News

Split council walks away from affordable housing fee

On Tuesday the City Council had its most intense disagreement in recent memory when members split over whether to pursue a new affordable housing fee for developers.

Council members Ronit Bryant, Mike Kasperzak and Laura Macias found themselves the minority in a study session Tuesday on whether to come up with a new affordable housing fee after the city's old one was struck down in the Palmer vs. the City of Los Angeles court case.

City staff reported that without a new fee, nearly 1,000 apartment units to be considered by the city council next year may not provide any subsidized affordable housing.

A so-called "nexus study," required by the court case, found that the city could justify a fee of up to 11.4 percent of the project's assessed value to subsidize affordable housing. City staff recommended no more than 3 percent, however, citing concerns over developers' profits and having parity with the city's 3 percent affordable housing fee for ownership housing.

Opposing the new fee were council members Tom Means, John Inks, Jac Siegel and Margaret Abe-Koga, who instead favored exploring a voter-approved parcel tax for affordable housing. That threw into question whether the city would be able to receive any affordable housing at all from five apartment projects, totaling 960 units already in the city's planning pipeline.

The opposition to the fee from libertarians Inks and Means was no surprise, but opposition from Siegel and Abe-Koga apparently was.

"I'm just in shock," said council member Laura Macias after the meeting. "We are walking away from fees when we need revenue."

Council member Mike Kasperzak was fuming, and said after the meeting that "the poor" were the ones who lost out.

They had failed to sway Abe-Koga. "Housing is more and more unaffordable for the middle class. Aren't we taxing the wrong group?" she said, alluding to the sentiment that the fee would be passed on in the form of high rents for new apartments. The average rent in a Mountain View apartment complex has reached $1,793 a month, said Joshua Howard of the California Apartment Association.

But Macias pointed out that a parcel tax would be "regressive" in that the same tax would be paid by someone in a $300,000 condo as someone in a $1.5 million home in Waverly Park. Mayor Siegel suggested a tax of $5 a month. "I think we could sell that," he said.

Proponents of the development fee said it was justified because the growth in population requires public and private services, and those services are usually provided by people who cannot afford market rents.

"People want to live here in Mountain View and services are not free," Macias said.

Council member Bryant said that members were being "not modest" in giving up a relatively proven and widespread practice.

"Let's look at this fee which is basically what we had before, and move forward with that," Bryant said. "I think we're trying to reinvent the wheel in a way that will take more time than we have."

Kasperzak and Bryant said a parcel tax was unlikely to pass, and judging by what it takes to pass a school parcel tax, it would take "an amazing amount of work and an amazing amount of volunteers," Bryant said.

Kasperzak went as far as to claim that "anyone suggesting a parcel tax already knows the outcome and that's why they are suggesting it."

It was mentioned that a parcel tax to fund a new library failed twice.

"At least voters would decide if it is worth it" with a parcel tax, said council member Means, an economic professor at San Jose State University. He co-authored a study on such "inclusionary zoning" practices and concludes that housing is 8 percent cheaper in California cities that don't charge affordable housing fees to developers. He called the city's nexus study, and others like it which show why new development should bear the cost of affordable housing, "disingenuous and dishonest."

Abe-Koga defended her position several times. "I'm not saying let's kill this thing, lets get rid of it now," she said of the new housing fee. "I'm saying let's look at these other options too."

If the council approved the new fee, voters would see the parcel tax as unnecessary. "I don't think that's fair in giving the parcel tax a fair shot," she said. Abe-Koga didn't seem to share her colleagues' concern about the time it could take to pass such a tax.

"I don't want to kill this either but I'm not ready to approve it tonight," said Mayor Siegel, who reminded everyone that the city would be seeing substantial housing fees from new office development next year. He said the nexus study looked like a way to "skirt around the Palmer decision" or at least, "it smacks of that. I don't think it's fair."

After the council opinion became clear and the study session had run over an hour past schedule, City Manager Daniel Rich said city staff would look at polling residents on their interest in a parcel tax, among other options.

"If you're asking questions, you may as well ask on a whole set of revenue options," he said.

While adjourning the meeting, Mayor Siegel addressed tensions between council members, some of whom appeared to be at a turning point in their relations.

"It was a tough night for many of us," Siegel said. "I hope we can move on. I hope we don't hold grudges."

Correction: the print version of this story incorrectly reported that the city had previously required a 10 percent housing fee for new apartment developments. The city had required that 10 percent of the units be rented at 65 percent of the area median income.

Comments

Posted by Steve, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Subsidized housing is a cruel hoax. Through misplaced middle class guilt, we tax ourselves in order to supply a continuous stream of 'below market rate' employees. The rich get richer....


Posted by Another Steve, a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Nothing is free... If we don't provide BMR housing our taxes can go up to pay police, fire, teachers, etc enough to be able to afford to live in our City when they are young...If we don't facilitate that one way or another they work here, live elsewhere and can't contribute to our community outside of work OR can't get here quickly when called after a disaster...

You are correct we have a choice. I would choose to fund BMR housing, but a voted on parcel tax will fail. So our choices are a builder's fee (rents are increased) or a massive voter campaign to persuade those who don't care about above. I'll support council members who vote to do the job we elected them to do, not to put every hard question on the ballot.


Posted by Pete, a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm

"Nothingn is Free" is correct but the remainder of the statement that BMR is used to keep public safety and teachers in our community is INCORRECT.

Public safety only qualifies in their intial years right out of the academy. Teachers after 6 years no longer qualify. So how many of us purchased our first house in our 20s? The BMR is being expanded to include everyone and it was stated that people remain on section 8 vouchers for an average of 12 years. So let's not use persuasive emotional language out of context and devoid of facts.

I appreciate straight-up Council Members with integrity. Thank you for all that you do and for making the hard decisions.


Posted by George, a resident of Rex Manor
on Nov 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Hey, housing too expensive ? Friggen move to Lodi, Bodega Bay, anywhere else... Everyone need not own a house (or rent) in Mtn.
View. Jeeze, do we need more "poor" ones in town ???


Posted by Rodger, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Parcel taxes are terrible, the well off with expensive houses pay the same amount as someone who has a inexpensive home or condo. As a retired person I don't want new added taxes. I say no new parcel taxes and get rid of the ones we have.


Posted by Doug Pearson, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I see these choices: an affordable housing fee fee that is acceptable under the Palmer v. Los Angeles decision (I don't know what that is; maybe a fee of "up to 11.4% of the project's assessed value" consistent with the 'nexus' study, whatever that was), a tax, or reduced city income (i.e., neither fee nor tax).

I am strongly opposed to reducing the city's income. The city already is required, year after year, to find some new service to cut because, even in good times, it doesn't have enough income to pay for everything it needs to do. (For example, library services are below what they should be, strictly because of lack of money.)

Even though this fee/tax/whatever-is-decided is dedicated to affordable housing and that's the only thing that would be cut for lack of it, I still think we need to have a minimum amount of affordable housing in the city.

If we can't get affordable housing by requiring developers to pay an in lieu fee, we should require a portion of their development to be affordable.


Posted by Doug Pearson, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 3, 2011 at 5:53 pm

I see these choices: an affordable housing fee fee that is acceptable under the Palmer v. Los Angeles decision (I don't know what that is; maybe a fee of "up to 11.4% of the project's assessed value" consistent with the 'nexus' study, whatever that was), a tax, or reduced city income (i.e., neither fee nor tax).

I am strongly opposed to reducing the city's income. The city already is required, year after year, to find some new service to cut because, even in good times, it doesn't have enough income to pay for everything it needs to do. (For example, library services are below what they should be, strictly because of lack of money.)

Even though this fee/tax/whatever-is-decided is dedicated to affordable housing and that's the only thing that would be cut for lack of it, I still think we need to have a minimum amount of affordable housing in the city.

If we can't get affordable housing by requiring developers to pay an in lieu fee, we should require a portion of their development to be affordable.


Posted by Tired of Being Used, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm

I won't vote for a parcel tax increase when the city still has put in no plans to stop the abuse of people who get on the lists for affordable housing without ever having lived in Mtn. View before, or for that matter without ever having lived or worked in California before.

When immigrants from Europe no longer get on Section 8 lists before ever moving to the US and then somehow getting into Ginton Terrace before any low income Mtn.View residents can, then why would I give the city more money to create more affordable apartments?


Posted by good, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 3, 2011 at 10:17 pm

OK, I'll play devil's advocate here...
Why do we need subsidized/affordable housing in Mountain View? I have many coworkers that cannot afford a home in Mountain View and have obscene commutes that affect their quality of life... used to be me. If you hadn't noticed, there are quite a few commuters in this area, and many of them work in a where they can't afford the housing! What is considered affordable housing? There are hundreds of two-bedroom apartments available for under $1500/mo... a fair number under $1000/mo within a more reasonable commute than many that work in Mountain View. Why is it more important to spend money on subsidized housing to attract low-income residents than to provide services to existing residents?


Posted by Andrea Gemmet, Mountain View Voice Editor
on Nov 4, 2011 at 10:46 am

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

The following comments have been moved from a duplicate thread, which has now been closed:

City council rejects Socialism. There is hope.
by Patriot Nov 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I applaud council members Bryant, Kasperzak and Macias for wanting to build more housing that is affordable in Mountain View. We need affordable housing, especially apartments,if we want Mountain View to be a welcoming, diverse community in which young families, college students, senior citizens, new immigrants, restaurant workers, health care aides, retail employees and others earning lower wages can afford to live.
by Lori Abrahamsohn Nov 3, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Why two identical articles?
by why??? Nov 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm

The parcel tax idea is less fair than a direct fee to developers. Homeowners should not have to subsidize developers' profits through a parcel tax. Developers will assure themselves profit, fee or no fee. A fee to developers is the most fair to the community.
by Amanda Que Nov 4, 2011 at 7:59 am

ugh. not this cr@p again. If you want to tax a private business, tax them. But a parcel tax to fund BMR housing is no more subsidizing developer profit than a resident's donation to a food bank is subsidizing Safeway's profits. Why is it the developer's responsibility to ensure sufficient BMR housing exists in the community?
by insanity! Nov 4, 2011 at 8:50 am

Just because Simon Legree could supply affordable housing to his servants, should we supply affordable housing to our servant class?
by Tom Nov 4, 2011 at 9:20 am

Not everyone living in Mtn View has a large and glorious salary. Some of us get by on very modest incomes. Why should we be taxed to subsidize people choosing a lifestyle they cannot afford?
by Steve Nov 4, 2011 at 10:11 am


Posted by gcoladon, a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm

gcoladon is a registered user.

I lived somewhere affordable and commuted to my workplace until I saved enough money to move closer to where I worked. What's so wrong with that? Is it heartless or uncaring to expect others to follow a similar path?

I too wish things like housing, food, and gas cost less. But alas, they don't.


Posted by DCS, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm

There is a large amount of apartments here in Mountain View that are very run-down and unpleasant to live in, and also very expensive. Perosnally, I would like to see BMR money going towards tearing these down and/or renovating them and allowing a certain percentage of the units to be BMR. It could only improve our neighborhoods. Of course, I really don't believe we should be collecting money for BMR< but the money is there, so it needs ot be spent appropriately.


Posted by Political Insider, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Very courageous decision by council to end a policy that did very little to help make housing more affordable. The BMR rental tax unfairly taxed middle income people to pay for subsidized housing. A parcel tax will allow all residents to decide if they want to provide subsidized housing to a few low income people. If enough residents want to support this type of housing program, then they should vote for the parcel tax which, will be paid for by all residents.


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