Mountain View Voice

News - December 13, 2013

Affordable housing more scarce than ever

Report shows county falling farther behind in housing for low-income residents

by Daniel DeBolt

On Dec. 5, one of Elena Pacheco's biggest fears came true she received an eviction notice for the California Street apartment where she has lived for 23 years.

"Basically I have to get out of my apartment in 60 days," said Pacheco, "I am a part-time teacher where are the houses in Mountain View that I can afford?" Pacheco said. "I taught for 20 years in schools, it's time for me to retire. I should be enjoying my part-time teaching and my work with the Dreamers (undocumented students), but instead I'm trying to find a decent place to live."

Besides teaching in local schools, Pacheco has long been a community leader and activist for local "Dreamers" immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children, but cannot obtain citizenship. According to her eviction notice, her landlord wants to move into her three-bedroom apartment, which she shares with housemates to defray rental costs.

Pacheco's situation is emblematic of a growing crisis in Santa Clara County for low-wage workers, say those involved in building subsidized housing.

Pacheco has held out hope she's been on a waiting list since 2007 that she might get a unit in a place like the apartment complex recently built at the corner of Evelyn and Franklin streets, which houses 51 low-income families. But so far, no luck. The demand for such homes is "just overwhelming," said Matt Franklin, president of MidPen Housing Corp., which manages nearly 1,000 affordable units in Mountain View.

"The waiting lists are so long," said Beth Fraker, communication director for MidPen. Applicants could be on a wait-list for "a minimum of three years and could be seven years for our family properties."

Making matters worse are state and federal budget cuts to affordable housing funds, along with the elimination of redevelopment agencies that were required to provide 20 percent of their tax revenue to affordable housing.

According to a recent report by the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, funds for subsidized low-income housing projects have dropped by 64 percent in Santa Clara County since 2008, down from $126.2 million available in 2008 to only $47.3 million a year. That is enough to subsidize only 313 homes throughout the county, far fewer than the 2,000 a year needed to meet new demands, according to goals set by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Franklin called on Google and other large employers to help fund subsidized housing, as explosive job growth has driven up the demand and cost of housing.

"We hear from the business community that they understand the problem," Franklin said. "For the last five years the lack of affordable housing in the area has been among their top three policy concerns. But we're not seeing investment from those corporations in the Silicon Valley Housing Trust at the level you would expect."

"If they put $10 million into (the Housing Trust's) fund they could help create another 500 units," Franklin added. "We just fundamentally have an under-supply of affordable units and we've got to do something about it."

Pacheco has noticed all the the new luxury apartments being built in Mountain View, like the "Carmel at the Village" on San Antonio Road and the Madera complex that opened this year at 455 West Evelyn Ave, where rents are as high as $8,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Developer Prometheus plans to build two other such complexes with similar rents, and several other developers also have luxury complexes in the works.

"They are building more for the rich community versus the poor community," Pacheco said.

Zwick said most people imagine job growth in Silicon Valley as for software programmers and engineers, but in reality, "for every high tech job that gets created, there's four other jobs created in the economy. The majority of jobs that are going to come are low-wage professions."

Job growth exacerbates the need for for affordable housing, Zwick said.

"The market does a really good job at providing housing for people at middle- and upper-income levels," Zwick said. "In order to get new housing available to people earning below $50,000 a year, which is a tremendous amount of households in the Valley, you need tools."

There is no single program that is going to solve the whole problem, but Zwick said there are a lot of individual things that can be done.

The Housing Trust report calls for cities to increase fees on development for affordable housing, to use surplus public property for housing, and to get state legislation passed that would allow cities to pass tax measures for affordable housing, among other things. The report notes the example of a recent survey commissioned by the city of Mountain View which showed that a majority of voters would pass such a tax measure, but that it would fail to garner the required two-thirds vote needed to pass it.

Franklin said low-wage workers who cannot afford the $2,467 average monthly rent in the county are essential to the future of the Valley but they are being driven out of Santa Clara County.

"We know what the impacts are. They are living in inadequate and unsafe and overcrowded housing, many families are doubled or tripled up, many are homeless, others are driving an hour to two hours from the East Bay, which clogs our roads or pollutes our environment. Folks still need to work, and they are doing their best, but it's not a sustainable dynamic."

Zwick said other cities should follow Mountain View's lead in raising "housing impact fees" on commercial development, which was done a year ago.

"If every city follows Mountain View's lead and passes a housing impact fee increase that would almost fill the whole need for affordable housing we identified," Zwick said.

But Franklin said the City Council should have gone even farther in raising the fee, as city staff had recommended, to $15 a square foot. Council members voted instead to increase it from $7.43 to $10 per square-foot, equal to $1 million for every 100,000 square feet of new commercial development.

Council members also refused to raise affordable housing fees on rental developments as high as recommended by city staff, going with $10 per square foot instead of the $21.94 recommended.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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