Mountain View City Council backs plan to prevent renter displacement from redevelopment

Options include buying buildings, imposing 'no net loss' rule for new housing

The city of Mountain View is on pace to destroy 127 of its rent-controlled, mostly affordable apartments every year, threatening to push out low and middle-income families unable to pay the high cost of today's rent.

With many units already torn down and more than 1,000 still on the chopping block, Mountain View City Council members resolved Tuesday night to do whatever it takes to keep some of those displaced residents in the city, backing a suite of options ranging from affordable housing preferences to buying and managing apartment complexes as a public asset.

The Oct. 29 study session was a long time coming. Over the last year, the City Council has reluctantly approved multiple projects that involve demolishing apartment complexes to build rowhouses. Developers complied with all of the city's zoning requirements, giving the council few options for preventing the loss of older apartments.

"We're not just facing an affordable housing crisis with displacement as a footnote," said Councilwoman Alison Hicks. "I think displacement should be put front and center."

For every high-paying tech job being added in the area, there's an almost equal number of low and middle-income jobs as well, Hicks said. The city needs to be able to address the housing needs of those workers and not force them to move somewhere requiring a mega-commute.

Mountain View has about 20,000 rental units, about three-fourths of which are older and covered by the city's rent control law. Many of the ones that have been torn down -- or are on track to being demolished -- are smaller complexes averaging 32 units, according to a city staff report. In all 32 past and current redevelopment applications since 2012, the property was sold to a developer.

Council members unanimously agreed to explore a half-dozen ways to keep some of those residents in town, some of which would involve a major investment. Ideas put forth by the city's housing staff include buying apartment complexes that could be rehabilitated, redeveloped into affordable housing or simply "preserved" to house existing tenants. City staff estimate it would need to find subsidies on the order of $125,000 to $250,000 per unit to make such a program work.

The expensive proposition would give the city broad discretion over who to house, either temporarily or permanently, which could help keep the city's workforce from having to move out of the area, said Councilman John McAlister. The steep initial price notwithstanding, he said the city has control over the rental costs and can collect rental income to make sure it's sustainable over time.

Other suggestions called for a "no net loss" policy, meaning any proposal to tear down homes must include construction of at least the same number of new units. The city could also partner with landlords to establish a "reserve" of vacant rental units in Mountain View that could temporarily or even permanently house tenants who are displaced by new construction.

City staff confirmed Tuesday that cities also have broad discretion to give preference to displaced tenants applying to get into the limited affordable or below-market-rate housing being built in the city, which are typically subject to high demand and long waiting lists.

Some aspects of the displacement strategy remain murky, particularly with a whole new suite of recently approved statewide housing and renter protection bills. One bill in particular, SB 330, opens the door for Mountain View to impose so-called recontrol requirements on housing projects that tear down old rent-controlled units. City staff say that, at first glance, it appears the city can make the newly built units subject to the city's rent control law.

It's unclear whether tenants kicked out during construction could return to the newly built housing with the same monthly rent, or whether landlords can use it as an opportunity to reset the lease to market rate, said Wayne Chen, Mountain View's assistant community development director. The bill was signed into law only a few weeks ago, and city staff is still analyzing the intent.

"Everyone's just trying to figure out what it all means because it is so new," he said.

Whisman Station resident Bruce England, a member of the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, said his group strongly supports the city's approach to displacement, but that the council shouldn't lose sight of the root cause -- the dearth of housing being built in the Bay Area.

"What's needed is more housing," he said. "The displacement is something that needs to be addressed, but ultimately we need more housing."

Mitch Mankin, a representative for the housing advocacy group SV@Home, said stemming the tide of displacement is a complex and multifaceted issue that needs the full menu of ideas put forth by city staff in order to succeed. Giving tenants the first right to return to the apartment complex, for example, only works if they have a place to stay during construction.

"People don't have a place to go when their homes have been demolished. Prices are rising too fast," he said.

City staff expect to come back with a more formal displacement strategy for approval in the spring.

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25 people like this
Posted by Yimby #2
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2019 at 2:42 pm

Please make the financials for subsidized housing are clearly disclosed
* source of funds (Bonds, general fund, another tax)
* amount used to subsidize housing (per project and aggregate)
* disclose is a way that the average tax payer can find and understand
(means not tucking it away in a financial statement line item)
* How much would it cost each MV household to provide such subsidies?

Looks like City of MV *may* be providing different forms of housing.
* Below market housing for displaced people
* Parking areas for RVs
* Below market housing for school teacher and other employees

These costs should be disclosed before tax payers vote for these things.
Not like Measure V, where we only found out it was a $2.6 M program afterwards

21 people like this
Posted by Dan Waylonis
a resident of Jackson Park
on Oct 31, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Dan Waylonis is a registered user.

One way to encourage more housing is to decrease the regulatory burden (time, fees) required to create new units.

The best way to discourage more housing is to impose additional regulations, taxes, restrictions, requirements, etc.

Since it's pretty clear that the city has been doing the later for a decade, maybe it's time to look at the alternative.

11 people like this
Posted by So
a resident of Rex Manor
on Oct 31, 2019 at 3:01 pm

I'm confused about this sb330. With sb330, why would any developer want to rebuild an old apartment unit and re-rent it again at the same rent level? Is this just another incentive to tear down old apartment blocks and rebuild into more profitable million dollar townhomes?

8 people like this
Posted by Darin
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2019 at 3:22 pm

Darin is a registered user.

Re: "could help keep the city's workforce from having to move out of the area"

The only thing that can keep the city's workforce from having to move out of the area is more housing.

Otherwise, the government is just deciding that certain parts of the workforce are worthy of staying, at the expense of other parts of the workforce that will have to move out of the area instead.

14 people like this
Posted by Progressive
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 31, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Similarly, we should implement price controls on single home sales. People should not be able to sell their home for more than they bought it for. We need to put a stop to these outrageous price increases and capital gain windfalls for people moving out of the area to less expensive places.

26 people like this
Posted by nearby
a resident of Rex Manor
on Oct 31, 2019 at 4:26 pm

@ Progressive - it shows how worrisome your idea is that I cannot tell if you are seriously suggesting it or making a joke.

56 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 31, 2019 at 5:28 pm

If it is the intention of the residents of Mountain View, to provide low income housing to those low income people, then we need to vote on it and say how to pay for it. Everyone needs to share that cost.

What I strongly object to, and I am offended by, is the notion that private individuals who owned these properties are being told that they are solely required to subsidize people in their rents, and to never be allowed to exit the rental business when a property is 70 years old.

Example, It is like the city is telling that you can never have a new car. If you own a 50 year old car, you have to constantly pay to rebuild it and can never scrape it, because being green means you can not increase your carbon foot print by buying a new car every 5 years.

31 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 31, 2019 at 5:53 pm

San Francisco allows older apartment buildings, as individual units, to be sold as TIC, (tenants in common). I have 2 friends who purchased their first homes this way. It is the best and most affordable way for one to get into home ownership in our area.

I had emailed our council members earlier this year and asked why this is not happening here? I only received one reply back, from Council Member Kamei saying she will bring it up, but I never heard back from her.

6 people like this
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Oct 31, 2019 at 7:55 pm

My lamdlord is doing a "survey" about what tenants make. Is this part of a larger effort by local landlords to repeal rent control and for-cause eviction?

3 people like this
Posted by Wut?
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2019 at 9:27 pm

Castro elementary and Theuerkauf elementary are 65%+ low income schools; Crittenden middle is 56% low income.
Doesn’t look like low income families are misplaced.
I am not sure I understand.

3 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2019 at 1:32 pm

The Business Man is a registered user.

Why is the City Council claiming it is an option to enforce a "No-Net-Loss" when it is in fact state law.

It is in fact the state law that the city cannot approve any more housing projects given that they must replace the ones already approved to be removed.

I find it amazing that the city beleives that they are not subject to the state laws.

If they choose to remove affordable units and not replace them with an equal amount, the city will be subject to a major lawsuit. The state law is:

TITLE 7. Section 65863 found here (Web Link.)

On top of this there are 2 new laws that require inclusionary price controls. I have discussed this before. These will count for both home owners and rentals.

I still find it difficult to understand how much the City Council is in denial regarding what they are required to do under the laws?

4 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 10, 2019 at 1:49 am

Gary is a registered user.

On the Tuesday November 12th City Council agenda is a staff recommendation to place two measures on the March 3 ballot: (1) the landlords' "sneaky repeal" of rent control Measure V and (2) amendnents to Measure V to be proposed by the City Council for the benefit of landlords.

2 people like this
Posted by mvrenter
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 13, 2019 at 8:03 pm

mvrenter is a registered user.

Out-of-town landlords do not get a vote! If you don't live here, send your kids to school here, try to park your car here, you don't get a vote. If you don't like it, sell your property and stay out.

3 people like this
Posted by sfcanative
a resident of Whisman Station
on Dec 7, 2019 at 3:42 pm

sfcanative is a registered user.

"As for developers, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 (SB330) bans any demolition of affordable or rent-controlled units unless the developer replaces all such units, allows tenants to stay in their homes until 6 months before construction begins, provides relocation assistance to tenants, and offers tenants a first right of return at an affordable rent." --National Law Review

Gosh, I so regret dumping my MV multifamily units owned for 50 years, snatched up by a reputable developer for redevelopment as rowhouses. Rather than dumping the required $2.5M in electrical, plumbing and seismic upgrades to the '60s era housing, and waiting 25 years to recover the cost through CSFRA's incredibly generous approach to capital improvement pass-throughs /s/, the land now sits scraped and ready for new homes to be built.

Government meddling in the private sector has proven, yet again, a profound lack of understanding and vision which inevitably produces the opposite result 99% of the time.

Glad I got out before the barn door closed. Good luck MV landlords . . .

2 people like this
Posted by Out-of-town landlords
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Dec 7, 2019 at 6:38 pm

Out-of-town landlords is a registered user.

The city council has placed on the March 3 ballot amendments to rent control (Measure V) including allowing the city council to replace rent control board members with out-of-town landlords. Maybe we should replace city council members with out-of-town chimpanzees.The San Francisco Zoo has some smart chimps.

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