Widgets Magazine

Ongoing construction draws mixed reception from students concerned with housing crisis

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

As the Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035) and other campus activist organizations press Stanford to take more action regarding the local housing crisis, the University continues construction in an effort to do just that, according to University spokesperson E.J. Miranda.

The Daily reached out to the University and students in order to learn more about Stanford’s reasons for and potential impacts of its ongoing expansion, both on and off campus.

Current housing expansion projects

In its proposed 2018 General Use Permit (GUP), which is expected to last until 2035 if approved, the University calls for authorization to construct 3,150 new on-campus housing units. Under the Academic Growth Boundary in both the current and proposed GUP, the University can only construct new academic facilities in Santa Clara County at a rate less than or equal to the rate at which new housing becomes available in the region.

SCoPE 2035 estimates the 2018 GUP would bring 9,600 new University affiliates to the campus, increasing housing demand.

In an email to The Daily, Miranda stated that, aside from the 3,150 housing units proposed in the 2018 GUP application, Stanford will operate 17,700 units of University housing by 2020.

“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,” Miranda wrote.

In addition to on-campus construction, Miranda noted the University’s efforts to bolster its off-campus housing opportunities. As an example, he mentioned Middle Plaza, which was approved in September 2017 for construction on University-owned land in Menlo Park. The project sparked controversy when a local nonprofit called upon Stanford to raise environmental standards for its buildings in Menlo Park. The University agreed to hold the off-campus buildings to an equal standard to those on campus.

Middle Plaza will add 215 multi-family rental units, 10 of which will sell at below market rate (BMR) to Menlo Park teachers and community members. Miranda noted that the University maintains close to 1,000 off-campus rental units for use by faculty and staff. He emphasized that 180 of the units sell at BMR.

“Each property is different; most are open to the public but have a priority for Stanford affiliates,” Miranda wrote.

According to Stanford University Land, Buildings & Real Estate (LBRE), the University plans to complete 85 on-campus construction projects between the publish date of this article and the end of 2020, although many of the projects do not involve housing.

“The current construction activities on campus are being undertaken to increase the supply of student housing, provide better health and wellness facilities, and add academic space that facilitates interdisciplinary teaching and research,” Miranda wrote.

He added that 2,020 new student beds will be added with the completion of the extended graduate student housing in Escondido Village, allowing approximately 75 percent of graduate students to live on-campus. The University expects this construction to finish in fall 2020.

Student perspectives

John Zhao ’18, a member of SCoPE 2035, said he cannot yet tell whether current University construction projects will help or hinder housing accessibility at and around Stanford since the effects “manifest over a very long term.” Still, he pointed out multiple areas where he believes the University could improve its approach to affordable housing.

“Our main issue is how these projects are being administered in terms of who gets the housing,” Zhao said. “If these housing projects are built, [we want] units to be dedicated to staff members.”

Zhao added that SCoPE 2035 supports the high rises in Escondido Village because of their contribution to high-density housing, meaning their population density (calculated as number of individuals living in each building divided by the total square footage of land underneath the buildings) exceeds that of the average living space. He said more similarly constructed high-density housing on Stanford’s campus would reduce housing demand in nearby communities.

According to an FAQ on the Stanford Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) website, “projects such as the Munger Graduate Residence prove that you can have very desirable housing—even if it is denser—through careful planning, amenities, balancing open space and building, and designing with an architectural palette of materials. It’s important to remember that Stanford must be a good steward of its land, especially to allow for the academic development it needs to accomplish its mission of teaching, research and learning.”

In an email to The Daily, Kiara Bacasen ’21, a member of the Stanford First Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP), wrote that she believes Stanford needs to play a more active role in local housing development regardless of its current efforts.

Bacasen added that she gained insight into local housing issues by interviewing city council members, land developers and activists in Palo Alto for a class project in URBANST 104: “Civic Dreams, Human Spaces: Designing Cities for People.”

“The housing crisis is a regional issue and a human issue, and, in recent history, Stanford has been a wild card in the fight for housing — in terms of allowing high-density housing [and] approving and carrying out heavy land-use projects to the detriment of the surrounding community,” Bacasen wrote.

She added that, although the University must balance several competing interests in addressing the housing issue, it still maintains a responsibility to help mitigate it.

“Of course, [the University] has a lot of other responsibilities as well, such as its own staff that needs housing [and] the natural land it needs to protect,” she said. “But even so, this is a crisis, and one which this institution is either going to exacerbate or help solve.”

Among the three undergraduates interviewed, each expressed a desire for more high-density housing projects in lieu of traditional homes. Chris LeBoa ’19, co-director of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS), wrote in an email to The Daily that high-density housing presents both socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

“We need more high-density and vertical housing in the Bay Area,” LeBoa wrote. “To be the accepting place we claim to be, we need to actually build the housing to allow people to live here. By building more [high-density housing] in the Bay Area, we could also optimize our public transit and curb the urban sprawl that is affecting the wider Bay Area region.”

In regards to off-campus projects, Zhao said Stanford’s ongoing construction of a Redwood City campus for administrative workers could negatively impact surrounding communities, such as the unincorporated area North Fair Oaks, because of a failure by the University to address local interests.

“We are concerned about this pattern of Stanford going off campus to develop land without providing adequate community benefits,” Zhao said. “From what I understand, [Stanford] was able to go through the Redwood City expansion without much scrutiny from Redwood City government… without having to address a lot of these concerns like displacement.”

On Feb. 14, the University donated a million dollars to the Saint Francis Center in Redwood City to assist the organization in purchasing 25 units of housing for residents at risk of being displaced from downtown.

At the time, LBRE Managing Director for Development Steve Elliott said the University intends to play an ongoing role in local housing.

“Providing affordable housing for people of all economic backgrounds is a critical need for our region, and we’re pleased to further support that effort in partnership with Saint Francis Center,” Elliott told Stanford News. “From the initial conception of our Stanford Redwood City campus, we made a commitment to being engaged in the life of the Redwood City community, and this investment is an important part of that commitment.”

According to Miranda, Stanford understands SCoPE 2035’s concerns and welcomes them to continue contributing to the 2018 GUP discussion. Although University construction currently spans numerous areas and sectors, he noted the value of transparency to the University. Specifically, he highlighted “Stanford-sponsored open houses, community town halls, and dozens of meetings with stakeholders from Stanford and the surrounding community.”

Santa Clara County will recirculate the Alternatives Chapter of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the GUP on June 12, which will include two possible plans for construction of additional housing.

According to an email sent from Santa Clara Senior planner Kavitha Kumar to the Stanford community the first alternative plan would “provide enough housing units for the full increase in the Stanford-affiliated population that is expected to be generated by the proposed project.”

A second alternative plans for a lesser increase in on-campus housing, but would still provide “significantly more” housing than Stanford’s current request of 3,150 units. Both alternatives propose the allocation of more housing units than was considered under the original Draft EIR.

Santa Clara County will allow a 45 day comment period on the revised EIR before proceeding with the GUP’s approval process.

“Stanford is engaging with faculty, students, and staff on affordability issues through the Long-Range Planning process, 2018 General Use Permit (GUP) application process and other venues,” Miranda wrote. “There will be new information about our initiatives in the near future.”


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


An earlier version of this article misnamed North Fair Oaks as “North Brayer Oaks.” The Daily regrets this error.

About Holden Foreman

Holden Foreman '21 is Deputy Desk Editor of the University/Local News beat, for which he previously served as a contributing writer. He is studying electrical engineering, economics and computer science. Contact him at hs4man21 'at' stanford.edu.