Supervisors Back "First Steps" Toward Affordable Housing for Residents with Developmental Disabilities in Palo Alto

February 11, 2020


SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today (5-0) to direct administration to pursue affordable housing development options including housing for extremely low and very low-income persons with developmental disabilities on a County-owned site at 525 East Charleston Road, Palo Alto. The proposal was made by County Supervisor Joe Simitian.

Gatepath-Abilities United, a non-profit aimed at serving children and adults with developmental disabilities, currently uses the site under a long-term “dollar-a-year” County lease. That lease, however, expires in 2022 when use of the property reverts to the County. Gatepath is then expected to consolidate its operations at its larger second site just around the corner on Middlefield Road (also leased from the County).

“Given the long lead time necessary to design, approve and build affordable housing,” said Simitian, “I want to get started now. The day after the property comes back to the County, I want us to be good to go.”

Gatepath-Abilities United has expressed interest in partnering with the County to provide services to residents at the new site. Existing funding streams to support housing for persons with developmental disabilities will further leverage the use of County land.

Simitian noted that given the limited incomes that often accompany individuals with severely disabling conditions (which are often on-going), “finding affordable housing in the community poses a special challenge for people with developmental disabilities.”

“And,” said Simitian, “given that community members with developmental disabilities are particularly at-risk of grave harm when they become homeless, it’s absolutely crucial that we find ways to keep them housed, with the services they need.”

A developmental disability is typically defined as a disability which:

  • Severely affects at least three of seven areas of daily living – for example, communication, ability to be financially self-supporting, social skills, physical ability, cognitive ability, or ability to provide basic self-care;
  • Emerges before the age of 18 (though not always);
  • Is likely to continue for the rest of the person’s life; and,
  • Is severe enough that the person needs supportive services.

"The County's commitment to create affordable housing for people with developmental disabilities at this site and others is a model for other counties across California," said Jan Stokley, Executive Director of Housing Choices, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating affordable housing for people with developmental disabilities. "The number of Santa Clara County adults with developmental disabilities who live at home with aging parents will continue to grow in the decades ahead. This project demonstrates that we can create powerful solutions through collaboration among the County, the San Andreas Regional Center, experienced service providers, and talented affordable housing developers." 

The site is particularly well-suited for housing for persons with developmental disabilities because of its proximity to Gatepath-Abilities United and Magical Bridge, one of the County’s first all-inclusive playgrounds. This proposed site is approximately three-quarters of an acre, and proximate to a church, park, shopping center and schools.

“The number of adults in Santa Clara County with developmental disabilities has grown by over 47% in the past decade, and is projected to continue growing. The need for affordable housing for people with developmental disabilities will inevitably increase in the coming years,” said Simitian. “I’m pleased we’ve got an opportunity to help close that gap.”

Over the past few years, the County has taken significant steps to increase housing for people with developmental disabilities:

  • In September of 2018, Simitian proposed that the County provide funds to ensure this vulnerable population does not have to slip into homelessness to qualify for housing created with County assistance. At Simitian’s urging, the Board directed staff to identify $40 million in County funds to support the creation of affordable housing units with supportive services specifically for lower income residents with developmental disabilities.
  • In October of 2019, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to award funds to develop housing for residents with developmental disabilities at projects in Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and the City of Santa Clara. 

“As a parent of an adult with intellectual disabilities, I think it’s a fabulous idea for the County to partner to create housing for the developmentally disabled around the corner from the Gatepath/Abilities United services that support them,” said Linnea Wickstrom.

Wickstrom’s son, Per Maresca, a client of Abilities United and Housing Choices, added, “I think it’s a great location next to shopping, a community center, and right by public transit that lets people get to their jobs. We enthusiastically support this project.”



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