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Palo Alto Housing's Randy Tsuda Talks Affordable Housing, Partnerships And Projects

Palo Alto Housing's new president and CEO, Randy Tsuda, knows that addressing the need for affordable housing in the Bay Area is a challenge, but it is one he has taken on in the public sector and now as the head of a leading developer and manager of low- and moderate-income housing in the Bay Area.

Palo Alto Housing President and CEO Randy Tsuda

Palo Alto Housing has more than 700 owned and managed units on the Peninsula and another 600 units in various stages of planning and development around the Bay Area. Sand Hill Properties hired away the organization's previous CEO, Candice Gonzalez, in July as its chief housing officer and managing director to lead Sand Hill's shift toward developing more housing.

Tsuda's first day leading Palo Alto Housing was Nov. 14. He was most recently the community development director for the city of Mountain View. He has more than 20 years of experience in city planning and was previously director of corporate real estate for a technology company and a lecturer with the Urban and Regional Planning program at San Jose State University.

Tsuda received the "Bringing It Home" award from nonprofit policy and advocacy organization SV@Home in May for his work in Mountain View creating the North Bayshore Precise Plan, which will nearly double the number of affordable homes in the city.

Bisnow caught up with Tsuda to discuss the region's housing crisis, what can be done to create more affordable housing and what lies ahead for Palo Alto Housing.

Bisnow: What worries you the most about the current state of housing in the Bay Area?

Tsuda: At the highest level, the decades-long undersupply of housing in the Bay Area in comparison to the number of jobs being created. Since 2010, Silicon Valley employment has increased by 29%, yet housing has increased by only 4% — a major factor in the housing affordability crisis.

Rendering of Eagle Park Apartments in Mountain View

Bisnow: What brought you to Palo Alto Housing?

Tsuda: The opportunity to focus on creating affordable housing and providing services to our residents and also to our partner cities. Palo Alto Housing currently has six housing projects in our pipeline from Redwood City through Mountain View and we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of residents that will live in the over 400 homes that we are building.

Bisnow: You most recently come from a government background. What do you see as the role and relationship that cities and affordable housing developers have in addressing the state's housing crisis?

Tsuda: Most of the control over land use and development in California is in the hands of cities; therefore, it is essential that each city plan for and approve a robust supply of homes to meet the need. Part of that city responsibility is to adopt policies and programs to support the creation of affordable units, including funding.

Bisnow: How well are cities and developers doing at addressing the crisis?

Tsuda: Housing exists in a complex ecosystem. Solutions will require support and compromise among many stakeholders, such as social equity and environmental advocates, business community, labor groups, market rate and affordable housing developers, and cities. This is the goal of CASA (the Committee to House the Bay Area), a multi-sector group convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments. CASA will soon release its housing compact, a series of recommendations on how the Bay Area can address its housing crisis.

Bisnow: Where are they falling short?

Tsuda: You need funding, sites zoned for housing at feasible densities, political support and citizen support.

Palo Alto Housing President and CEO Randy Tsuda and board Chairwoman Sheryl Klein in front of the Eagle Park Apartments building site in Mountain View

Bisnow: Are there any creative things you see being done to create more affordable housing? What are some of the most exciting?

Tsuda: You are seeing some interesting partnerships between various combinations of entities — cities, market-rate developers, affordable housing developers, school districts — to create affordable housing. In Mountain View, LinkedIn and Prometheus have been willing to "pre-pay" their housing fees; in other words, provide millions of dollars of funding for affordable housing several years in advance of when they would be required to pay. This allows the money to be put to use immediately, without waiting for entitlements and building permits.

Bisnow: What are the next steps for Palo Alto Housing that you're most excited about?

Tsuda: Palo Alto Housing was formed in 1969, and we have recently expanded our geographic scope of work. Five or six current projects are located in cities outside of Palo Alto and we continue to pursue additional opportunities to provide much-needed housing in other communities.