The specter of being priced out of Mountain View is hanging over more than three dozen households near the Rex Manor neighborhood amid news that their new landlord intends to phase out tenants for a series of building upgrades later this year.
The residents at risk of displacement include hairdressers, teachers and public servants for whom the rising cost of living in Mountain View has been a longstanding concern. But other residents, including tech-industry workers pulling in six-figure salaries, say they are similarly afraid they won't be able afford local rental prices following the improvements.
The 38 homes in question are located in two separate townhouse complexes, Forest Glen and Granada Drive, where current rents run around $2,750 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, according to residents.
Both properties were acquired earlier this year by Prometheus Real Estate Group, a San Mateo-based property development and management company that has made extensive inroads into the lucrative Mountain View market.
After purchasing the sites, the company last month invited tenants to a wine-and-cheese social to discuss their plans at the downtown Madera Apartments, another Prometheus property. The choice of location was foreboding for some attendees -- a two-bedroom Madera rental can run about $5,000 a month.
At the meeting, company representatives reportedly informed the crowd they would gradually terminate leases to begin work on renovating the townhouses with the plan to eventually bring them up to market rent.
For many residents, this news was tantamount to an eviction notice, explained John Scarboro, a Granada tenant who also sits on the city's Environmental Planning Commission. Over recent weeks, many residents have come to believe they have little prospect of being able to afford their former apartments after they're renovated, he said.
One neighbor is convinced his family will be forced to go back to the Philippines; another neighbor who is currently unemployed is facing a crisis regarding what to do, Scarboro said.
The situation isn't too much better for Scarboro's own family, including his wife and two kids, aged 8 and 10. As an environmental engineer at the NASA Ames Research Center, he pulls in a good salary above $100,000 a year but so far he hasn't been able to find new housing in Mountain View that would meet his budget.
"Anywhere else this would be a tremendous amount of money, but here it's not too much," he said. "It's just not enough to stay in Mountain View."
Similar stories abound among the tenants. Brandon Jones, a Google software engineer, has lived at the Granada townhouses since 2011 with his wife and their 2 1/2-year-old toddler. Like other residents, Jones is facing the unsavory possibility that his family will have to move to distant Fremont or San Jose. He acknowledged that some other residents hold tech workers like him to blame for the larger trend of rental increases even though the problem, he says, is mutual.
"I'm the iconic tech worker making six figures, making everything more expensive in the area, but even I can't live in this area," Jones said. "It's a running joke among Google employees how bad housing is. Nobody can afford to live near the company."
Numerous residents say they expect their townhouses to fetch rents around $4,000 a month, which is slightly above the average price in Mountain View for a three-bedroom townhouse. Like other Peninsula landlords, Prometheus sets a baseline criteria for tenants to prove they earn more than three times the monthly rent. With that requirement, a household would have to earn more than $144,000 annually to be eligible to rent a $4,000-per-month unit, Scarboro pointed out.
Exact plans for the Granada and Forest Glen units are still being worked out. Jon Moss, Prometheus executive vice president, explained that his company was committed to good stewardship of its properties over a long term, rather than flipping sites for a quick buck. His company had no plans to start renovations for a year, and until that time current tenants could continue living in their units on a month-to-month basis, he said.
Moss detailed a slate of fix-ups needed by the 40-year-old townhouses, including roof repairs, termite fumigation, dry-rot removal and asbestos removal as well as new fixtures. He could not say what rental prices would run when the units are put back on the market.
"It's so far out that it's hard for us to guesstimate," Moss said. "I do sympathize and understand the affordability issues. The market is tight right now in terms of availability."
Prometheus has been active in the Mountain View real estate market for about 40 years, and today the company has grown into one of the major players in the local residential and commercial rental market. The company is currently involved in multiple projects to develop new housing in town, including a 184-unit apartment complex at 100 Moffett Blvd., and a 66-unit building at 1616 El Camino Real.
Prometheus could be responsible to pay some of its displaced tenants a housing relocation fee under Mountain View housing policies, depending on whether the household earns less than 80 percent of the area's median income. For a four-person family, that amount would be $75,500 per year. Any household that meets that criteria would be entitled to three months of rent for a similar-sized rental unit, as well as an additional $3,000 concession for displaced children, seniors, or disabled persons. If applicable, Prometheus would be required to cover those costs, said Linda Lauzze, Mountain View neighborhood services manager.
Residents at Forest Glen and Granada say they don't begrudge Prometheus seeking to make money, but they are frustrated that the company intends to push out longstanding renters with limited options elsewhere in town. Mountain View currently has no available below-market-rate housing, although more than 200 people have signed up for a city waiting list for any new openings.
Tenants would stomach a rent increase, but they don't want to lose their homes, said Emily White, a social worker residing at Forest Glen.
"(Prometheus) has so much business in Mountain View, and they're expelling hard-working people who contribute to the community" she said. "If they were good global citizens, they wouldn't kick us out."