New guidelines that aim to expand access to Menlo Park's affordable housing program were adopted at the March 1 City Council meeting.
Rather than a list of "eligibility requirements," the program guidelines were updated to outline a criteria for "preferences." Part of this language change, according to the staff report, is to emphasize that someone who may not meet any of the preferences, but would still qualify for the program based on income level, is encouraged to apply.
The city is eliminating the preference for residents who have been living in Menlo Park since 2008. Instead, the preference will now include anyone who has lived in the city for at least three years, "regardless of the exact date they resided in the city."
"The reason for expanding this preference is to more universally allow long-term community members, defined as three or more years, in need of affordable housing an opportunity to return to Menlo Park," the report states.
The city is also tweaking the program's work preference. The guidelines now specify that the work preference applies to anyone who works in the city 20 hours a week, regardless of pay, meaning this can include volunteer service.
People with any form of mobility challenges now also get preference. Before, the "accessible unit preference" only applied to wheelchair users, but was expanded to minimize "unintentional discrimination to persons with other types of mobility challenges," according to the report.
Read about the new guidelines here.
Council renews utilities tax for residents
Menlo Park residents will continue to pay a 1% tax on their utilities after a unanimous City Council vote.
Some residents were under the impression that the vote was a decision to raise the utilities tax and excoriated the City Council for doing so while residents are dealing with the pandemic and after the city purchased Teslas for the police department in 2021.
City Council member Ray Mueller clarified that Tuesday's vote was to maintain the tax at the same rate for the remainder of the fiscal year. He also challenged the notion that the city doesn't need the revenue from the tax.
"How could you make the argument that, during the pandemic when we laid off so many staff, when we worked so hard just to have police services and roads and sewer and everything that we had to do as a city, that we didn't need that money at that time," Mueller asked, adding that he couldn't think of a time during his tenure on the City Council when the money was needed more.
During the 2020-21 fiscal year, the city received $1.44 million in revenue from the utilities tax. The city anticipates $1.74 million in revenue for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The council's decision was based on the determination that the tax was essential to the city's financial health for the fiscal year of 2021-22. According to Interim Finance Director Marvin Davis, a healthy city means it can continue funding safety services such as the police and fire departments and that the community believes there are adequate city services.