I find it particularly satisfying when, after first learning about a development project, then watching it go through the approval process, and finally following it all the way through construction, I get to step inside and see the finished project. Unfortunately, that happens less often than I would like. I generally don’t get tours of office projects, although I had the opportunity to tour a couple of Redwood City’s recently built housing projects, such as Greystar’s Franklin 299 and Huxley Apartments. I was looking forward to touring their recently completed 175-unit Elan Redwood City project as well, but as it turns out I won’t be getting that opportunity.
Elan Redwood City was approved in October 2014. For some reason the project took a full five years from approval to completion. I watched closely as construction finally wrapped up, expecting to see the usual “for lease” signs get posted. But although a sign marking the location of the leasing office was added to the building, that office was never opened to the general public. Just last week we learned why — Stanford University purchased the Elan Redwood City building, renamed it to The Cardinal Apartments, and is leasing its units to members of the university community.
It seems back in June the university quietly negotiated a purchase agreement with Greystar. Then, just a week or so ago, Stanford began leasing the apartments, giving precedence to staff employed at its Redwood City campus and to postdoctoral scholars. In addition to setting the lease rates below what is typical for our market — studios start at $2,413, one-bedroom units start at $2,725 and two-bedroom apartments start at $2,972 — Stanford plans to work with Redwood City to designate 37 of the units as deed-restricted, below-market-rate housing for very-low- and low-income households. That will make those units available only to households earning up to 50% (very low) and 80% (low) of San Mateo County’s area median income. Given that, in its prior incarnation, all of Elan Redwood City’s apartments were to have been rented at market rates, this is a real net positive.
Selling a newly constructed apartment building isn’t out of the ordinary for Greystar. They seem to do so if and when the right deal comes along. For instance, they sold the 305-unit Franklin 299 complex just about a year after it was completed. But as far as the general public is concerned, Greystar’s sale of Franklin 299 was just a change in management — the rules about who can rent one of the apartments didn’t change. The sale of Elan Redwood City to Stanford University is a different story, however, since the apartments will no longer be offered to the general public. At least they sold the building before any units were leased, meaning that no existing tenants were displaced.
The fact that priority will be given to people working at either Stanford’s Redwood City campus, only a short distance from The Cardinal Apartments, or its main campus means many, if not most, of the building’s residents will have an easy commute to work. And most likely won’t be driving — the close proximity of the building to Redwood City’s Caltrain station, coupled with the fact that Stanford runs free shuttles from the Redwood City and Palo Alto Caltrain stations to its Redwood City campus and its main campus, respectively, enables building residents to easily get to work without a car.
Add to that this apartment complex is right across the street from Sequoia Station and Whole Foods Market, plus it sits within easy walking distance of downtown Redwood City’s many restaurants and thriving theater district — there is a real chance that many tenants will forego automobile ownership altogether.
To be fair, that Stanford’s properties are largely exempt from property taxes seemingly extends to this building as well, meaning that Redwood City (and San Mateo County, of course) likely won’t be collecting their usual share. But the upside of this deal — the relatively reasonable rents, the 37 affordable units and the likely very low number of cars that will be driving to and from this building each day, seems well worth the loss of some tax dollars.
Although I’ll likely never get to see the inside of this beautiful building, that’s okay. Stanford has taken advantage of Greystar’s efforts and created a form of workforce housing that should prove to be a real benefit to the Redwood City community. It will be interesting to see if this model truly does turn out to be the net positive it appears to be, and whether some of our large Bay Area companies will follow their lead.
Greg Wilson is the creator of Walking Redwood City, a blog inspired by his walks throughout Redwood City and adjacent communities. He can be reached at greg@walkingRedwoodCity.com. Follow Greg on Twitter @walkingRWC.