News

Renters pour out woes at housing event

Bottom line, more housing needed to meet huge demand

In an event at the Adobe building Monday night, Mountain View residents spoke about their struggles to find housing and afford rising rents before an expert provided some perspective on the recurring housing shortage in the area.

Egon Terplan of SPUR, a San Jose- and San Francisco-based urban planning think tank, was invited by a coalition of groups concerned with Mountain View's housing crisis. "He is not parachuting in from San Francisco to tell us what to do and how to think," said Adina Levin of Friends of Caltrain, one of the sponsors.

Other sponsors included the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, Peninsula Interfaith Action and the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View. Though focused on land use, the event was titled "The Google Bus / Mountain View connection -- Housing Affordability and Transit."

In a city where just over 60 percent of residents are renters facing continual rent increases, emotions at the meeting ran high.

Wendee Crofoot, a community activist and resident for 20 years, said her rent went up $100 recently. "I have a feeling it's going to go up by about $300. This is terrifying and I'm not sure where I'll go," she said.

"A lot of my friends and colleagues have been taken aback by this issue," said a younger Google employee named Jeremy, who says he shares his apartment with his Google-employed girlfriend. "It never occurred to me that people couldn't live near their work. I don't want Mountain View to become a place where only dual Google incomes can afford to live."

"I hope to raise a family here someday, but it is hard to put down roots when everything is so uncertain and there is all this office space increasing with no housing to back it up," he said.

In the next decade the city plans to authorize millions of square feet of new office space to house thousands of jobs, but zoning allows for only a few thousand homes.

A single mother named Anna said she's concerned that rent hikes will soon force her out of Mountain View after 15 years. She said she works every day and to pay higher rents, "I would need to look for another job but in reality I can't do that because I need to watch over my kids."

One of her children has special needs, she said. "She's really close to her school here, her teachers, her psychologist, and she's been talking to her about this issue. It would be really detrimental for her to start from scratch."

Marylin Signa, a resident of the Moffett mobile home park, said "We're starting to wonder is if this town is going to be a place for all people or just the most wealthy. We don't necessarily want to be downsized and stuffed into shoebox-sized housing either."

Why is it becoming so expensive?

As for why Mountain View is becoming so expensive, "the main answer is we don't build enough (housing), Terplan said, adding that it should be no surprise that prices are growing rapidly given the number of people wanting to move to Mountain View and the Bay Area. And it isn't because there is a lack of interest from developers. Terplan pointed the finger at regulations and restrictions. For example, he said people in San Francisco have become "experts" at restricting housing supply, with voters and residents often taking political action against housing development, and the city of 825,000 has never built more than 2,000 homes a year despite explosive tech job growth.

Terplan said the Bay Area saw a huge amount of housing development between 1950 and 1980. Projected to grow from 7 million to 9 million people by 2030, Terplan said the Bay Area is undergoing a transformation that hasn't been seen since World War II, after which housing was built as if the American Dream depended on it, and it did.

Terplan said that people in San Francisco still argue that increasing housing supply will not lower prices. "That's still a debate in San Francisco. People will get up and say, 'I'm not sure there's a relationship,'" he said.

Terplan presented a chart which shows that the most expensive communities in the U.S. added relatively little housing since 1990. The worst offenders were the metro areas of San Francisco, San Jose, Honolulu, Orange County, Oakland and New York, in that order. Those metro areas, regions that extend past city limits, saw fewer than 10 homes built every year per 1,000 existing homes, since 1990. And prices were the highest at more than $300 per square foot.

The places with the cheapest and most plentiful new housing built since 1990 are Las Vegas followed by Raleigh, North Carolina, then Atlanta and Phoenix, in that order. Homes in those cities cost less than $150 per square foot and since 1990, those metro areas saw greater housing development: between 30 and 72 homes built per 1000 existing homes.

"No metro that builds a lot of housing is expensive," writes Jed Kolko, the chief economist at the real estate website Trulia, which originally posted the graph. He concludes that it will take many years of significant housing growth to change housing prices in the most expensive cities.

In recent years, some Bay Area cities have been better at meeting housing demand and Terplan pointed to Dublin -- called an "urban suburb" by its mayor -- and San Jose as examples of places allowing the most housing to be built.

There are also solutions on a smaller scale. In San Francisco, there have been a few developments that have attempted to make housing more affordable by leaving out parking and creating smaller units with shared living room areas to reduce construction costs in a city where they are eye-popping -- $469,000 to build an 800-square-foot unit in a 100-unit building, Terplan said.

Rent control

After Terplan's talk, the merits of rent control were raised by resident Edie Keating.

"That balance is not going to be restored right away," she said of the area's housing shortage. "The problem isn't which city you fall in love with. It's that you think you can afford a place, then the rents go up and you can't afford it. I see rent control as providing that stability."

She said she didn't know why anyone would oppose rent control under the 1996 Costa Hawkins Act, a state law which has sharply weakened rent control laws by allowing landlords -- through "vacancy decontrol" -- to raise rents as high as they'd like when tenants move out. "Especially with vacancy decontrol, I don't see the problem," Keating said.

The Costa Hawkins Act also makes all housing units built after February 1, 1995 exempt from rent control. She said the law needed to be reformed.

Terplan said there were no well organized groups working to expand renters rights on the state level.

"The coalitions that care most about rent control, they want to preserve what they have without (changing) any of it," Terplan said. "A new coalition needs to be formed among cities willing to go to Sacramento."

City's new housing

As emotions ran high at the meeting, City Council member Ronit Bryant nearly lost her temper at one point. She was starting to tell attendees how they could be involved in developing three "precise plans" -- road maps for development along El Camino Real, in and around San Antonio shopping center and the North Bayshore area north of Highway 101. North Bayshore is the only precise plan area where new residential zoning is not proposed, as Bryant and three other council members voted against it in 2012.

"Why no housing in North Bayshore?" shouted Doug Delong of Advocates for Affordable Housing as Bryant began speaking.

"I'll be really, really happy to talk about it some more," said Bryant, raising her voice for a few seconds. "I am really, really tired, quite frankly, I don't usually let my temper get away from me, but to think that the 1,100 units that the businesses in North Bayshore and the city were interested in putting in North Bayshore -- that that would have resolved the problems of the Bay Area, really makes absolutely no sense."

"We are putting a lot of housing on El Camino Real," Bryant said. "We have hundreds of units coming in on El Camino."

Earlier in the meeting, Terplan pointed out that the city saw only 37 new homes actually built in 2013, though that doesn't capture the full picture. According to a chart the Voice received from Mountain View planning director Randy Tsuda, Mountain View has approved more than 2,300 housing units since 2009, while about 600 of those units have been part of projects that have been abandoned by developers. This year the city also identified areas where zoning could allow 2,926 more homes to be built by 2023.

It still appears that the approved housing stock will be far less than what is needed to accommodate the city's explosive development of office buildings over 6 million square feet is either being built, proposed or expected to be developed under new zoning -- potentially bringing over 35,000 jobs to Mountain View by 2030. Mountain View had about 35,000 homes in 2009 and now has nearly 70,000 jobs.

At one point, candidates for City Council were asked to stand, and Greg Unangst, Lisa Matichak, Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg, Jim Neal and Margaret Capriles all stood up. Someone demanded that each one say whether they supported rent control, but none of the candidates stated a position.

Resident Patrick Moore urged people to attend City Council meetings and and counter the opposition to housing projects that is commonplace. As Terplan noted, opponents usually have similar concerns in all Bay Area cities: traffic and parking impacts, fears about lowered property values, a desire to preserve the character of the neighborhood and fears about inviting gentrification to the neighborhood. Terplan said housing projects are regularly being trimmed back all over the Bay Area to please such residents, and the small losses add up.

"I have never seen a room filled as much as this with speakers advocating higher-density housing," Moore said of what he'd observed in City Council meetings. When housing projects are scaled back in Mountain View "it's a case of five units here, 10 units there. Pretty soon you are talking about real numbers."

Resident Konrad Sosnow suggested that the city identify how much housing it could reasonably build and not allow office growth that creates a jobs-housing ratio of more than two jobs to every home, which is about what the city has now. He acknowledged that a compromise could be made with residents who wanted the ratio closer to 1:1. Terplan cautioned against a moratorium on office development, saying it could "backfire."

A woman whose comments received a lot of applause said her family of five was facing eviction. Speaking through a translator, she said she could not find a new two-bedroom apartment in Mountain View because landlords were requiring that she prove that her family earned three times their rent per month, equal to about $6,000 a month for her, she said. "Why do I have to prove to the landlord that I can pay $6,000 when I know I can pay my rent?" she asked. "It is unfair."

She said landlords were now evicting households who have to squeeze more than two people in a bedroom. "I know it is the law that there can only be two people per room but they didn't enforce it before. Now they are trying to suffocate us," she said.

"For me it was surprising to read in the newspaper about a family that worked at Google actually complaining about the rents," she said, referring to a recent story in the Voice. "Can you imagine then how we live? We don't live, we survive, every day."

"I don't know what we are going to do," she said. "What is happening here is inhumane."

She added that she could not comprehend how her family is being pushed out of the city but will then be asked to come back to clean homes and do the gardening and cooking for those who are able to stay.

She thanked the white people who came to the event, and congratulated the Google employee who spoke, saying it was evidence that he had "a big heart."

"Often when our community speaks up we are not heard," she said. "Together with your voice we can actually make an impact."

Comments

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Posted by Mark Ciotola
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Perhaps it is time to start considering building houses under the bay. There is lots of space there. BART has a underwater tunnel. Perhaps if there were enough housing "tunnels", some sort of economy of scale would kick in to reduce the construction cost.

Or perhaps there should be housing built above all new office buildings, enough for the people who work there. 4 stories of offices, 4 of housing, or whatever the correct proportion should be. I would've in one of those. I hate long commutes.


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Posted by @Mark
a resident of Bailey Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm

That won't work because the average depth of the bay south of the san mateo bridge is less than 3 feet.


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Posted by No Rent Control
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I just love how the very first description from the CalTrain apologist was "... [Egon Terplan] is not parachuting in from San Francisco to tell us what to do and how to think".

Then, right on queue, Egon Terplan starts singing the praises of Rent Control!

You cannot make this stuff up!

I also found it very funny (in a sad sort of way) that Ronit Bryant was getting mad as she was tried to convince people that hundreds of new units were better for Mountain View than thousands of new units.

This just in 1000 > 100! You could say 1000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100. But if you don't get this, then you probably have trouble paying high rents too.


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Posted by Konrad M. sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Affordable Housing Alternatives

1. Build More Market Rate Housing

Pro: Profit motive will induce developers to build more units.
Con: High cost of land and construction in Mountain View and the high paid, hi tech, workforce motivates developers to build luxury apartments (Madera)

2. Build More Below Market Rate Housing (BMR)
Pro: Provides rental units at prices that the median income wage earner can afford.
Con: Currently, around 3.3% of new units must be Below Market Rate. That means that, per the General Plan, approximately 250 BMR units can be built.

3. Increase Below Market Rate Housing (BMR) Percentage to 30%
Pro: San Francisco is looking at raising the percentage to 30%. Has potential to dramatically increase number of BMR housing units.
Con: Increasing BMR % will reduce developer and land owner profits and thus deter new construction.

4. Build Subsidized Housing
Pro: Provides rental units at prices that the lower income wage earner can afford.
Con: Who will pay for it -Taxpayers? If developers are compelled to pay for subsidized housing, it will deter new residential development.

5. Rent Control
Pro: Stabilizes rental prices by eliminating large cost increases. Increases are tied to inflation.
Con: Deters landlord from improving property as they cannot recover cost of improvements.
Some landlords cut back on normal maintenance as they feel tenants cannot afford to move.

6. Improve Transportation so Workers have Reasonable Commute
Pro: Workers can live wherever they wish based on housing costs and social activities of their chosen location. They then can commute to work for whomever and wherever they choose to work. They can change jobs, which happens frequently, without moving.
Con: Building a workable regional transpiration system requires cooperation of the many bay area governments, time, and lots of money.


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Posted by PH
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 3:14 pm

The people who are having trouble paying these higher rental costs are also, many times, in jobs that don't have really good benefits and pay increases. Their cost of living is going up faster than their income. Look at the price of gas and groceries, not to mention medical costs, and it becomes clear that the average workers are being pushed to the point where they don't have many choices as to what they can afford. Those with lots of money don't want to put it back into the economy as they are afraid to lose more on investments. The banking industry is back to the same old tricks as is the real estate industry. The greed is killing our economy. I would think that those in the less than the affluent class are the ones that need to have their economic status improved. If they have more money in their pockets it would probably involve more spending by the average person which would help the economy. There are many more average income people than there are rich ones and it just seems to make sense to give them more economic advantage. Lower housing costs would help to make the economy better for everyone.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 23, 2014 at 3:36 pm

I work my butt off and I am still living paycheck to paycheck. The cost of food, gas, medical and rent is just about pushing me under. Unless a household has two incomes, there is just no way to make it here in Mt. View.


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Posted by myob
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Rent control is a bad idea. It does indeed help people who are locked into a rent price to avoid rent increases, but the cost that you pay for this is that new renters see prices being that much higher, to offset losses on rent controlled tenants. It creates a tendency for landlords to neglect repairs (since costs can't be passed on), and it causes people not to move, leading to the aging of neighborhoods.

The inflation adjustment doesn't help landlords since it's typically based on CPI, which understates price inflation, and the cost of house maintenance is not much related to inflation. The city recently required sprinklers to be installed for new construction and remodels, for example, and rent control or not, the landlord has to do that.

Build more housing. Build tons of housing in north bayshore to ease commutes across the Shoreline, Rengstorff and San Antonio choke points to Google, Intuit, and such.


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Posted by Rich
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Houses are expensive here not because we don't build enough of them, although increasing the supply might help a tiny amount. The problem is LAND. There isn't all that much left to build housing on, and, as Will Rogers said "They're not making any more of it". When any asset is scarce and demand is high, the price will rise. Develop-able land in and near MV is relatively scarce, so it's going to be expensive for someone to buy it. If a developer pays millions for the land, how cheap do you expect the houses to be?

I do think that Mr Terplan is confusing causation with correlation with regard to his assertion that it's the cities that build lots of houses where housing is relatively cheap and available. Housing in the cities he cites ("San Francisco, San Jose, Honolulu, Orange County, Oakland and New York") are expensive mostly because of the scarcity of available land in those places. The ones he cites as places where housing is cheaper and more plentiful ("Las Vegas followed by Raleigh, North Carolina, then Atlanta and Phoenix") also have LOTS of available land to build on. (And they're in Right to Work states which also makes housing cheaper by not requiring union labor for construction.)

I've lived in the SC Valley for 45 years. Despite the ups and downs in the economy, this place has always had one of the most vibrant economies in the country. And it has ALWAYS been amongst the most expensive locations in the US. We're talking almost half a century here; this is not a new problem, we're just at a new level, and have new people noticing. As long as the Valley and MV economy stays a healthy job creating engine, things will always be out of whack when it comes to housing prices and availability. In my lifetime, it was always thus, and thus it shall likely remain. However, if someone can find a way to make some more land, then maybe you've got the start of a solution.


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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Sorry in advance about the wall of text you're about to be pummeled with.

Everywhere in the discussion is "# of new homes per 1000 existing homes" but nowhere in the discussion is "amount of new commercial sq footage per 1M existing square footage." It's bizarre to have a conversation where there is no metric for perspective on commercial development.

Let's go back to the data we know: 5.5M sq ft of commercial coming on by 2017.

Now, Let's do some back of the envelope calcuations. (some fudgy, rounded numbers but are accurate enough)

In Mountain View ...
* Where the average sq footage of "homes" = 1600 sq ft
* Where existing residents = ~77,000 people
* Where the average # of occupants of a "household" = 2.3
* Where # of residences = ~33,500 (77,000 / 2.3)
* Where the average sq footage per worker = 170 sq ft.
* Where existing commercial real estate (office, industrial, warehouse, R&D) = ~20,000,000 sq ft
* Where existing workers = ~40,000
* Where % of workers also live in city = 27%
* Where vacancy rates are ~3% (at best) for anything
* Where median per capita household income = ~$90,000
* Where minimum rent for a new "household" apartment or house (2+2 unit) = ~$2,300 / mo
* Where median cost of a single-family family home (2+2 or slightly above) = ~$800,000

Conclusions:

1. Housing would need to be ~$400,000 to be affordable for the median household.
($90,000 AGI, $20,000 down, 36% debt to income, 4% interest on 30-yr fixed).

2. IIRC the de facto standard rental formula is 3 times rent to qualify. A household at $90,000 can meet this, but there's a severe shortage of quality housing at the $2,300 price point.
(90,000 AGI / (2,300 / mo rent * 12 mos))

3. By 2018, this city will expand the daytime working population by around ~32,000 people to a total of 72,000.
(40,000 existing + (5,500,000 sq ft of space / 170 sq ft per worker))

4. By 2018, we will have ~39,000 additional cars on the road.
((70% solo car commuters of (27% MV residents of 40,000 existing workers)) + (32,000 new workers)) = 39,200 add'l cars


I could model out what prices will be like by 2018, without any policy intervention, but I think we all intuitively have some idea. Nightmare for most, gold rush for some.



Miscellaneous:

1. Bryant's remark about the "1,100 units" in North Bayshore that wouldn't have "resolved the problems of the Bay Area" ... is at the very least kicking the can down the alley to the other cities. If you're not part of the solution -- Mountain View City Council I'm looking at you -- you're part of the problem.

2. The injection of large amounts of commercial space into the market has provably stabilized rates in a short period of time (less than a decade, despite massive growth). Look at the commercial rates over the past 10 years including new supply, the data is there. Yet the council and opponents of residential development seem to argue that residential prices and rental rates would not stabilize in a short period of time, and imply that people should look elsewhere. It's a vicious double standard. Companies get the supply to get the prices & space they need, but residents do not. All this will do is close off housing to the wealthiest people and foreign investors.

3. When a VC like Vinod Khosla (of Sun Microsystems, and "get off my beach" fame) is saying that the residential market in the Bay Area is screwed, you know there is something to this.

4. Question: What's your definition of "crisis"?

5. I have this fantasy scene in my mind: a conference room at a mountain resort ... cigar smoke, pinstripe suits, monocles ... the members of all the Bay Area city councils getting together ... wracked with deep concern and commitment on how to best serve all people, of all economic classes and their long term happiness and security. I said it was a fantasy...

6. I love the defense of Mountain View's current development bias by anonymous people. e.g. "Hmm" is both taking a stab at immigrants, and telling everyone what we "must get used to" but is too afraid to use his/her real name. Very telling.

This is my real name, these are my views, and they can be yours too (but not you anonymous cowards).


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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 23, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Minor correction on the above: I meant total cars on the road, not "additional cars"

These are some crude calculations but they are useful as a guide for a more substantive discussion. I welcome feedback and corrections.


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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 23, 2014 at 6:20 pm

@Konrad

On point #3, we have to compare profits as a relative to opportunities in other markets, incl outside the Bay Area. The Bay Area even if BMR percentage was 30% is still a great investment compared to a lot of other options around the country.

Also we have to look at higher density housing as a reality to match the fact that companies are shrinking the sq footage per employee every year.

I would like to hear your pro/con on higher density housing.

The pro is that there are less workers commuting in/out of the city so it should take cars off the road. Also another pro is that you're keeping the money employees earn inside the city. If they live here, they will spend more of it here instead of it being spent somewhere else.

I realize that with Google-sized paychecks, that's an argument for luxury apartments, but something in the pipeline to grow housing is still better than nothing.


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Posted by Waldo
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Waldo is a registered user.

Rent control is a disincentive for new housing development, and ultimately leads to a lack of new housing...and proportionately higher rents. Case in point: San Francisco.


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Posted by Aa
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 23, 2014 at 10:28 pm

It is just a matter of convenience, if someone does not work in the bay area and can not afford to rent in bay area. Why spending money on high cost of living. People just do not want to live in their means and/or move out of town. If they are talking about rent control, they need to consider the landlords who paid high price of the properties, paying high mortgage, and high taxes just supporting the local schools. Therefore, if the tenants want good public schools, then share their part. Rent control will not solve any problem, just make schools poor like San Francisco.


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Posted by doesitmatter
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 10:56 pm

The Google employee was merely there to see the average common people. May be he was there to make a movie and make some more money at other people's misery. Google is the main reason why Mountain View has become extraordinarily expensive because Google has multi billion dollar war chest and they can afford to pay $5K or even $10K for a one bedroom and have their employees work long hours and reap the benefits. Building another 10000 homes or apartments is not going to solve this problem because the demand is way way too high. There are people with tons and tons of money who are willing to shell out any amount of money to live here because Mountain view is a good central location to go to San Jose or San Francisco. For average people like me, it is only matter of time that we are forced out to distant places. I don't have any respect for people who choose to have tons and tons of children irrespective of their financial situation and then they complain they are a family of 5 family of 15. Lots of these people with many kids are making money under the table and claim welfare, free medical for their kids and their families and use planned parenthood,food stamps,etc...it is really disgusting how people have absolutely no ethics.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm

We are zoning crazy, we have 3 types of zoning, residential, commercial and industrial/office, for years we followed this kind of planning. The problem is most cities or counties have not kept up on the residential, with greenbelts and open space protections which block most residential development. While industrial/office and commercial kept growing, kept adding jobs, not just in Mountain View but East Bay, Dublin and San Francisco.



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Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Many comments on this subject -- and specifically what I've seen of this "SPUR" presentation from San Francisco -- thoroughly ignore the longer local history of this issue. "Rich" above is among the few exceptions.

High prices and rentals didn't start with this economic boom, or with the dot-com boom 15 years ago, they started when "silicon valley" business seriously took shape around 1970. Until then, pleasant modest houses in nice neighborhoods around MV and Palo Alto sold for the equivalent in today's dollars of $150,000 or $200,000 -- as they still do, elsewhere in the US where land is cheap.

That changed as Fairchild, National, Signetics, Intel, AMD, Hewlett-Packard, Amdahl, Zilog, etc. etc. etc. took off. Within a decade of 1970, housing prices had increased several-fold, sooner and faster in some towns than others.

Also, the SPUR talk implied that supply is somehow the _main_ factor in housing costs during boom periods. That's absurd, as everyone remembers who lived through the dot-com days here (when some rents shot up in a few years -- as people poured out the exact same "woes" of unaffordability -- then rents collapsed again, after 2000). Either the "SPUR" people know this (and are suppressing it), or they don't know it (and are therefore incompetent to speak on the subject); in either case, regardless of how much building might be enough to eventually affect prices, building happens on a far slower time scale than the shifts of demand.


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Posted by Hmm
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm

@Carlson, thanks for proving my point. We are going to be the next palo alto/los altos. No matter how much we build. The new buildings are more costly than ever.

But you are missing a big point, most households have 2 or more incomes, which makes it a lot easier for some to buy these luxury new houses. The need to keep up with the Jones of the world.

This is MT. View, if we have higher density we will not have a view of anything other than the shadows that the tall buildings cast.

So you better get use to it, since this area is limited in space, it will be expensive.


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Posted by LoveYourDNA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Don't kill me, but I have a one bedroom in a small complex near downtown with a backyard for $900. The owner is in his mid-90's and still has old-school values about fair rents. How much longer that will last is anyone's guess. I know the developer vultures are circling the property on the regular and who would blame the daughter for selling after her parent's pass? I really wish Google, etc. would go help Detroit or something.


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Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 24, 2014 at 4:46 pm

@Dylan Carlson,

Higher Density Housing

Pro: Reduces housing unit cost as land is by far the largest cost component of housing.

Con: Majority of Mountain View workers, such as me, work outside of Mountain View. Because people change jobs often, no reason to believe that it will not remain that way in the long run.

Tall, high-density apartments can be found in New York, Taipei, Shanghai, etc. Schools, parks, libraries, and other public facilities are crowded. Taxes go up to support the additional population. Certainly not the high quality of life that we are used to in Mountain View.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 5:50 pm

How many of you travel outside of the high rise zone, yes people do travel to New York City and only remember Wall Street and Time Square. New York City is just not the island, and not even the island if full of crazy tall buildings.

We don't even have the same conditions how New York grew, the same infrastructure but yet we got the same roller coaster up swing in prices. The Bay Area shares that list of most expensive places. People from London England are taken aback out are rents. Mountain View is like up there with London.

Idea about building a area with high rises, buildings taller then 8 stories and more then just a few.

Large area is needed, transit infrastructure and when i mean by this, more then one mode of transit. Bus, BART, Rail and other.

Ownership housing over rentals, yes have apartments are great but ownership will give people a feeling of home. Recreation, parks and open space must be with easy reach and not everybody idea of recreation is the same.

Schools and senior centers, very important to maintain services for both, people have children or get old, plain simple fact.

Businesses, people shop, people buy but people also want to go out to eat, play and be social. Life is not work, home and commute.

Mixed housing, very important, small to large units, different heights, yard, no yard, green space can be shared or not. Well kept and maintained is very important.

I understand the chance of this kind of project won't be built in Mountain View but outlaying areas which will work best or large office parks within 101, 237 and 880. South Valley, Sunol, Tracy, North Bay, Warm Springs, and along the H.S.R. route.


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Posted by TransplantedBuckeye
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 24, 2014 at 9:00 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines recommend that one should not spend more than 30% of total household income for housing. Any landlord who does not have "slum" as a prefix to their name will use this guideline. As an Ohio landlord for 24 years, I wanted to provide housing, not hardship, for families. Yes, I did have to turn down prospective tenants because of this HUD guideline. Spending more than one-third of income on housing would likely mean tenants would have little disposable income left for food, transportation, healthcare and life's emergencies. It's not that you could pay $6,000, it's about how the rent of $2,000 will not burden your family. What's unfair about that? A law-abiding landlord will use this same application and screening process for every prospective tenant. Otherwise a landlord is subject to discrimination claims. The only legal way a landlord can discriminate is by a prospective tenant's ability to pay the rent.

Rent control does not increase the amount of available housing; it does the opposite. The privileged, initial tenants are unfairly advantaged in the housing market, while landlords lose out and prospective renters are shut out. Everyone deserves safe and habitable housing. Meanwhile, the housing market works by supply and demand.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Is this right: growth is both inevitable and good?
It seems that these cities have limited housing growth because there is little or no land left that isn't occupied. Something must go to make space. To increase housing, then say homes or apartments must be replaced with taller stacked homes with less land used for each. Or, homes must get smaller. What about allowing in-law units -- thousands can convert a garage and rent it out? In any case, it seems that things will be denser and rougher. However, there is less of a sense of neighborhood in many parts of MV compared to SF, Berkeley, and other dense cities. There is little ability for handicapped and old people to get around if they don't drive--there is little for most neighborhoods to enjoy daily life without a car for every task, now and with expected growth. This is not about just growth but the lack of a good city plan and a good plan to provide services and community for each neighborhood and to connect the neighborhoods at all times without the necessity of a car and the noise, danger, smog and asthma it causes.


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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 24, 2014 at 10:35 pm

@Konrad

For what it's worth, my experience: I've spent a fair amount of time in places like Hong Kong, Mumbai, etc. I lived in NYC for a number of years. Had a house in the countryside of New England. I have /some/ perspective on what it's like to live in different ways.

Mountain View will probably never be anything like Hong Kong ... but I've heard people point at Hong Kong as an undesirable outcome. Or that high density living is somehow automatically bad. I doubt those people have spent any significant time in Hong Kong to have such an opinion. In my experience, quality of life in HK is surprisingly good, and I've been all over the islands and mainland territory. It's a neat mix of old and new. Real estate in HK is very expensive despite its vertical nature. Like MV, it is a land-constrained place. It's challenging keeping up with the residential demand. But there is supply, and unlike MV they are actively working on bringing more residential supply on, and on infrastructure. It evolves. I think there's a lot of positives to learn from when looking into city-states like HK and Singapore.

When's the last time we did any infrastructure in MV worth talking about? I can't think of anything beyond extending Stevens Creek trail.

High density residential coupled with good infrastructure can be done, but with this city council it's evidently not happening. It seems like they're all for building hives of workers, but not interested in giving any of them a place to live. The city is treated like a revenue project first, instead of a urban planning project. What did we do with that revenue besides over compensate city employees? Please enlighten me.

Why a glut of offices instead of a balanced plan? Which path is more better depends on what timeline you look at. In the next 10-15 years, what they're doing makes financial sense. If you are looking at long-term sustainability, it doesn't make sense.

Mountain View was incorporated as an agricultural area, which then became a place where the employees of a handful of aerospace (etc) companies would raise their families, before the internet gold rush came along. The question is, do we want a boomtown, and the eventual demise of that (like a Flint, MI) or a diversified place to call home in the long term?

I lived in Folsom before Intel set up. Folsom was good for Intel and vice versa, and it never became a hub of a bunch of other companies, so it never became a problem, and presented a development opportunity for surrounding areas in Granite Bay, El Dorado Hills. Probably like Mountain View was in the 1950s. But it was and probably still is a good place to put down roots, despite the layoffs Intel has done in the last 7-8 years. Folsom isn't going to die if Intel leaves town, but if Google leaves Mountain View, that would be a disaster for us.

Perhaps most on the MV administration and tech workers (I'm a tech worker) feel like the market will have a solution for everything, because they are mostly Millennials who expect to settle somewhere else eventually. Most of the 20-somethings I know just don't think about it at all. I don't blame them, I probably wouldn't be bothered with it either if I was 20-something. But I'm in my 40s, I've been around the block and I see this going a bad way.

Because times do change. Auto industries (e.g. Flint, Michigan) give us some precedent. I was born in Michigan, and much of my family worked in the auto industry. Flint was the birthplace of GM, now it's a ghost town of abandoned houses, crime, and scrappers tearing the old factories down for the metals. Was a good place once. I have a feeling Silicon Valley will have its turn if it doesn't have some vision of sustainable growth which includes intervention on housing.

Mumbai, as another example: I have spent collectively a couple of years in this city in actual time over many trips. Had an apartment there. It's a city that has had little planning, is in the top 5 most densely populated cities in the world. Somehow life goes on anyway. You would expect traffic to be much worse than it is with so much greater density. (Note, it's still awful, just not apocalyptic as 12 million people commuting might conjure in your imagination.) Mumbai's real estate is almost as expensive as it is here, crappy apartments are expensive, and it's difficult to get to break-even on any nice retail space in Mumbai just to make the rent.

My experiences there tell me that things will sort itself out here one way or another. Jobs will anchor people even if they're miserable. For a while. But the lack of any sensible foresight or policy creates some big tradeoffs. If we're making things harder for retailers, workers, and possible future residents to create more office space -- just because that's where *today's* demand is coming from -- there is a big opportunity cost to that.

Unfortunately it's hard to unwind dumb planning decisions after it's all been built. I hope this city council stops taking easy money and makes some better decisions for the long term.


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Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Nobody has a god-given right to live in Mountain View. If it's too expensive for you then move. Welcome to East Palo Alto! Welcome Oakland!

We are in the midst of gold rush. Many moved here to strike gold - start-ups and IPOs. Most of them are renters. Most of them will fail. They made a bad choice to ditch their 3000 sqft mansion and come here. Frankly it's time for them to go back. Higher rents discourages such reckless career gamble.

Out of the 100,000 people going for Yukon Gold Rush, Jack London among them, only 4000 ever saw gold. Even far less of the 4000 actually made a profit.

When the gold rush is over rents will come down. We've seen this before. It is rather risky to build more rental units.


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Posted by hankB
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2014 at 7:36 am

so...build, build, build...rent control, no rent control...numbers and facts from statistician Dylan somebody...modern "Gold Rush"...all this is nothing new and the shortsighted views displayed have presented nothing for the future of Mountain View...the long term...Greed has a firm grip on the area and won't let go anytime soon...but as "history repeats itself"...more frequently in the recent past...more questions,theories and finger-pointing will abound...and nothing has been mentioned about WATER...you know, one of the most essential elements of survival...California has historically weathered cyclical droughts...not uncommon to our region...but now the problem is exacerbated by way too many people...and when all the Greed has sucked up the areas resources..human and otherwise...it will move on to another feeding ground...good luck...


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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 25, 2014 at 9:31 am

@m2grs:

Companies don't have a god-given right to be given maximum priority either. You seem to be unable to realize your own mental disconnect here. One one hand, you think it's okay for commercial interests to be given special consideration to increase supply to stabilize those rates. As we have seen. Commercial rates have come down with more supply. Wow, amazing. On the other hand, you don't feel it's okay for the same to be done for residential (i.e. people and their sense of entitlement to a cost of living that is reasonable)

So what is your deal, exactly? You don't even live in Mountain View, but you have strong opinions about what should happen to Mountain View. Moreover, I don't know if your posts are motivated out of some schadenfreude or some personal outlook that business interests trump everything.

Please give me a reason to not disregard everything else you write as astroturfing. Because if it walks like a duck, etc, et al.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2014 at 9:58 am

I agree about the downturn in the tech, but that is just the problem. The problem being that every bust has lead to a boom, another gold rush on.

Yes lots of people have failed, those people who have failed either have moved on, found other employment or just careers. Then a boom comes along, the next group seeking gold comes along, rents will rise, the housing market will get tighter.

Gas prices will jump also.

Guess what we will be sitting here commenting on the same issues. 10, 15 years down the road,


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Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Mountain View has 60% of residents as renters. This is a bad deal for the 40% of home owner residents. The 60% renters use up city resources without paying their taxes because of Prop 13. All the profit goes to landlords. The city does not see a dime of it.

I'm surprised that the 40% home owners have not risen up and tell the city it must stop encouraging more rental units. Enough is enough!

The city council must look after the interest of home owner residents. They are the ones that have made long-term commitment to the city.

Encouraging offices instead of high-density residential units is the right approach. It is what Mountain View should do, and do more of it - reduce the percentage of renter residents in Mountain View, while increasing predictable tax basis.

This is not the fault of renters. It is the fault of Prop 13.


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Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Rent control will triple our rents, at least.

There's why: My husband and I run a "Mom & Pop" business in which we also live. Our long time renters enjoy rents of about $1.00 per square foot, not counting the garages. We do this because we think of our tenants as family and treat them as we would like to be treated. It's an ultra nice place, too.

If we saw rent controls coming, we would have to catch up, and raise our rents drastically. This is because we never could later once rents are "controlled" and should either one of us ever have to give up our full time jobs that support the ultra low rents we have in place, we would be screwed for being so generous.

SO rent control in, our rents would have to triple, or more, all at once!


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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm

@m2grs

Your conclusions are mostly wrong. Based on actual census data, Mountain View has experienced a net decline of renters between 1990 and 2008 (from 62% to 58%).

Undoubtedly Prop 13 is one factor. But let's not ignore all the other factors.

Half of Silicon Valley's workers are immigrants (foreign born). So I don't know why there is an expectation for rental % to change when up to half of people are coming in on H1, L1 visas to join companies during a high growth period.

Most new joinees -- even if they're earning six figures -- need to rent for years before they can build up enough to buy. Mountain View is not giving these local, skilled, high wage people any reasonable opportunities to buy housing. Google might do what Mountain View won't and give their own employees housing, but that's an ugly scenario.

That problem has nothing to do Prop 13.

It wasn't long ago (less than 10 years ago IIRC) that office vacancy was north of 20% here and surrounding areas. Maybe the City has some punitive vacant property registration scheme to cash in on the inevitable decline of office occupancy.


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Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2014 at 7:09 pm

@Dylan Carlson,

Mountain View has no obligation to be the "rental city" of Silicon Valley. 60% of rental population is too high. My conclusion is not wrong at all. The mere utterance of "rental control" is a stern warning to all property owners. If the renters get even more political cloud the consequence can be very dire. Mountain View should work hard to reduce renters to less than 50% of its population.

Empty offices is not a problem because it does not cost the city anything. Renters, on the other hand, will cost the city. In downturns there will still be renters, albeit at lower rents. The cost to service the population won't be much lower. So from the operating cost point of view the city government would rather see empty offices than occupied rental units.

The vision of Mountain View should be the Manhattan of Silicon Valley. Central location. High-end jobs, premium offices, premium houses, schools, hospitals, etc. and premium rental units. Crowded? Yes. Traffic? Yes. Everything has a price.

If you can't afford it, or don't like it, there are plenty of other places you can go.




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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 25, 2014 at 8:45 pm

@m2grs

Now you're just trolling. Anyway, your views continue to be invalid because (a) you don't live here (b) your opinions don't matter, especially since you don't use your name (c) even if they did matter, they don't make any sense.

Finally. Don't tell me to get out of the community I've lived in, and contributed to for a decade.

Moreover, as far as your opinions on Manhattan, I doubt you've lived in New York City (I have, Upper West) so that makes you wrong about that too. Here I'll help you: Manhattan has three times the land area of Mountain View, and is surrounded by water, and has the world's two largest stock exchanges in it. MV is never going to be these things.

If anyone needs to go somewhere else, just to learn something, it's you. I don't know who you work for, what your angle is, I don't care. Whoever you are. Go annoy the people in whatever town you live in, or move to Mountain View if you want to have an opinion on what its future should be.


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Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2014 at 10:42 pm

@Dylan Carlson,

I'm so sorry to see you resort to character assassination instead of arguing for the merits of my opinion. Where I lived or am living does not matter. My writing clearly shows I know and care about Mountain View.

Maybe my analogy to Manhattan is a bit too ambitious. But the idea is very clear. Mountain View should promote a plan for sustainable growth into a high-end community, with a sustainable tax base for city budgets.

The city should stop issuing new permits for rentals, except very high-end ones, and encourage current rental units to upgrade to attract high-value renters. High quality offices, hotels and other commercial venues are good choices for new land uses.

BTW, my first job was at downtown Manhattan. I commuted from Brooklyn by R train. I rented a 60 sqft room for $65/m initially, and "upgraded" to a better room later for 200/m. Been there, done that.


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Posted by NickofTime
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 26, 2014 at 11:00 am

LoveYourDNA - Google going to Detroit is a splendid idea!
Mountain View? No more views! Traffic, crowding and costs are insane. I look forward to the day I can leave what use to be a very lovely place to live for more peaceful environs. Y'all can continue to trash the place.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2014 at 2:39 pm

The owner of the apartment building does pay property tax which is divided up as part of the rent. If the owner is a good landlord, he will keep his property up, knows how to rent his units to good tenants. The owner will hire out groundskeepers, painters and who over will keep property in good shape.

Why blame tenants on using city services, they work, they are customers, they work in your businesses, they also own businesses. Yes we do have low income tenants, they do take city services but homeowner also take the same city services.

Some of the new apartment buildings that have been built which have really good perks, gyms, pools, common space better then some city parks. In some cases why would want to buy a house when you have well kept up grounds without the work.

Of course we have crappy owners, they spend little or no money, they own buildings that just make money, shame on them. But if you don't build new rentals, you will have the same old owners which some are slumlords. Slumlord have it easy, they will always have renters, only problem is you will have waiting lists of people willing to spend money on a crappy unit in a crappy building.


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Posted by Rebecca Gorman
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm

I agree with Mark Ciotola that housing should be built above office buildings - enough to house the same number of people the office buildings create jobs for. This would help both housing affordability and transportation problems.

This is the way cities have been built for 99.9% of human history. Separating jobs and housing is a new phenomena, and obviously one that is not working in Mountain View.


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Posted by WATER - Drought
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 30, 2014 at 2:47 pm

With all the hoopla about droughts, you would think that all construction would stop. What will happen when the water does go dry? This will no longer be a gold mine, but a lonely town.

I've lived in NYC back in the early 70s and even back then it was like a sardine can, 1000s of people on one block of shaded streets, thanks to all the high rises there, one can't even see the horizon. Thank God we left, I would never live there again.

Get rid of all the additional taxes, such as property tax, sales tax, gas tax and just have one flat tax.


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Posted by Entitled
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Another article about people who believe they are entitled to live a place they can not afford. Move to a place where you can afford to live and start saving your money. I really have to scratch my head about these fools who can't put two and two together. Mountain View is not affordable for everyone so move on and stop with the sob stories, you will be better off for it. FYI, mountain view was very expensive 15 years ago, if I was a single mother I would consider making a move for the longterm so that I could actually save money instead of believing rents would not go up, at that time rents were going up, up, up. This is pure manipulation. What should we all do when people refuse to save themselves? Even moving and taking a cut in pay would serve most people well given the low cost of living in other areas, but it's easy to pity oneself and blame others for one's own lack of foresight.


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Posted by Entitled
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Rebecca,

A lot of people change jobs. Most don't stay at the same company anymore and why should they? So they can stay in the arms of father company? Your vision would require people to move every time they changed their jobs. People used to live over the shops they worked at or owned not at the factory. Elites lived in grand mansions away from work. It is a conflict of interest for people to pay their companies rent to live. That's what the minors used to do and the people who owned the mines then had more control over their workers.

The problem is precisely that there is no work center. If the jobs were concentrated in SF for example, people would pour in by train and all of Mt View would be residential. Inserting work into towns has created these dilemmas. Offices have been erected in non transportation hubs.


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Posted by Entitled
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Dylan- the Bay Area was expensive long before the first tech boom, it will remain expensive after. It's not comparable to crappy weather in the middle of the country Michigan. When you live here expect a lower standard of living housing wise. Maybe people should consider a place they can afford and make that community as nice as Mt View instead of clinging to a dream.


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Posted by Entitled
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Dylan- the Bay Area was expensive long before the first tech boom, it will remain expensive after. It's not comparable to crappy weather in the middle of the country Michigan. When you live here expect a lower standard of living housing wise. Maybe people should consider a place they can afford and make that community as nice as Mt View instead of clinging to a dream.


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Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:57 pm

You know nothing about me so stop acting as if you do. Moreover go bug your own community instead of proferring your useless trolling opinions here.

I've lived in California since the 1980s, and in Mountain View the last 10 of those. I want this place to be something better, and more equitable than the low bar out-of-towners like yourself have set for it.


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