New low-income apartments planned near Caltrain station

A plan to build 60 affordable apartments next to the Hillsdale Caltrain station demonstrates just how difficult it can be to create living space for low-income workers on the Peninsula.

San Mateo will loan $5.3 million to the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition to purchase land at 2901 and 2905 South El Camino Real, the current home of a Goodyear tire shop next to the rail corridor and across from the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

The San Mateo City Council on Monday unanimously approved the loan, which Mid-Peninsula Housing will use to purchase the one-acre site while it raises more money to demolish existing buildings and design and build a mixed-use site with ground-floor retail and up to 64 apartments for families, according to Mid-Peninsula Housing President Fran Wagstaff.

“That’s what it costs for one acre,” Wagstaff said. “That’s why it’s so hard to build anything.”

It is also rare for landowners along El Camino Real — one of the few regions zoned for multifamily housing — to sell their properties. When they do, agencies like Mid-Peninsula Housing often compete with condominium developers for parcels, and the buyer with the most money frequently wins, according to Wagstaff.

In 1999, the Association of Bay Area Governments recommended that the city of San Mateo create 2,437 new affordable units by 2006, including residences for low-income renters and buyers. By 2006, San Mateo had built 1,276.

“Even at the greatest theoretical densities, this project will be maybe 60 units,” said Robert Muehlbauer, San Mateo’s neighborhood improvement and housing manager. “When you compare that with the hundreds that are needed, it’s a struggle; where does the money come from?”

San Mateo’s loan was cobbled together from redevelopment agency funds plus federal and state grants for very low-income rentals. When the El Camino project is built, all of its apartments will be guaranteed to rent at below-market rates for 55 years, according to Vice Mayor Jack Matthews.

Despite the difficulty in creating such projects, the site is seen as ideal for work force housing, since it is located where the Hillsdale Caltrain station will be moved as a part of the Bay Meadows Phase II Redevelopment, according to Bay Meadows Land Company spokesman Adam Alberti.

The new multimodal station will have four tracks and pathways for easy pedestrian and bicycle access.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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