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SLAC's House Hunters

Between the 1,650 regular staff and 3,000 annual users who visit SLAC, the lab generates considerable and steady demand for nearby housing. But when traveling to Menlo Park from out of state, or even out of country, it can be difficult to find the right place to live. Add in stays that aren't lease-friendly, family concerns, and price considerations, and the process can become downright scary. That's why many SLAC employees turn to Ute Hayes, Toni Campos and Barbara Mason, the caring and capable employees who make up the SLAC Housing Office, a service area of the SLAC Human Resources Department, located in the corner of the second floor of Building 41.

The housing liaisons are often out in the community meeting and counseling landlords, visiting and photographing housing, or showing a place to a prospective renter. In fact, it can be difficult to find all three women in the same place at the same time. But they always manage to communicate and work together.

"We make a great team," said Hayes. "We really love working with each other, the people at SLAC and the community."

Part of what makes the trio so valuable is the time the three spends in the community. Many lessors in the area rent to SLAC employees and visitors on a regular basis. Others are first-time landlords who are referred to the housing team. And according to Hayes, when several people are battling each other to secure an apartment, the landlord will often choose the SLAC renter based on the Housing Office's reputation.

"We spend a significant amount of time out in the community," said Hayes. "It's crucial to making the job work because it's difficult to recommend a place if you haven't been there yourself. So we're always out there looking for the best apartments."

Because the three spend time getting to know the landlords and their spaces, they are often able to find win-win situations for the prospective tenant along with the landlord. This is especially challenging when the renters have pets, smoke, or would prefer to have their children in a specific school district. In files filled with "Thank You" notes, one recent international visitor wrote, "Owing to you, my family could have very wonderful opportunities and memories in Palo Alto."

Aside from finding people places to live, Hayes, Campos and Mason try their best to make the housing office a home away from home for new arrivals. They encourage every new user, employee, intern, or summer student to visit the housing office when they first arrive. Awaiting every new arrival is a folder of information about the area and plenty of warm smiles. When asked what they like best about the job, each gives the same answer.

"It's the people. We all have a passion for helping people," said Campos.

"People end up coming back to SLAC often," said Hayes, who has worked in the office for 26 years. "So first we get to meet the young grad student who comes back as a postdoc. A few years later he or she returns as a physicist with a fiancÚ, then a spouse, and eventually children. It's wonderfully rewarding."

Ken Kingery, SLAC Today, September 5, 2007

Above image: Toni Campos, Ute Hayes, and Barbara Mason of the SLAC Housing Office.