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Affordable housing project grows from Business School class project

STANFORD - In East Palo Alto, a few miles from the Stanford University campus, many families spend more than half their annual income on rent, an average of $700 for a one-bedroom apartment. Tenants lucky enough to get into one of the community's 450 subsidized housing units usually pay less, but may have to wait up to three years for a vacancy.

Enter five Stanford Business School students looking for a way to learn about public housing issues. As an independent study project, partially funded by Bank of America, the five worked out design, funding and community suppor t issues to create the Beech Street Affordable Housing Project, an $8 million, 62-unit family housing complex. Now, working through the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition, a nonprofit organization that plans and manages a variety of subsi dized housing units, the Business School planners are awaiting final approval to clear the way for construction.

Beech Street has won attention outside the San Francisco Bay Area. This summer, the student authors received one of two honorable mentions in a national competition sponsored by Saturn Corp. The auto firm award recognizes outst anding teamwork to provide service to the local community.

Artie Harris, who received his MBA in June and who worked as a civil engineer before coming to the Business School, spearheaded the student group. He was joined by classmate Eric Weaver, and Steve Sachs, Lara Washington and Jon Zeitlin of the Class of '93.

Team was diverse

The Beech Street team members boasted a variety of skills. Harris had an engineering background, and Weaver had worked for a nonprofit housing agency. Washington's experience was in corporate finance, but she took responsibilit y for building community support for the project within East Palo Alto. Sachs, a former bank branch manager, did the market study. Zeitlin, a former social worker and teacher, planned the proposed on-site social programs, including day care and a computer-based after-school program for children.

The team worked with William Lazier, lecturer in business administration, to produce the 50-page project proposal. Often devoting more than 10 hours each per week, the team met with East Palo Alto residents and the city council , worked with nonprofit developers and architects, and did their own marketing study and financing proposals to create the plan.

Under the umbrella of the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition, the student team won approval from Wells Fargo Bank for a $5.7 million construction loan and a $1.3 million long-term, low-interest loan from San Mateo County to acquir e 4.5 acres. The Beech Street team has submitted applications for permanent funding to the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program and the California Rental Housing Construction Program.

The Beech Street complex, with proposed rents ranging from $399 for a one-bedroom apartment to $785 for three bedrooms, was designed to provide more than simply housing. The two-story buildings will be clustered around open are as, a sheltered play yard, barbecue and picnic facilities, and a community building.

On the advice of local educators, the team proposed developing an after-school program in computers, math and science, plus adult education and other programs in the community center. Team members will donate the $1,000 that ac companied the Saturn prize to the computer center when the project is built. In addition, plans call for operating a day care center for up to 30 youngsters in the complex.

No corners cut

Team members found that affordable housing projects often cut corners on design and materials, forcing residents to cope with problems that make maintaining a property difficult. The Beech Street team set out to design a high-q uality complex that would fit into the surrounding residential neighborhood, working with the architect to take advantage of the view of San Francisco Bay and the East Bay hills.

"Those of us who worked on this have a personal desire to continue to be involved," said Steve Sachs. "Some of us had some past applicable experience, but we really got involved so we could learn something new."

The project is awaiting some necessary government approvals, so the team can't say for sure when construction will begin. However, a more permanent link already has been forged. Members of the Class of '93 voted to form a commi ttee through the Business School's Public Management Program to continue to work with community housing issues.



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