Residential landlords may soon have to pay higher compensation costs to renters being displaced by renovations and redevelopments around the city, City Council members indicated Tuesday.
"Rents have gone up very, very steeply," said council member Jac Siegel. "I don't believe this is going to keep anyone in Mountain View, I really don't. This will at least help to keep their dignity (to) get by and live in a decent place."
Council members voted 6-1 for city staff and planning commissioners to develop an ordinance in which landlords would have to pay three months rent to displaced households, based on average market-rate rents (now $2,320 for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment). Renters would qualify if they earn less than 80 percent of the "area median income" or AMI, which was $101,000 for a family of four in 2013. The ordinance may see final council approval by summer break at the end of June and go into effect 30 days later.
It was found that a 2010 tenant relocation ordinance was inadequate, serving only 17 households since 2010 because few displaced tenants met a requirement that they earn less than 50 percent of the AMI. It also provided only two months of rent to displaced tenants, based on their rent at the time of being displaced. There was also $2,154 for households with "special circumstances," which would be raised to $3,000 in the new ordinance. "A special-circumstances household is defined as having at least one person that is either over 62 years of age, handicapped, disabled or a legally dependent minor child (less than 18 years of age)." Lauzze wrote.
Council members did not support an option to provide significantly more assistance to displaced renters. That option was based on a state-required practice which was used to relocate tenants above La Costena Taqueria. Because state funds were used for the affordable housing project that displaced them, tenants had to be given enough funds to help cover 42 months of higher rents (residents are still expected to pay rent equal to 30 percent of their income or their prior rent cost, whichever is less). The formula meant that compensation would have been at least $51,240 for renters of two-bedroom units at 819 N. Rengstorff, plus a little more than $1,100 for moving expenses.
Council member Margaret-Abe-Koga and the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors expressed concern about passing the costs of relocation onto future homeowners and tenants, but resident Vicki Proseck disagreed. She said she was being displaced by a renovation of her complex so the landlord can raise rents over $3,000, which is a story council members say they hear about quite often. She's looking for a new home as far away as Salinas or Hollister.
"These relocation fees are not paid by city of Mountain View, they are going to be paid by the developer and they have theoretically more money than they know what to do with," Proseck said.
"The amount doesn't really matter," said Day Worker Center member Job Lopez. "It is just something to make the whole thing look nice and appear fair." Displaced residents still "have to struggle to find where they can afford the rent they can afford. I know hundreds and hundreds of people around me in my own community who do not make more than $24,000 a year. How can they pay apartment rent somewhere else?"
Council members expressed concern about how to help tenants who aren't named on leases, as a mother complained was the case with her disabled son. Council members acknowledged that it was a "painful" issue, but expressed concern that not requiring that those who receive funds be named on the lease could open the door to dishonest people wanting to take advantage of the situation.
"If there was an adequate supply of housing in the region, we probably would not be having this conversation tonight," said Joshua Howard of the California Apartment Association. He added that the state's closure of redevelopment agencies "turned our affordable housing program up on its head," along with cuts to section 8 funds and court rulings against the city's practice of charging the cost of housing subsidies to developers. "All of these problems made our problem 10 times worse," he said.
To prevent issues with landlords and tenants, the proposed ordinance also introduces a new rule that tenant relocation be paid within 15 days of a request. A tenant relocation consultant who provides advice to the displaced tenant at the landlord's cost must be selected by the city, not the landlord, as is the practice now. Tenants facing eviction have complained that landlord-hired consultants are "less likely to be sympathetic to their situation," Lauzze wrote.
A survey of large cities, including San Francisco and Berkeley, found that tenant relocation assistance ranges from $7,600 to a high of $16,950 per household and special circumstance assistance ranges from $2,500 to $8,950. Not other city in Santa Clara County provides tenant relocation help to the extent that Mountain View does.