices to 30 days and, among other things, to provide relief for displaced families.

The task force was approved during the November 15 city council meeting. At the meeting, the city manager, Carlos Martinez, provided a report that outlined the progress of the task force. Martinez reiterated that East Palo Alto is going through a housing crisis because the amount of jobs in the surrounding area has increased, but the amount of affordable housing has not. Thus, many families are faced with increased housing prices that they simply cannot afford and they must resort to renting out second units in their homes or having to move into a second unit. The second units are not always approved by the City and many are in direct violation of building code enforcement regulations, deeming them unsafe or hazardous to live in.

The assembling task force, per the report, would include several members of the community ranging from city staff to residents. Some of the city staff members will include the city manager’s office, the police department, the city attorney, and the building and planning department.

The task force also asked for two city council members to join—Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier and Carlos Romero volunteered. Members of Faith in Action, the organization that was heavily involved in drafting the Community White Paper, will also join the task force.

The report consisted of six initiatives for long-term solutions that are consistent with the recommendations from the Community White Paper.

The three initiatives that, according to Martinez, can be addressed first are: issuing a request for proposals for a nonprofit to provide displacement services, training staff in de-escalation and conflict resolution with the help of Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center (PCRC), and providing more information on legalizing second units such as options on loans, amnesty programs, and technical support.

At the suggestion of council member Carlos Romero the council approved to include the services of Project Sentinel—a program that promotes housing fairness by advocating peaceful resolutions. During the December 6 council meeting, Project Sentinel partnered with PCRC in offering their services. Both programs already have a rapport with the East Palo Alto community.

The other three initiatives that will be implemented over time include: holding meetings for residents that would provide information on legalizing second units and garage conversions, providing a technical guidebook for legalizing second units specific to East Palo Alto, and identifying and preventing unintended consequences of second units such as parking.

One of the most prominent complaints from residents in previous meetings was about the 10-day eviction notices. Many residents argued that these notices, in particular, were causing the displacement of many families—some even facing homelessness.

During the council meeting on November 15, the council approved an ordinance that would extend the 10-day eviction notices to 30 days at the discretion of the chief building inspector.

Stewart Hyland, who presented the Community White Paper in the previous meeting, said “the city manager got in touch with us right away.” He was grateful that the city was doing something about this issue.

Council member Carlos Romero emphasized that although this ordinance was passed, “there could be occasions where because of the health and safety issues and concerns, the chief building inspector may have to deem that people have to leave earlier.”

As far as the next steps, Martinez explained that the task force will be meeting to begin implementing the initiatives that were recommended. In addition, the council decided that each council member will appoint a member of the East Palo Alto community of their choice to join the task force.

As part of the task force, council member Romero made it clear that his “main goal is affordability.”

City residents have complained to the council that they have not heard of any follow up action or reports. But, they were told that action would be forthcoming.

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